GREEN BAY, Wis. -- This one will sting for a long time.
The Cincinnati Bengals played about as well as they could have for almost 60 minutes against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field on Sunday afternoon.
They went home in heartbreak after Aaron Rodgers decimated them with a 72-yard pass in overtime, setting up a field goal by Mason Crosby for a 27-24 Packers win. Rodgers got a free play after Michael Johnson jumped offside.
Now the Bengals are 0-3 and looking up at the rest of the AFC North. That just might be too big of a hole to overcome.
The Bengals played well for most of the day, almost proving that they weren't as bad as their record. The team that had failed to score a touchdown for two games had new life under new offensive coordinator Bill Lazor.
The Bengals force-fed the ball to their best weapon in A.J. Green, they unleashed rookie running back Joe Mixon and they relentlessly pressured Rodgers. Rookie Carl Lawson had 2.5 sacks alone.
The Bengals also went back to doing what they do best with the Andy Dalton-to-Green connection, targeting Green 13 times for 111 yards and a touchdown.
They just figured this all out too late. The Bengals finally showed their potential, but there are no moral victories in the NFL, and certainly not at 0-3.
What it means: The door to the AFC North was cracked open after the Cleveland Browns, Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens all lost, but the Bengals couldn't run with that. A win here would've been huge for their confidence. Now they're going to have to figure out how to keep the team together moving forward.
What I liked: The Bengals have had a reputation for being stubborn, but the 0-2 start appeared to make them reconsider many things. Firing Ken Zampese as offensive coordinator was only the first of those things. The Bengals relied on their rookies and young players more than they normally would, and they were rewarded by big performances from Lawson, Mixon and William Jackson III, who returned an interception 75 yards for a touchdown.
What I didn’t like: The Bengals still struggle with protection, and there aren't many options to fix it. The Bengals rotated Andre Smith at both tackle positions, which has been the weakest link on their offensive line.
That's similar to what they did last season, when Cedric Ogbuehi was struggling and platooned with Eric Winston. Dalton was sacked three times, and the constant struggles of the offensive line likely has taken a toll on him, even when he has a clean pocket.
The Bengals dominated on defense early, but they committed too many critical penalties and errors in key situations. They weren't able to get a stop late in the game, allowing the Packers to go on a long drive that forced overtime. And Johnson's penalty in overtime was the final blow.
Fantasy fallout: Fantasy owners might want to put Mixon in their lineup from now on. The Bengals look like they're going to lean on him as their lead back going forward. Mixon had 101 all-purpose yards against the Packers. His lone mistake was a key third-down play in which he slipped and had no gain, forcing the Bengals to go for a field goal.
What’s next: The Bengals will travel to face the winless Browns in Cleveland next Sunday and then will return home to host the Buffalo Bills (2-1) before their bye week. They'll also get Vontaze Burfict back from his three-game suspension next week. And they will need to regroup after this loss.