The dots will be easily connected: In the first game without star receiver Ja'Marr Chase, the Cincinnati Bengals offense went in the tank.
In Monday night's 32-13 loss to the Cleveland Browns, Joe Burrow and the offense looked out of sync much of the night without Chase to force the defense to cover differently. Cincy generated a piddling 229 total yards of offense (just 100 yards in the first half), went 4 of 10 on third downs, and Burrow earned 232 yards on 35 pass attempts with two touchdowns and an interception.
For the first time this season, zero Bengals pass-catchers put up at least 50 yards. Tee Higgins led the way, and 41 of his 49 yards came on one long TD catch.
Following the loss, Burrow was asked how much the offense missed Chase.
"Any time that guy goes down, it is going to have an effect, but we are a better offense than what we put out there tonight, even without him," the third-year QB said. "There are no excuses for that."
The Bengals still have weapons in Higgins, Tyler Boyd, running back Joe Mixon, and tight end Hayden Hurst to move the ball without Chase. But it's clear the young receiver forces defenses to defend in certain ways that allow Cincy's offense to operate cleaner.
"It is tough, whenever one of your friends goes down like that," Burrow said of Chase's injury. "You do not want it to weigh on you. We expect him to be back at some point. When that is, I am not sure. He is going to do what he needs to do to get back on the field."
In the meantime, the Bengals will need to figure out how to play better on both sides of the ball. Chase or no Chase, it was a disastrous performance that saw them fall a game behind the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC North standings.
"This isn't the type of team we are," coach Zac Taylor said. "This is a 17-game season and this is one game. We weren't at our best today at any phase. I'm confident that's not who we are, but we can make the corrections and flush this one away quickly, turn our attention to Carolina on the six-day week. Have a great opportunity to get this out of our system quickly and play next Sunday."
The Bengals face the Panthers before a Week 10 bye, then the meat of their schedule picks up, with games against Pittsburgh, Tennessee, Kansas City, and a rematch with Cleveland on tap. Cincy closes the season at home against Buffalo and Baltimore. Taylor's team will have the chance to prove it's not the club we saw Monday against playoff-caliber teams down the stretch.