Bengals lament missed opportunities in loss to Panthers

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – The Cincinnati Bengals (2-1) didn’t appear to be hanging their heads after a 31-21 loss to the Carolina Panthers on Sunday.

Several Bengals players lamented the major mistakes made in the game, pointing out that they had an opportunity to win until the fourth quarter.

“It hurts, especially the turnovers like the mistake ones like the tipped ball, but at the end of the day we still had an opportunity to go down and tie the game,” wide receiver Tyler Boyd said. “We needed to take advantage and we didn't. That's what upset me.”

Added wide receiver A.J. Green: “We moved the ball very well. We just had a couple turnovers. You're going to have games like this. That's one thing about this team, though, we're not going to put our head down because we know if we didn't have those turnovers we would have been in the game."

Here are some of the biggest reasons the Bengals lost their first game of the season:

Four interceptions

Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton completed 29 of 46 passes for 352 yards, two touchdowns and four interceptions. He was sacked twice and had a passer rating of 64.8.

Dalton’s day wasn’t pretty, but it also wasn’t quite as bad as the statistics indicated, and several of his turnovers weren’t entirely his fault.

Dalton’s first pick was on third-and-17 in the first quarter on a pass near the sideline intended for John Ross.

A pass intended for Josh Malone on first-and-10 in the third quarter at the Bengals’ 24 was tipped and deflected, giving the Panthers a short field and a quick opportunity to score.

The most puzzling turnover was a deep pass down the middle of the field intended for Ross. Although it wasn’t a good pass by Dalton, Ross never looked for the ball until it was too late and appeared to slow to a jog. Panthers cornerback Donte Jackson turned around and easily picked off the ball while Ross’ back was still turned.

“I threw it, tried to give him a chance, I don’t know exactly what happened but I feel like for me I have to be smart with the ball,” Dalton said. “You never want to turn the ball over and we had way too many turnovers today.”

The game was already out of hand by the time Dalton threw his last interception, which was a Hail Mary to Tyler Eifert in the end zone as time expired.

Dalton led a quick, efficient scoring drive to start off the game and was zipping his passes out quickly, spreading them around to several receivers. He also used his legs to extend different plays to Boyd, connecting with him twice while on the run. One play resulted in a 27-yard touchdown and another was a 49-yard gain on second-and-14 in the fourth quarter.

Ross' bad day

There’s no way around it: The Bengals’ 2017 first-round pick had one of the worst games of his short career.

Ross had three catches for 16 yards, the highlight of which was a short pass near the Panthers’ end zone that resulted in a 9-yard gain and a first down.

Otherwise, it was a disaster.

Dalton targeted Ross seven times. Two ended in interceptions, and another deep shot down the sideline went through Ross’ hands.

Ross has had a few moments this season, but his connection and timing with Dalton still leave a lot to be desired.

“That's our guy,” Boyd said. “We're going to see him every day. I trust him. He's just got to break the shell. That's all it is. He's got to stop worrying about all the other stuff and just play football. It's going to come. That's what I told him, 'It's going to come, bro. Just relax. It's going to come.'"

Couldn't stop the run

The Bengals had a difficult time with the combination of quarterback Cam Newton and running back Christian McCaffrey, who rushed for a combined 220 yards and two touchdowns.

The Bengals are down two starting linebackers with Preston Brown hurt and Vontaze Burfict suspended. Linebacker Hardy Nickerson attributed a number of McCaffrey’s long runs to missed assignments.

“When you have a running quarterback and that type of read-option offense, it comes down to assignment, misdirection stuff. They got us with our eyes,” Nickerson said. “It was a tough game. One of those games where the ball wasn’t rolling our way. Looking forward to getting back and watching film tomorrow and getting after it in Atlanta.”

Green's injury

There’s no question Green has been somewhat of a security blanket for Dalton. So when Green hit the ground hard and hobbled off to the sideline with a groin injury, the Bengals’ offense took an immediate hit.

“I just came down on my hip and I guess my two bones just hit. Just another bruise,” Green said. “At first I didn't feel anything. I just thought the air got knocked out of me. Then I got up and I was like, 'Oh, it hurts a little bit.' I didn't feel anything pop or anything like that. So I should be fine."

The Bengals were already without center Billy Price and running back Joe Mixon, so losing Green was a tough blow, even though they managed to score a touchdown without him.

“He is the best receiver in the league and when you have him on your team, then he’s not there anymore, obviously it changes things, but that’s why you have depth,” Dalton said. “That’s why you have other guys that have to step up and play. That’s just how this league works.”