The Cincinnati Bengals coaches could not have been more pleased by what they saw from their starters in limited action Saturday night against the New York Jets, but they could not have been more peeved by what followed.
Building a roster that is as deep at the bottom as it is talented at the top is a big reason why the Bengals have been able make the playoffs three years in a row, and it was especially important in 2013 when they were able to survive a number of serious, season-ending injuries and still win 11 games and an AFC North Division championship.
But the performance of the second- and third-team units in Saturday night’s 25-17 loss to the Jets not only failed to inspire confidence, it raised a lot of questions about the readiness and, to some degree, the competency of those groups.
“We can’t have a letdown as soon as those guys go into the game,” defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said after watching his first-team defense hold the Jets to three points only to have the reserves come in and allow 22 points and 257 yards over the final three quarters.
“(The Jets) got a turnover and went right down and scored on us, so I was pretty hot after that,” Guenther added. “There’s some guys around here that think they’ve made the team who are going to be shocked when this thing gets done if they keep playing like they’re playing now.”
New York notched 13 of its 17 first downs against the Cincinnati reserves while putting together touchdown drives of 62 yards in nine plays and 68 yards in 11 to erase a 17-3 deficit.
Things were even worse on offense as the Bengals managed 124 total yards and failed to score over the final 44 minutes after quarterback Andy Dalton and the rest of the offensive starters shredded the New York defense for 17 points and 174 yards through the first 16.
“I’m disappointed,” offensive coordinator Hue Jackson said. “There’s no question our 1’s were ready to play. But (the backups) keep turning the ball over. We couldn’t recognize cover-0 and we fumbled the ball and put our defense in a tough spot.”
That was a play where backup quarterback Matt Scott didn’t read the blitz and lost the ball when linebacker Dermario Davis sacked him from the blind side.
Scott, a third-stringer who was elevated backup by Jason Campbell’s elbow injury, also threw an interception, was sacked four times and finished 8 of 22 for 54 yards and a 25.9 passer rating. The newly signed Tyler Wilson was 7 of 13 for 39 yards while also taking a sack that forced him out of the game in the fourth quarter with a head injury.
Running back Cedric Peerman also lost a fumble, while numerous dropped passes doomed a few other drives.
“After the 1’s went out, it looked like nobody had practiced,” Jackson said. “The Jets have a good defense and they left their starters out there, but so what. That’s the National Football League. You have to rise up and make plays.”
Penalties were a problem as well, especially on special teams. Five of the 11 flags the Bengals drew were on special teams, which are comprised mostly of younger players who are fighting for roster spots as backups at their regular positions.
“We hurt ourselves on offensive field positioning with the penalties and the kicking game, which also held true in the second half while on defense,” Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis said. “I realize it is a lot of young guys, but the development of this team has been because of developing depth. We have to realize we are going to have players getting injured during the season and guys have to respond and be able to step up, and the standard of play cannot get lowered.”
Roster move: The Bengals waived offensive lineman Chandler Burden on Sunday. The Cincinnati native and University of Kentucky product played 20 of the 72 offensive snap in Saturday night’s loss.