Bengals coach Marvin Lewis criticized Ross on Wednesday for letting his teammates down on a potentially critical play during the team's 24-20 loss to the Tennessee Titans on Sunday. The second-quarter play involved Ross slowing down on a deep sideline route when he thought Andy Dalton wasn't going to throw the ball. Instead of Ross potentially hauling in a deep throw, Dalton's pass fell incomplete in front of the 2017 Scouting Combine's fastest man.
"John had a play last week we weren't very thrilled with," Lewis said, according to Paul Dehner Jr. of the Cincinnati Enquirer. "For Andy, against that coverage to throw him that football, he should understand how the quarterback feels about him. That he expects him to be where he needs to be. He let his teammates down. He let me down. He let Andy down."
Ross, the Bengals' first-round pick, hasn't quite lived up to expectations. Injuries hampered the early portion of his season and he's been limited to 17 snaps and no catches. By publicly discussing how much the play hurt the Bengals, it seems Lewis is trying to send a clear message to the 22-year-old wide receiver.
"Maybe that ball is not supposed to go there in that coverage, but if you do it right and run like you can run that ball can go there and it can be a big play for us," Lewis said. "[Dalton] made a nice throw and put the ball where it needed to be and it ended up from you to me away. Had he been running, likely he catches it.
"I would hope it would be a touchdown, but that's the margin of error we are right now. We are a little thin on that."
At 3-6, the Bengals' season seems to be beyond margin for error. The team's offensive struggles have played a key role in Cincinnati's inability to gain traction in the standings -- and have given the team little patience for rookie brain camps after 10 weeks.
For his part, Ross knew he made a big mistake on the play.
"It's like you being a kid and you go the whole year being good and you mess up that one time and now you get nothing for Christmas," Ross told reporters after the loss Sunday.
It remains to be seen how much Ross will play in the games ahead with Cincy's playoff hopes all but extinguished. Is Lewis looking to light a fire under Ross in hopes of a second-half revival or will Ross be saddled to more sideline duty? It would seem in the best interests of the Bengals -- and their 2018 offense -- that Ross gets more playing time to pair with the constructive criticism.