The time atop the AFC was short-lived for the Cincinnati Bengals. The New York Jets shocked Zac Taylor's squad 34-31 in an upset few people saw coming.
Mike White made a statement only one other quarterback in NFL history has made in their first career start and helped carve the Bengals defense up for over 500 total yards.
The controversial call on Mike Hilton will drive plenty of talking points, but Bengals head coach Zac Taylor acknowledged that "it can't get to that point."
The best teams in the NFL take care of sloppy performances from bad opponents early, and quickly.
Cincinnati realized the worst-case scenario on Sunday in another example of the NFL humbling a team eyeing new heights.
Here is our Three Down Look at one of the more shocking Bengals losses in recent memory.
First Down: Mike White(Hot)
Cam Newton and Mike White.
That's the list of NFL quarterbacks to throw for 400-plus yards in their first career start. It was a clinical performance from a player who also benefitted from his play-caller looking more comfortable with his call selection.
Offensive coordinator Mike Lafleur moved up to the booth for the first time this week after struggling to find a rhythm through the opening two months of the season. The difference showed, and White rewarded him with precise passing all afternoon.
White finished 37-of-45 for 405 yards, three touchdowns, and two interceptions on a day where both of his turnovers tipped off of his receivers' hands. He carved up a Bengals defense that ranked fifth in overall EPA/play allowed and seventh in dropback EPA.
He posted 12 total EPA using well-designed route concepts and easy dump-offs to Michael Carter in the flat. Lafleur drew up a strong passing script that left White with a 73.1% expected completion rate, and the Western Kentucky product outperformed it by 11.7%.
White never attempted a pass deeper than 20 yards and his 3.7 average depth of target ranked in the 2nd percentile of all games between 2010-20. Despite a wildly conservative approach, White nailed the intermediate passing game.
White ended the game 5-of-7 for 73 yards, and one touchdown on 10-20 yard throws. That efficiency—paired with a muted pass rush from Cincinnati (two sacks, four QB hits)—kept White one step ahead of Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo all afternoon.
Second Down: Defenses Flashes Back Two Years
Cincinnati came into the game as the only NFL team not to allow over 25 points this season, but that changed when the Jets scored 17 points in the fourth quarter. Sunday marked the first time the Bengals have allowed 34 or more points and 400-plus passing yards since their overtime loss in Miami in 2019. They've only done that six times in team history.
It's a much different tune after this defensive performance than the one that put Cincinnati in position to select Joe Burrow.
New York smacked Cincinnati in the mouth from the get-go and controlled the tempo all afternoon. Carter showcased his versatility as a bruising weapon out of the backfield, and the Jets offensive line responded with great push all game long.
Once things got to the second and third level, the clean-up became even sloppier. Cincinnati ranked 13th in missed tackles (42) coming into the game, but they are sure to fall down that chart after this week. Uncharacteristic misses from multiple secondary pieces allowed New York to gain extra yards.
Sam Hubbard posted six tackles (one for loss), and two passes defended while hammering the tackling mistakes postgame.
“As a unit, we didn’t tackle well," Hubbard said. "A lot of extra yards that shouldn’t be given away. That’s on us."
That lack of fire at the second level made things so much easier on a quarterback making his first start. According to Ben Baldwin's model, the Jets converted 92.9% of their 14 series that started with a run. That mark ranks in the 98th percentile across games from 2010-20. The outlier performance proved that the Jets smelled blood in the water and controlled the tempo.
Third Down: Onto Cleveland
One bad loss shouldn't undo all of the progress this team has made in the past 12 months, and the roster's leaders portrayed that type of stance.
"We together," Joe Mixon said in a rare three-man postgame news conference with Jessie Bates and Tyler Boyd. "As captains we gotta step up as leaders, and we gotta make sure the team following. We got a huge game in front of us coming up, and I'm sure they [Cleveland] just came off of a loss, and they gonna want it just as bad as we want them."
Mixon struggled mightily and owned it after a game where he averaged less than 2.5 yards per carry for the 13th time in 58 career games.
Just like the opposite was true after Baltimore; Cincinnati can't get stuck thinking about past results. All of the Bengals' goals are still in front of them as they look to right the ship against Cleveland.
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