Last season, Cincinnati's overtime defeat sealed the right to draft quarterback Joe Burrow No. 1 overall and showed signs of fight under new coach Zac Taylor. On Sunday, hope and optimism were the last things to be found in Miami.
The 19-7 loss to the Dolphins was arguably the low point for the Bengals in Taylor's two seasons as a coach. The Bengals let a halftime lead slip away, were absolutely dominated in the second half and showed a stunning lack of discipline that hadn't been previously seen since Taylor was hired in 2019.
In a lot of ways, it was a lot of the same tune for a Bengals team that has struggled to win games. Cincinnati fell to 1-5 this season when leading at halftime and 2-9-1 overall, which keeps Taylor at four wins in two seasons.
But that's just a peek at how bad things were Sunday. Cincinnati lost back-up quarterback Brandon Allen in the fourth quarter after Miami notched its sixth sack. Allen was sacked after Miami edge rusher Shaq Lawson beat rookie left tackle Hakeem Adeniji, who came in to replace 2019 first-round pick Jonah Williams after he was carted off the field with a right knee injury.
Oh, and then there were the ejections. Bengals wide receiver Tyler Boyd and safety Shawn Williams were two of five players who were ejected, with the latter coming on a brawl that came after Mike Thomas' second penalty for unnecessary roughness in punt coverage.
There have been some bad losses under Taylor's tenure, which is understandable given the deep rebuild required. However, this Miami loss was different.
The Dolphins (8-4) are good but not of the same caliber of other teams that have delivered big beatings the past two seasons. And the way everything fell apart in the second half was also something that hadn't been seen.
It still might be too early to speculate on Taylor's status as Cincinnati's coach. But no matter the case, it's hard to imagine a worse performance by the Bengals since the start of 2019. No matter what happens the rest of the season, Cincinnati has to find a way to turn in better performances.
Pivotal play: The game turned on a seemingly innocent incomplete pass to Boyd. After Boyd was past the white portion of the sideline, he was shoved to the ground by Dolphins cornerback Byron Jones. Dolphins cornerback Xavien Howard, who was also nearby, struck Boyd in the helmet with his hand and Boyd retaliated by shoving Jones' helmet.
From there, it went downhill for Cincinnati. Boyd and Howard were both ejected for throwing a punch, but Cincinnati was also given a 15-yard penalty. Bengals kicker Randy Bullock missed the ensuing 53-yard field goal attempt, giving the Dolphins excellent field position before the end of the half.
Miami capitalized with a field goal that cut the Bengals' lead to 7-6. It was a crucial six-point swing that cost the Bengals their best wide receiver. Nothing went right for Cincinnati the rest of the day.
Biggest hole in the game plan: The Bengals had no answer for Miami tight end Mike Gesicki. He had nine catches on 11 targets for 88 yards and a touchdown. Cincinnati has struggled to defend tight ends all season. That was the case against the Dolphins. Again.
Eye-popping stat: The yardage disparity between Miami and Cincinnati in the third quarter was … something. Miami outgained the Bengals 181 to -4 in the third, which is truly remarkable. The Dolphins and quarterback Tua Tagovailoa rolled after halftime while the Bengals had two drives that resulted in three-and-outs. That's a recipe for a very, very rough stretch of football.