I said it weeks ago. Many of us said it. The words were received in some circles and less so in others, arguments were made. There were folk who said that ugly games are the team's bread and butter in 2009, that our defense was good enough to stop any offense in the league. The Kool-Aid was flowing freely in Bengal Nation.
I even took a sip here and there; I even took a healthy swig on a few occasions.
I tried to emphasize three or four weeks ago however that unless the passing game got on track, the Bengals were going to find themselves on the short end of the stick. I was concerned.
I am now alarmingly concerned. Is there any among us who thought today at four o'clock that this team was still going to make a Super Bowl run? I mean is there anyone out there who really seriously thinks that?
DISCLAIMER: I won't be talking much if at all about the defense, because as usual I find myself very satisfied with the way they performed today. Some missed tackles hurt them and they gave up a lot of points at the end of the game when they were physically exhausted. Being on the field for nearly the entire second half will do that to a defense. Jonathan Joseph and Hall played lights out yet again and for the majority of the game the Favres were held largely in check. Consider that my pat on the back for the Bengals today.
The game started pretty well, if by started you mean "Quan Cosby did a good job catching the kickoff." There was a penalty on the kickoff return. Then Dennis Roland promptly false started, sending the team back another five yards.
Before Carson Palmer even had a chance to hand the ball off or pick a receiver to whom to throw, he had walked fifteen yards backward. The team (primarily the offense) gave up yet another near football field's worth of penalty yards. At the conclusion of the first quarter they had more yards in penalties (25) than they had yards on offense (15).
The defense was able to keep up with a Percy Harvin-less Vikings Offense for two quarters. Going into halftime the score was 16-7 after one masterful drive by the Bengals offense drew within three of the Vikings only to give up successive field goals to end the half. The score should have been even closer than that, which typically falls right into the wheelhouse of the 2009 Bengals. Well, it fell into the wheelhouse of the early 2009 Bengals who scored all of their points in the second half. It doesn't suit the latter 2009 Bengals who have gone six straight second halves of games without an offensive touchdown.
I said it weeks ago and I'll say it once more. Something drastic needs to change, or these Bengals will be a one-and-done story in the 2009 NFL Playoffs. Once again, if you watched today's game it's going to be awfully hard for you to argue with that. As a matter of fact, unless the Chicago Bears beat the Baltimore Ravens next week it'll take until week sixteen for our guys to clinch the AFC North. If the team that played today comes out in a similar manner (and how could you expect any different at this point), there's absolutely no way they travel to San Diego next week and return to Cincinnati with a win.
They absolutely need to find a way to put points on the board. It's fantastic that they can run Cedric Benson all over any team. Really, they can. Had they not gotten themselves down by three scores late I'm certain that Benson would have carried once or twice more and gotten his 100 on the Vikings' defense today. As opposed to the 36 carries he took to get to 110 yards last week, he had 96 on 16 carries today for a nice little YPC average of 6. Yes, that 42-yarder helped.
All of that is completely irrelevant however if they can't put the ball into the painted area known as the "end zone." Whereas the Bengals held the ball for sig-ni-fic-ant-ly longer than their opponents the past three weeks, today the Bengals' defense was on the field for five minutes longer than their offense. Boy, did it show. By the end of the game our boys were completely gassed. Do you know what would help that?
More drives like that thing of beauty that happened in the second quarter.
Thing is, I no longer have any modicum of confidence that those drives are likely to happen more than once every game or two. Unless the Bengals can show me something next weekend (which I am loath to anticipate), I don't expect to see any of those Cardiac Cats-type drives in the fourth quarter to win a game for us, folks.
The procedural penalties keep piling up. Seriously, are they getting close to record territory yet? It seems like it's every bit as bad each week as it was the week previous.
There is nobody on the field that Carson Palmer trusts at this point to catch the football or run the correct route but Chad Ochocinco. Therefore he is seeing near-constant double and triple coverage. How bad are the other receivers on the field that they can't get open enough that we're still throwing the ball to Dan Coats? Oh, hey Dan. Good job making a couple of catches today. You made me smile. For a second.
Okay, I think I'm done ranting for now. Maybe I'll finish up later.
The good news? Our favorite football team is 9-4. I fully expect an 11-5 record at the conclusion of week 17, I really do. I'm not so concerned about getting to the playoffs at this point.
This team will make the playoffs for the second time since 1990. You can pretty much take that to the bank. You know what? I'm damn proud of them for that. I really am. For a team to go from 4-11-1 to 9-4 in a year (I can't remember the specifics, but our Bengals matched the greatest turnaround in the history of the NFL this year in regards to record through the first ten or twelve games).
I am very proud to call myself a Bengals fan, for the second time since I was nine years old.
The only problem? It's not enough anymore. I'm not a Bengals homer that is happy with the fact that we'll make an appearance on a football field the second Sunday in January.
I'm concerned because I'm pretty sure at this point that our boys will be able to make their vacation plans after that.
Listen, I could be wrong and I really, really hope that I am. I really do. All I'm saying is that unless some very serious issues (no deep threat other than Ocho who can't stretch the field like he did four years ago, Carson's accuracy and happy feet, pass protection issues, ALL THE FREAKING PENALTIES, etc, etc etc.) are resolved and soon, this is a one-and-done playoff team again.
I should be happy with that, I know. But I'm not.
Be a better team against elite competition next week and prove me wrong, boys. I'm proud of you, but you've got me wanting more. Really it's your fault for looking so good most of the year.
In the words of someone who knows an awful lot more about football than I would ever pretend to know, fix it. Reach down inside and be a ***ing pro.
A Pragmatic Bengals Fan