Another dismal season is coming to a close. Disappointment was realized after the third week of the season that this year’s Cincinnati Bengals were not worthy of making the playoffs despite having one of the most feared offenses in the league. And this disappointment is all too familiar to us Bengals fans since Mike Brown has taken over for our beloved Paul Brown. However, at the end of these dismal seasons the Cincinnati Bengals always seem to finish with a late season surge that causes everyone to start thinking that the following season will be the year. You know, the momentum of a strong finish is supposed to carry over into the next season that will make the previous season seem like an aberration. But is that the case? How many times have the Bengals finished strong and then carry the momentum into the following season?
The 1995 season was a year when the Bengals showed dramatic improvement despite losing 9 games. Of those loses, 5 were decided by 3 points. With the production of Jeff Blake and Carl Pickens, and the prospect of Ki-Jana Carter returning from a devastating knee injury for the 1996 season, prognosticators were taking notice. Even the San Diego Tribune predicted the Bengals would win the Central division with a record of 11-5. With the improvement over the 1994 season, momentum from the 1995 season should make for a different 1996 experience.
To start the 1996 season, the Bengals proceed to lose the first two games, but brought back some respectability in week 3 with a win over the Arizona Cardinals. But then Bengals did the usual swan dive losing the next 4, starting the season 1-6, causing Mike Brown to send David Shula packing and replacing him with Bruce Coslett. Then the Bengals caught fire going 7-2 the rest of the way finishing 8-8 for the year. This finish set the table for expectations that would need to be met for the 1997 season. The momentum from this season would surly carry over and send the Bengals back to the playoffs.
The 1997 season started looking like the expectations would be met after a week 1 victory over Arizona. But then things unraveled like a ball of yarn rolling down hill. The Bengals proceed to lose the next 7 games, extinguishing any hopes of breaking the streak of not making the playoffs, a streak that started after the 1991 season. Once the situation of whether they were making the playoffs was settled, the Bengals went on yet another late season surge winning 6 of the final 8 games finishing 8-8. During that streak, the Bengals were able to bring back Boomer Esiason who was instrumental in the surge with a 106.9 passer rating. The hope for the 1998 season was that he would come back for one more year and show everyone that he can still play and carry the Bengals into the playoffs. And yet again, the momentum from this season would surely have an impact on the 1998 season. Surely it would be the Bengals year in 1998.
With the retirement of Boomer, the Bengals needed a QB to take over a team capable of making the playoffs. With Carl Pickens and Corry Dillon as part of the offense and the momentum from the late season surge from the previous season, there was no way the Bengals would not be a part of the playoffs. To fill Boomers shoes, the Bengals brought in Neil O’Donnell, who performed admirably, but was unable to overcome a defense that quickly became one of the league worst. Whatever momentum built up from the late season surge in 1997, was lost when Boomer retired. The Bengals sniffed only 3 victories that season.
So the pattern has been set. When the Bengals have a late season surge, the following season should not be expected to any better than the previous. But there is an exception to this pattern. In Marvin Lewis’s second season, the Bengals started as expected with only 3 wins in the first 8 games. But the Bengals had another late season surge as they went 5-3 the next 8 games to finish the 2004 season 8-8. So did the momentum carry over to 2005? One could say yes as the Bengals finally quenched the playoff drought by winning the division for the first time since 1991. Unfortunately the playoff run was short lived with a first round loss to the dreaded Pittsburgh Steelers.
Now the pattern of missed expectations after a strong late season surge is once again apparent. Last season, after the Bengals struggled to win 2 of their first 8 games, they proceed to win 5 of the next eight finishing the season 7-9. However, the level of expectations for this season was not the same as last year due to a defense that finished the season near the bottom. Would the momentum from last season carry over and help the Bengals to win more than expected? With the invasion of the injury bug again, momentum from last season never had a chance to infect this year’s team resulting in the Bengals to be unofficially eliminated from the playoffs after losing their first 3 games. No NFL team has ever started 0-3 and made the playoffs.
Marvin Lewis has promised that the team will win the final three games of this season. And so far, that promise has been kept with the victory over the Washington Redskins. And the possibility exists that the promise will not be broken as the Cleveland Browns are now on their third QB for the season in Ken Dorsey, and the Kansas City Chefs, I mean Chiefs, continue to find ways to lose games. But will the momentum from this late season surge translate into more victories for next season? Based on the history of the past 20 years, don’t carry high level of expectations because you will then be pleasantly surprised if the Bengals surpass them.