by Sharon Thorsland
The Panthers lost a heart-breaker to the Falcons last week, losing in overtime after a pair of missed kicks. Now they go on the road to take on AFC North foe Cincinnati, who made it to the Super Bowl last season but has struggled to a 4-4 record this year. The Bengals have plenty of issues right now, starting with star receiver Jamar Chase being injured. So the Panthers have an opportunity to get back on track Sunday, and quarterback PJ Walker’s confident they can do it. “As a team we gotta bounce back,” said Walker. “We can’t let a loss like that travel with us into this week. We have to be ready to be sharp, be on our p’s and q’s and be ready to play Sunday.”
Walker and the Panthers offense looked a lot better against the Falcons, particularly the run game. But the passing game is still lacking, they’re managing just 187 yards per game, that’s 29th in the league. The Bengals are having the opposite problem, picking up just 81 rushing yards a contest, in spite of having a Pro Bowler at running back in Joe Mixon. And they’re having a hard time protecting quarterback Joe Burrow – he’s been sacked 30 times behind a revamped offensive line that features four new starters. Chase is sidelined with a hip injury, but the Bengals still have a pair of outstanding receivers in Tyler Boyd and former Clemson standout Tee Higgins, they’ve combined for 997 yards and 7 touchdowns. And Burrow leads the NFL in passing yards and is 3rd with 17 touchdowns. So the Bengals are still plenty dangerous. “You know the quarterback is still the key, he’s phenomenal,” said coach Steve Wilks. “You got Higgins, you got Boyd, Mixon. You don’t talk much about their run game but he is a dynamic runner. I don’t think without Chase being there those guys still aren’t going to miss a beat.”
Panthers running back D’Onta Foreman has had a pair of impressive performances the past two weeks and likely he’ll need another one this week for the Panthers to move the ball against this Bengals defense. They rank 14th in in the league in total defense and allow just 20 points a game. They’ve got a deep front seven anchored by Pro Bowl defensive end Trey Hendrickson. Former NC State standout linebacker Germaine Pratt leads the team in tackles. The Bengals secondary is dinged up and missing several players, including cornerback Chidobe Awuzie, who tore his ACL in Monday night’s loss to the Browns. So expect to see a lot of rookies Cam Taylor-Britt and Daxton Hill. Former Wake Forest star Jesse Bates starts at safety alongside Vonn Bell, who leads the team with four interceptions.
This is just the 7th time these teams have faced off, they last met back in 2018, a Panthers win. They’ve never won in Cincinnati, though, and it’s going to take a complete game to beat the Bengals – something they couldn’t produce in Atlanta last week. “We just have to go out there and play our brand of football,” said linebacker Shaq Thompson. “We’ve gotta play consistent, fast, physical for 60 minutes.”