This is one of the best weekends of the year. Four NFL playoff games in two days. When asked this week what my plans were, I said, "vegging out on the couch watching the NFL playoffs." Colts-Chiefs, Seahawks-Cowboys, Jets-Patriots, Giants-Eagles, oh my! This is also the time the league starts handing out their yearly awards. This is the time that writers poll their votes and hand out hardware based off their opinions. Even the SB Nation NFL bloggers handed out the hardware.
NFL MVP: LaDainian Tomlinson, RB Chargers
NFL Offensive Player of the Year: LaDainian Tomlinson, RB Chargers
NFL Defensive Player of the Year: Brian Dawkins, S Eagles (note: I picked Jason Taylor)
NFL Coach of the Year: Sean Payton, Saints
NFL Rookie of the Year: Vince Young, QB Titans
Worst Player: Ben Roethlisberger, QB Steelers (note: I picked Chris Henry for a variety of reasons)
Worst Coach: Art Shell, Raiders
Worst Rookie: Bobby Carpenter, LB Cowboys (note: I picked Mr. Irrelevant... he didn't even play. I know, I took the high-road)
You can view the entire award show here hosted by Stampede Blue.
So here's my 2006 Bengals awards!
BEST OFFENSIVE PLAYER
I generally don't care for wide receivers getting offensive player of the year awards. It's like handing out a Cy Young award to a relief pitcher. They don't handle the ball but a fraction of the game. I thought, why not Carson Palmer? He finished fifth in the league with 4,035 yards passing -- a new franchise record. Palmer's 28 touchdowns ranks second behind Peyton Manning. Rudi Johnson finished the season with 12 rushing touchdowns. In the past three seasons, Rudi has scored 36 touchdowns giving him 45 for his career -- tied for second all-time with Corey Dillon.
But I'm going against my own rule and handing this year's best offensive player to Chad Johnson. Johnson's 1,369 yards receiving ranks tops in the league -- three yards more than Marvin Harrison; first Bengal to lead the NFL. Taking you back to the Bengals four-game winning streak against New Orleans, Cleveland, Baltimore and Oakland which revitalized the Bengals season -- Johnson caught 26 passes for 505 yards. Before this stretch, the Bengals were 4-5 and you can simply point to Johnson's non-production for the offense's struggles. Once he got going, the Bengals improved to 8-5 with a chance to control their own destiny. The Cincinnati Bengals were only as good as Johnson was. And when he was on, he was the best.
The TIM KRUMRIE AWARD (best defensive lineman)
I can't pick one over the other. Robert Geathers recorded 10.5 sacks -- the first Bengal since the Reagan administration -- and Justin Smith had, perhaps, his best season. While only recording 7.5 sacks, Smith did a nice job stretching out runs and pressuring the quarterback. He finished fourth (per NFL.com) on the team with 81 tackles and recovered two fumbles. Geathers was our best pass rusher. Along with the sacks, he was constantly in the backfield (a little too much if you ask me). He ran down Michael Vick with his speedy Gonzalez speed. The best way to describe the two is if you combine their talents, they'd make up one of the best defensive ends in the league -- against the pass and the rush.
THE ANTHONY MUNOZ AWARD (best offensive lineman)
There were two guys that started all season on the line -- Eric Steinbach and Willie Anderson. Willie Anderson earned his fourth Pro Bowl and Eric Steinbach is the most under-rated guard in the league. Even though Anderson is the most recognizable, I think Steinbach was the best. He started at guard and center and played tackle. His versatility speaks for itself. I believe he's the best pulling guard in the league and will get the money he's expected to command.
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR THAT ARE NOT LINEMEN AWARD
No one really sticks out. Per NFL.com, Landon Johnson finished with 112 tackles; Caleb Miller with 99 and Madieu Williams with 88. Kevin Kaesviharn finished with 63 tackles, four sacks and a team leading six interceptions. So you make the call.
USA Today's Jim Corbett made a point after the Bengals season was over that "character counts". He continues, "The Bengals could use an offseason field trip to the Patriots' locker room, where the concept of accountability is on display daily, not far from the three Lombardi Trophies." He, of course, doesn't mean coaches with obsessive traits towards a woman that may get him fired. Seemingly, Corbett believes the Bengals were shutout of the postseason because of character.
If it tickles your fantasy to proclaim the Bengals dismissal was a result of character, go for it. But the Bengals not being in the playoffs comes down to two plays. A botched PAT that would have tied the game against Denver and a missed 39-yard field goal that would have won the game against Pittsburgh. I can't believe the Bengals aren't going to the playoffs because of those two plays.
IT’S ALL IN THE PERCEPTION
Perception is hardly reality. In fact, perception can be dangerous. What’s on the surface is hardly what’s underneath. Most of us have seen the surface of the oceans. But odds have it that you have no idea what’s in the Challenger Deep. On the surface, the oceans wave at the pulse of the moon. Underneath, the ocean is vivid with light in total darkness.
The perception is that the Cincinnati Bengals are reflective of the Miami Hurricanes in the NFL. The only difference is that we have Cris Collinsworth and Boomer Esiason while the Hurricanes have Michael Irvin and Lamar Thomas.
But that perception is hardly the foundation of this team. Madieu Williams, Willie Anderson and Rudi Johnson are some of the most charitable personalities in the league. Head Coach Marvin Lewis spends time and money to the Marvin Lewis Foundation. Brian Simmons, Levi Jones, Carson Palmer, Bobbie Williams, Doug Johnson, Shaun Smith, Kenny Watson and Landon Johnson took 55 kids to a Toys-R-Us store giving each $300 for a Christmas these kids would otherwise not have. On the same day, Sam Adams, Justin Smith, Rich Braham, Tony Stewart and Rashad Jeanty took 40 kids, from the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Cincinnati, to get pizza before a shopping spree at Dick’s Sporting Goods. On December 5th, T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Rudi Johnson participated in Hometown Day giving people the opportunity for an eye exam and glasses for those unable to afford them at New York City public schools. Shaun Smith, Anthony Wright and Kenny Watson did the same in Cincinnati. With his Halo, David Pollack visited Children’s Hospital. Rudi Johnson took time from training camp to visit a six-year cancer patient and his family.
The perception of this team is wounded from a few guys. But the reality is that perception couldn’t be further from the truth.
THE ORIGINS OF FALSE PERCEPTIONS
I understand why people perceive the Bengals the way they do. After Deltha O’Neal was charged with a DUI, the count hit eight. I’ve designated them as the "Eight Men Out" – in reflection to the Black Sox scandal in relation to the embarrassment they gave their organization. I’ve come to understand that Chris Henry is either troubled, or he’s just a horrible person. There was a debate brewing in Cincinnati:
Is talent more important than character? The NFL thrives on the moral fiber of its players. The success of the Chargers, Bears and Bengals, incurring character related problems, has created a twist to the Gattaca league. It’s a valiant effort. It really is. The NBA has been battling with an image problem for years. The NFL is battling to prevent it. Arrests, selfishness and pimp-daddy limos are starting to be portrayed in the NFL. I’m curious as to the fan’s reaction. Will fans stop going to games in protest like the brief attendance lows that came only five years ago in the NBA? The majority of sports fans have a demand that they players act modest with a team-first attitude that’s home by eight taking care of Johnny and Gracie.
But that’s not reality. We’ve never had a reputation of having this many character debates in the Queen City. Never. So if you called this season an aberration, I’d support it.
I won’t lie. I enjoy this guy when he makes monster catches, gives his all and makes the difference he’s supposed to make. For a number-three receiver that records nine touchdowns – an impressive 25% of his season’s receptions – is incredible. For his career, 22% of Henry’s receptions have gone for touchdowns. Henry has one less touchdown than Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh in the past two seasons. This guy scores touchdowns.
But the question is always poised with this guy: Is he dependable?
The question of effort plagued Henry at the end of the season. Arrests forced Henry to miss three games early.
In fact, I have a bigger problem at letting Henry play but not letting Thurman play – you know, because it’s the moral fiber, right? Look at Henry: gun charges, giving alcohol to underage girls, marijuana, driving under the influence. Thurman made the same bone-headed choice as O’Neal and Eric Steinbach. But after failing to show up for a required test during the off-season, he was already serving a four-game suspension. The DUI made it a full season.
I’m not defending Thurman. In fact, it’s been a disaster that he’s fallen so hard from whatever grace he had. It’s disappointing that he failed his teammates, fans and employer. With him, this defense had an impact player that contended with Lofa Tatupu, DeMarcus Ware, Shawn Merriman (another drug policy violator) and Carnell Williams for Rookie of the Year. Then rumors surfaced of an impending suspension because he missed a mandatory drug test. It was later confirmed and Thurman was forced to sit the first four games.
In the end, Thurman’s actions hurt this team on the field by not being there. He’s an incredible talent that made an impact the moment he stepped on the field his rookie season. Now, he’s faded away because he couldn’t hear that voice in his head about moderation, responsibility, loyalty and honoring Lewis’ trust to give troubled kids a second chance. Shame on you, Odell.
BEST NON-ROOKIE PLAYER THAT PLAYED FIRST FULL SEASON WITH TEAM
At first, Eric Ghiaciuc's play was disappointing. The line wasn't making adjustments and blitzers found success up the middle. After Rich Braham went down for the season in September, Carson Palmer was sacked 14 times in a three-game stretch. After that, things calmed down. Ghiaciuc's ability to seal the middle tremendously improved. As the season wore on, there was a limitation with blockers letting defenders tee-off on Palmer. But towards the end, you didn't hear Ghiaciuc's name in a negative manner and most agree that he is the future center.
THE CASUALTY OF INJURY
If you were to ask me the game that set the tone for the season, I would point to the 34-17 blowout over Cleveland in week two. In that game, we lost our starting center, starting outside linebacker and best kickoff return man for the season. We also lost starting strong safety for three games with an ankle injury. When Rich Braham went down, the offensive line had problems finding cohesiveness. Add that to Levi Jones going down against Tampa Bay and missing nine games. Bobbie Williams missed three games after an appendectomy. T.J. Houshmandzadeh missed the season’s first two games with a heel injury. Chris Perry missed the season’s first five games, played the next five, and then broke his leg against Cleveland. Deltha O’Neal missed three games, Brian Simmons missed five and Rashad Jeanty missed four; all due to injury.
BEST OFFENSIVE ROOKIE
When Levi Jones went down against Tampa Bay, Andrew Whitworth had to step up. And he did... for a little while. His struggles came against Dwight Freeney and against the Denver Broncos. But about that time, Jones finally made his return. Whitworth, for a rookie left tackle, was simply awesome for role asked of him. Was he the best rookie left tackle in the league? No. But he's up there. The thing about Whitworth is his dynamics. At the start of training camp, Whitworth was getting work in at guard and tackle. He played both during the season.
BEST DEFENSIVE ROOKIE
Is there anyone that Johnathan Joseph didn't impress? Against Baltimore, Joseph dropped four potential interceptions. His 20 pass deflections is tied for fourth in the NFL around guys like Champ Bailey, Chris McAlister and Charles Woodson. He's the best tackler in the secondary and isn't afraid to smack you. Joseph will be something special.
THE RISE OF OTHERS FROM CASUALTY
The injuries have enabled others to step up. Caleb Miller went from special teamer to "hey, he ain’t that bad". Johnathan Joseph has started ___ times with O’Neal struggling to regain starting status. Andrew Whitworth is expected to take over at left guard once Eric Steinbach’s price can’t be met. Eric Ghiaciuc is the starting center of the future. Stacy Andrews will take over at guard and tackle when others fall.
THE SEASON IN A NUTSHELL
Carson Palmer made an impossible return. David Pollack broke his neck. Robert Geathers laid out Trent Green. Eight players arrested. Injury, injury, injury. Play-calling. Defensive shortcomings. Records broken. Rich Braham retires. With all that, it's still disappointing the Bengals missed the playoffs. They nearly overcame tremendous adversity. They played with an image that's not reality. They struggled, they thrived and then struggled again. They couldn't beat the good teams and barely beat the bad teams. The 2006 Bengals team went through a lot and finished not doing enough. The only thing that concerns me heading into the off-season is this: Are the 2006 Bengals a trend or an aberration?