Presenting the CincyJungle Bengals Midseason Awards

It's not that I actively bash Peter King. I find his view that the Bengals are a sideshow at a circus to be somewhat irritating. But in the end, my feeling about the national media is trivial. They don't pay obsessive attention to the Bengals day-in and day-out with teams like the Patriots or Cowboys, or players like Brett Favre, or Brett Favre, or Brett Favre around. It is what it is, and I leave it at that.

However, King did release his Midseason All-Pro team on Tuesday and while no Bengals player was listed, it got me thinking. Do the Bengals have one player that's above all else in the league?

The first player that comes to mind is Cedric Benson. King lists Chris Johnson as the league's best running back in 2009. That's a fine choice. But in my opinion, if you're a player that's deserved of being the best player at that position, then you should be on a team better than 2-6 and better than the 23rd best scoring offense in the NFL.

Other than that, I have a hard time replacing any of our players to King's list. Maybe Benson would fit better as Comeback Player of the Year rather than Brett Favre. But if Favre is considered for an award, you better believe he's getting the hardware. I just don't know exactly where Favre went. Didn't he play the entire season last year? Maybe it's the fact he came back. Get it? Comeback. Yea.

With that in mind, and with the first-half over -- can you believe we're already at the half-way point? -- I'd like to present this year's CincyJungle Midseason Awards.

The Cincinnati Bengals MVP. Being an MVP isn't just about stats or even earning weekly awards. In football, it's much more than that. In football, it's about heroics. It's about leadership. It's leading your team towards success and victory.

One of the knocks on Carson Palmer's career is that he hasn't been known for engineering come from behind victories. In fact, it seemed like if everything wasn't perfect, Palmer struggled. His old passing statistics in previous seasons were beautiful and glorious, but the Bengals needed one last thing from Palmer. He needed to lead the Bengals to victory, no matter the odds.

And boy, did he make that impression early.

Down 6-0 with 6:21 left in the fourth quarter, Palmer engineered an 11-play, 91-yard drive in 5:43 to take a 7-6 lead over the Denver Broncos during opening weekend. The Bengals ended up losing anyway on, well, you remember. Nonetheless, Palmer was foreshadowing. The Bengals were down 20-9 entering the fourth quarter against the Pittsburgh Steelers. In the past, the Bengals typically laid down at this point against Pittsburgh. So in somewhat surprise fashion, Palmer completed 10 of 17 passes for 96 yards in the fourth quarter. With 5:14 left in the game, Palmer engineered a 16-play, 71-yard drive that ended with a four-yard touchdown pass to Andre Caldwell. And on that drive, Palmer converted two fourth-downs to keep the game alive; a five-yard pass to Laveranues Coles and an 11-yard pass to Brian Leonard.

Against the Browns, the Bengals really struggled. Palmer most of all. With 6:38 left in the game, the Browns took a 20-14 lead. Palmer led a drive that went 70 yards on 10 plays to tie the game at 20. If it wasn't for a blocked Shaun Rogers point after touchdown (or a misfired snap by Brad St. Louis that caused Shayne Graham to hesitate), the Bengals likely win this game in regulation. Instead, with 3:23 left in overtime, Palmer captains the offense to Cleveland's 13-yard line on 13 plays. Shayne Graham converts the field goal with seven seconds left in the game for the win. Not only did Palmer put together a drive to tie the game, but he had to follow that up with a drive that setup the game winning field goal. What's more impressive is that Palmer and everyone else were way off their game and still came through at the end.

With 2:15 left in the game, the Cincinnati Bengals offense starts at their own 20-yard line, down 14-10 against Baltimore. Again, Palmer leads an 11-play, 80-yard drive in under two minutes to take a 17-14 lead with 22 seconds left in the game. I suppose we can thank the Ravens for a few timely penalties. Regardless, Palmer found Andre Caldwell running a seam down the middle, catching the 20-yard pass to win the game.

Palmer has largely improved as the season has worn on. Since the overtime win over the Browns, Palmer has recorded a passer rating of 80 or better -- 90 or better in the past two games, including a 146.7 against the Bears -- and an 8-2 touchdown to interception ratio.

With all of that said, I still don't think we've seen the best of Palmer yet.

For his late-game heroics and leadership, the 2009 Midseason Team MVP is Carson Palmer.

Offensive Player of the Midseason: An offensive player of the midseason means you're the best offensive player on the team. Even though Carson Palmer was the Cincy Jungle MVP, an argument could be made that he's not the team's best offensive player. We know where this is going, don't we?

It's hard to go against Cedric Benson. His 837 yards rushing ranks second in the NFL. He's scored a touchdown in six of the season's eight games. Eight times he's picked up gains of 20 yards or more (tied for third) and 35 of his rushes have picked up first downs. If not for Benson, many things don't turn out the way they do. Because of the threat to run on nearly every down, Palmer isn't dealing with overloaded secondary packages. Because of Benson, the Bengals can finally become like-minded in the general success of this division by rushing the football first.

Not only is he the best offensive player of the year, but Benson could be awarded the Comeback Player of the Year as well as Best Free Agent signing of the year.

Defensive Player(s) of the Midseason: If it wasn't for Antwan Odom's injury, he'd be the guy. It's hard to vote against anyone who picks up seven sacks in the season's first two games. I honestly wouldn't have a problem if you were to make that choice today. However, I'm going with the cornerback duo of Johnathan Joseph and Leon Hall. Combined for eight interceptions -- one returned for a touchdown -- the Joseph/Hall combination picked off Joe Flacco four times, largely contributing to the season sweep against one of the league's powerhouses. Johnathan Joseph's interception return for a touchdown against Pittsburgh in the third quarter gave the Bengals their first touchdown of the day and largely swung momentum into the Bengals favor that led to an unlikely (at the time) win over the Steelers on September 27.

Leon Hall (16) and Johnathan Joseph (15) rank in the top-four in the NFL with most pass deflections. Hall's 41 tackles rank third among all cornerbacks in the league; behind Cedric Griffin (48) and Champ Bailey (45). Both cornerbacks are already close to achieving career-high numbers this year.

The cornerback duo's play (and health) this year have enabled Mike Zimmer to employ different packages that keep opposing offenses guessing. Thanks to two former first round picks that are starting to play on their respective islands as we had hoped they would.

The Award for lowest expectation turning into team's greatest pride and Award for Comeback Unit of the Year. When the Bengals finished last season the offensive line was in turmoil. Palmer and Ryan Fitzpatrick had no protection and the Bengals rushing offense largely failed because the offensive line couldn't open lanes. Once Anthony Collins and Nate Livings joined the starting group because of injury, the line started stabilizing. But the question was strong enough in everyone's mind this offseason to be concerned. Kyle Cook replaced Eric Ghiaciuc, who wasn't offered a contract. Anthony Collins moved to right tackle. Andrew Whitworth moved to left tackle. Bobbie Williams stayed home. Nate Livings resumed left guard duties he earned at the end of last year.

I remember thinking at the time: there are no new faces! All of these guys were around last season. What makes me think they'll improve anything?

If we could nominate an entire unit for comeback unit of the year, it would be the Bengals offensive line. Even though Carson Palmer is on pace to be sacked 24 times this year, the Bengals offensive line hasn't just performed well above expectations, they've flipped all of us off and laughed for not believing. No one expected what they're doing now. No one expected that Palmer would only be hit 24 times (not sacks, being hit) through eight games.

Then there's the offense's 4.3 yard-per-rush average, which ranks 13th in the league. There's Cedric Benson, who doesn't exist if not for this offensive line; the same offensive line that helped Benson break gaudy defensive rushing streaks that the Ravens were riding.

This offensive line isn't the best in the league. But who cares? This offensive line is why the Bengals’ offense is playing as well as they are. And no one expected that.

Award for Best Team Performance of the Midseason. Anytime you win a game by 35 points, you had a damn fine game. Cincinnati took a 31-3 lead into halftime behind four Carson Palmer touchdown passes against the Chicago Bears. Cincinnati finished with 448 yards of total offense and the defense held the Bears to 279 yards on their way to a 45-10 victory.

Award for Winning The Big Game. Even though the Bengals swept the Baltimore Ravens, contestant in last year's AFC title game, the Bengals win over the Pittsburgh Steelers in week three was significantly bigger.

Award for Biggest Team Letdown of the Midseason. Awards are generally not handed out for disappointing feats. But I had to mention this for two reasons. The way Cincinnati dealt with adversity and how dangerously hard this team could fall if they play down to their opponents with a very weak stretch on the second-half schedule.

One could argue the team let down against the Houston Texans, losing 28-17. However, the Texans have a winning record this year, aiming for a wild card spot in the playoffs and nearly pulled off an upset over the Indianapolis Colts on November 8. Of their four losses, only one was lost by more than a touchdown. My pick for Letdown Game of the Year goes to a game that the Bengals actually ended up winning. Odd, eh? Coming into the game, the Cleveland Browns had the league's worst offense and 30th ranked defense. Other than it being an in-state rival, there was no reason why the Bengals couldn't obliterate one of the worst teams in the NFL. We were superior on offense. We were twice as superior on defense. Instead, the game was close. The Bengals played down to their opponent. Derek Anderson threw for 269 yards. Jerome Harrison rushed for 121 yards. J.P. Foschi and Daniel Coats were the team's leading receivers and Cedric Benson -- the guy that rushes for 100 yards against the Ravens defense -- only gained 74 yards through nearly five quarters.

The Bengals needed nearly 75 minutes to win this game, which is a signal of their growing (and impressive) level of maturity and ability to succeed through adversity. But if we had lost this game, it would have been a terrible loss.

Award for greatest third down conversion in team history. This isn't so much of importance as it is an example of how karma can play a role in games. The 31-24 win over the Green Bay Packers didn't start well at all. Carson Palmer had thrown a five-yard touchdown pass to Laveranues Coles on the team's first offensive drive of the game, taking a 7-0 lead. Aaron Rodgers answered with a three-yard touchdown of his own. Palmer threw a pick and the Packers scored another touchdown to take a 14-7 lead. Quan Cosby returned a punt 60 yards that setup an eventual one-yard quarterback sneak to tie the game at 14. Bengals force a three-and-out. On the second play of the next possession, Charles Woodson returns an interception for a touchdown, giving the Packers a 21-14 lead.

On the next possession, the Bengals line up at their own seven-yard line on third down. The first down marker sits at the 41-yard line. What do most teams do on third-and-34? Hope a screen pass or draw is unexpected enough to gain as many yards as possible. After catching a short dump pass out of the flats, Daniel Coats takes off. About 11 yards short of the first down marker, Cullen Jenkins knocks the football out of Coats' arm and it (the football, not Coats) bounces forward 15 yards where Laveranues Coles pounces and recovers the fumble. First down.

You knew the football gods smiled upon the Cincinnati Bengals that day when Green Bay only scored three points and Antwan Odom was on his way to having a career day (five sacks).

Nominations for Acid Reflux.

  • Brad St. Louis
  • Daniel Coats

Rookie of the Midseason. The Bengals had a good draft in the spring. Several players are contributors now, like Rey Maualuga, Michael Johnson, Morgan Trent and Bernard Scott. Jonathan Luigs may factor in the offensive line next season, depending on if the Bengals bring Bobbie Williams back.

But the rookie that's really contributed is a fifth round pick from the University of Cincinnati. With a tremendous ability to turn the field, Huber could be the team's Special Teams Player of the Midseason. His first five career punts landed inside the 20-yard line.

 

 

Punts

In-20

Avg.

Long

2008

Kyle Larson

100

28

39.5

57

2009

Kevin Huber

49

13

43.7

61

He's averaged over 45 yards/punt in four games. Only 45% of his punts were returned. And in every game save for one he kicked at least one 50-yard punt. It might seem sad that we're awarding our Rookie of the Midseason Award to a punter, but that would only mean you haven't seen him punt.

However, we have to also acknowledge that Rey Maualuga could easily win this award. He's recorded 30 tackles, two forced fumbles and a quarterback sack. If you go with Maualuga, that too would be a fine choice.

Now it's your turn. This is where the community takes part. What do you think of the awards? What other awards would you create and hand out? Discuss.

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