CHICAGO –– When the Cincinnati Bengals won the 2021 season opener, it looked like anything was possible for the Bengals offense. Running back Joe Mixon led the NFL in rushing yards. Wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase was named the Rookie of the Week. The offensive tackles didn’t allow a single pressure.
But in Week 2, the Bengals lost 20-17 to the Chicago Bears. And the Bengals offense waited until the last five minutes to find any rhythm.
Before the last five minutes of the game, the Bengals offense was on pace to have one of its worst games of the last two seasons. The Bengals didn’t establish the run. Chase didn’t break open down the field until near the end. The offensive line allowed five sacks in the first three quarters.
"They had a good pass rush so we tried to get it out quick,' quarterback Joe Burrow said. "They started sitting on all the routes."
Rookie kicker Evan McPherson made a 53-yard field goal in the third quarter, but the Bengals didn’t get past the Bears 35-yard line before the Bears took a 14-point lead.
The Bears took a 7-0 lead in the first quarter on a nearly perfect drive from quarterback Andy Dalton. The Bengals defense got stops on their next four drives, but the offense didn’t find anything that worked.
"They have really good players up front," Burrow said. "They have (Akiem) Hicks and (Khalil) Mack and Robert Quinn ... They are big guys that are tough to block."
Burrow had the chance to lead the Bengals on a game-tying touchdown drive early in the fourth quarter. On 3rd and 3 from near midfield, the Bears defense ran a similar play that the Bengals defense used in training camp to pick off Burrow.
Bears linebacker Roquan Smith dropped back in coverage and picked off a pass intended for wide receiver Tyler Boyd. Smith took his return for a 53-yard touchdown, giving the Bears a 17-3 lead.
"We got killed in the turnover battle," head coach Zac Taylor said. "The margin in this league is razor thin."
When the Bengals got the ball back, on Burrow’s next passing attempt, Bears cornerback Jaylon Johnson picked off an out route intended for wide receiver Tee Higgins. Burrow got the ball back two minutes later, and after poor protection by the Bengals offensive line, Burrow was hit as he threw.
Bears defensive tackle Angelo Blackson picked off that pass for yet another turnover. Burrow had gone 200 throws without an interception, but on Sunday he threw picks on three consecutive passes.
"That’s our number one rule going into the game, making sure we win the turnover battle," Chase said. "Today, we didn’t capitalize and it showed."
Against a Bears defensive line with multiple explosive pass rushers, Taylor didn’t call some of the same down-the-field plays that led the Bengals to a win in the opener. The Bengals ran five wide receiver sets more often, but Burrow almost never had a receiver open down the field.
After the Bears took a 20-3 lead, the Bengals offense finally broke out for a big play. Burrow threw a 42-yard touchdown pass to Chase down the middle of the field. On the following drive, Bengals linebacker Logan Wilson picked off a pass inside the Bears 20-yard line.
Higgins caught a touchdown on the next play, making it a 20-17 lead for the Bears with 3:43 left. But Chicago ran out the clock to give the Bengals their first loss of the season. Burrow finished with a 19-for-30 passing line for 207 yards.
In the Bears season opener, they allowed 34 points to the Los Angeles Rams. One week later, the Bengals offense went 55 minutes before it reached the end zone.
"You’ve got to learn from this," Taylor said. "Don’t let the Bears beat you twice … We’re going to play a lot of great defenses in this league. We’ve got to do a better job playing complementary football."