Is God not a Bengals fan?
With all the bounces and rolls we got last season, one had to wonder if the Bengals were destined for something special. Kimo, meet Palmer's knee. Playoffs over. This year, it started rough. Palmer's knee was the topic of discussion during training camp. Arrest after arrest, suspensions and pre-season injuries all accumulated an already tired storyline of adversity. Through all that, the Bengals won their first three and recently hit the high of a four-game winning streak. So in a way, with all Cincinnati has gone through, to be 8-7 and alive in the playoffs is something of a miracle that takes a mountain of focus.
The most encouraging thing about this season: through all the adversity and injury that's left the team below 100%, it's good to see that the players and fans are severely disappointed. Because they still believed, with all the backup talent that's played throughout, that they felt like they should have won every week. That's character. Next step, winning without imploding.
The interesting part. Through all that, through everything this team has gone through, a botched PAT will be the play remembered as why the Bengals missed the playoffs.
...But do I blame anyone for the botched PAT?
Not really. I blame our superstars. I blame Chad Johnson for big drops and a fumble. I blame Rudi Johnson for a fumble on a play that had eight Bronco defenders standing up talking to each other at the snap even though he had one of his best games this season. I blame Carson Palmer for throwing two picks on inadvisable passes. I blame the Bengals front seven for losing grip against the rush in the second half. I blame the coaches for, what appears to be, insufficient half-time adjustments for the second straight week.
Do the Bengals even deserve to join the playoff ranks?
Even if the Bengals made it, likely we'd struggle. Consider for a moment how we've played against good teams.
|New England (11-4), AFC East Champs||L - 38-13|
|San Diego (13-2), AFC West Champs||L - 49-41|
|Indianapolis (11-4), AFC South Champs||L - 34-16|
|Baltimore (12-3), AFC North Champs||L - 20-26, W - 13-7|
|New Orleans (10-5), NFC South Champs||W - 31-16|
Kansas City (8-7) is the only other team the Bengals beat that have a winning record.
However, playoffs are indeed still alive. The Bengals are ranked seventh in the AFC. If the New York Jets lose on Monday Night football against the not-going-to-Bama Nick Saban Miami Dolphins, then they'd be back at #6 -- Bengals have a better conference record.
Just thinking about next season.
Considering we could miss the playoffs now -- one tough game left, require help to get in and a loss of momentum -- I think next season looks encouraging. Let's pretend for a moment and see what we'll have back next season.
- Chris Perry returns (although, that might not last real long)
- A mid-round draft pick.
- Depending on whether he's worked on his character or not, a returning Odell Thurman.
- Hopefully, a reformed -- and dependable -- Chris Henry.
But what could we lose?
Depending on their price range, we could lose Eric Steinbach and Justin Smith. If I were a betting man, the Bengals will tag Steinbach and either sign Smith long-term or let him go. Before this season, I would have been fine with letting Smith go. But I can't say that now. The numbers may not reflect it, but he's had a tremendous season stretching outside runs and putting pressure on the quarterback.
The difficult decision will come with Eric Steinbach. He's Pro-Bowl talent. But word has it that he wants left tackle money in the Steve Hutchinson range. If the Bengals tagged him, likely that cost would be less than signing him to a long term deal. The possibility of just letting him explore free agency is a realistic scenario also. Willie Anderson, Bobbie Williams and Levi Jones all received nice contract extensions this past off-season. So it may not be within the budget to sign Steinbach to his demands or even tagging him. Drafting someone in the first or second round might be the team's only option. Unless Ben Wilkerson steps up at center and they move Eric Ghiaciuc at guard -- which in itself, is an unknown.