Winless Bengals ‘furious’ with close losses, but looking forward

Cincinnati Bengals running back Joe Mixon (28) breaks free from Cleveland Browns cornerback Terrance Mitchell (39) during the first half of an NFL football game, Thursday, Sept. 17, 2020, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Josh Bynes sees how frustrated his teammates are after two close losses to start the season -- especially those who were here last year.

Bynes is new to the team after spending 2019 with the AFC North champion Baltimore Ravens, and he can already sense how desperate the Bengals are to develop a winning mentality. To do that, they need to learn to finish off close games.

Cincinnati lost 14 games last year, and eight of them were decided by eight points or less. The two wins were at least 10-point margins. Both losses this season were by five points or fewer.

“They know how it feels to lose those games, especially being close in those games and still coming up short,” Bynes said Friday, a day after the Bengals suffered a 35-30 loss at Cleveland. “They’re furious. Joe Mixon stepped up and said some things last night. I just think we understand what it really means to them. Not just us as players, but to Coach (Zac Taylor). You couldn’t ask for a better head coach right now. Zac is doing his all, but we got to pay it back forward. We got to go out there and take accountability for what we did on the field and clean it up. Let’s do better. Try to find ways to win.”

Bynes said he doesn’t sense a “here we go again” mentality from the returning players. They are just tired of losing, and the newcomers aren’t ready to accept falling short as normal, according to Bynes, safety Vonn Bell and nose tackle D.J. Reader, who all spoke in video news conferences Thursday after the game or Friday before team meetings.

The Bengals added several new players through free agency on defense, including Bynes, Reader, Bell and former Vikings cornerbacks Mackensie Alexander and Trae Waynes (injured). All those guys came from teams that made the playoffs and won at least 10 games. Reader was with the AFC South-champion Texans, and Bell with the NFC South-champion Saints last year.

Bynes is hoping that champion mentality starts rubbing off on the others.

“We got to get there fast, because this is going to be a long season if we’re just sitting there thinking like this is gonna happen every game,” Bynes said. “I’ll be (darned) if this happens every game. I’m not with this feeling. I know Vonn (Bell) and a lot of guys aren’t with this feeling. I know this whole locker room is not with this feeling. … Regardless of all the crazy stuff that happened in the game and all the bad things that happened these last two games, we still were able to come out with a victory at one point in time and we didn’t execute that one play or we didn’t stop this one play. It came down to those things.”

Both the Bengals' losses came in very different ways, though. In the opener against the L.A. Chargers, the defense allowed 155 yards rushing but made stops on third down and missed tackles weren’t prevalent. It was the offense that struggled more.

On Thursday, Burrow threw 61 times and finished with 316 yards passing and three touchdowns, but the defense couldn’t get stops, as the Browns ran for 215 yards with frequent explosive plays.

Bell said some of the struggles on defense stem from so many new players still developing chemistry together and a better understanding of the system. That probably relates to the offense, as well, as Burrow didn’t get a normal offseason or preseason to settle in with his receivers.

“It’s only our second game playing together, just trying to get the ins and outs of each other and playing off each other,” Bell said. “At the end of the day, we’re all as one, and when we step onto the field we’re all as one and we just have to play together, win that down, win that series.”

Taylor said it’s difficult to re-access the close games and determine one common solution because they were all so different, even dating back to last year. However, the easiest fix is to win the turnover battle, which the Bengals haven’t done so far.

They are minus-1 in that category this season. The Bengals turned the ball over twice against the Chargers, and they were even in that area Thursday with William Jackson intercepting a pass and Burrow fumbling at the Cincinnati 1-yard line.

“We’re 0-for-2 in the turnover battle,” Taylor said. “We lost it last week. We tied it this week. You win the turnover battle, you win those one-score games. That’s what it comes down to and we’re 0-for-2 right now. Look back last year, and it’s probably the same story. We didn’t win for the first 12 games or so and we lost a lot of one-score games. It’s as simple as that in his league.”

NEXT GAME

Sunday, Sept. 27

Bengals at Eagles, 1 p.m., CBS, 1530, 102.7, 104.7

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