Cincinnati's 2-3 start to the season can't be filtered from the frustrating moments that transmutates into complete anger, impatience and suggestions that the team should completely rebuild from scratch.
When frustration started mounting with people calling to have Marvin Lewis fired at times in 2007, I asked if we really want Mike Brown to be the one rebuilding this team? I know, it's not a good reason for inaction, but it's also the absolute reality. Sure, hire a general manager. That would be great. But you do realize whom you're asking that of, don't you? Fantasy is always fun to play, but only if reality doesn't inject it's vulgar reminders that your suggestions are totally meaningful.
If Mike Brown is tasked with finding a new head coach, his track record is far more terrifying than having Lewis around for another five years. Complacency? Perhaps. Before Marvin Lewis, it was David Shula, Bruce Coslet and Dick LeBeau. As Bengals head coaches, they combined to win 52 of 174 games, translating into a .299 winning percentage. More terrifyingly put, that's 35 games below .500. Marvin Lewis, on the other hand, is right at .500, going 58-58-1. That's not to say that Lewis is the answer to win Cincinnati a championship and by no means, is fear a reason to hire a new head coach. But really, giving Brown the option to find a new head coach is scary business.
I know, bringing up things in history seems pointless. But how can you blindly disregard history? How can you sit there and and actually think that your thought process is anything near what the franchise thinks. Your suggestions might be better, but playing armchair quarterback is about as useful as people that moan about elected officials, but refuse to vote because it's raining outside.
That being said, the season thus far is a severe disappointment. It's not disappointing that we're 2-3, as weird as that sounds. Many teams expected to do well are struggling. Alright, 2-3 is disappointing, but it's the teams we've lost to that brings about the most painful realization that Cincinnati is basically an average team. But how did we get to that point?
New England 38, Cincinnati 24. Bengals open the season in New England, kicking off a schedule many defined as being one of the toughest in the league. Many didn't expect the Bengals to pull away with a victory, but the concept of an upset wasn't entirely unthinkable. In fact, we had every confidence, mostly a result of the homerism remaining in our gut that ignited when the regular season kicking off, that the game would be decided late.
Yea, we were kind of disappointed on that.
Carson Palmer was sacked on the team's opening possession and New England ran a five-play 72-yard drive that ended with a nine-yard touchdown to Wes Welker. Bengals punt on the ensuing possession and fumble on the possession after that. Through the first 24 minutes of the game, New England built a 17-0 lead and the route was officially on.
New England would go onto to build a 24-3 lead at half time when New England's Brandon Tate returns the second half opening kickoff 97 yards to give New England a 31-3 lead with 29:48 godforsaken minutes left in the game.
Thankfully the Patriots would go into a prevent-mode defense, allowing the Bengals to make the score appear respectable to anyone that didn't actually watch the game. Cincinnati's first three possessions would end with touchdowns; all three drives went at least 12 plays and at least 73 yards. Cincinnati would pull with 14 points by the end of the third quarter, actually giving the Bengals a fool's hope that they could make an epic second half comeback.
New England promptly took a 14-play drive for 81 yards for a touchdown, giving New England a three touchdown lead and eventually the win.
Cincinnati 15, Baltimore 10. Cincinnati got back to basics against the Ravens, using a formula they used last year to sweep the 2008 AFC runner-ups. Cincinnati picked up 253 yards of total offense, with the defense holding Baltimore to 259 yards and a 26% conversion rate on third downs. Cincinnati's defense played exceptionally, forcing four Joe Flacco interceptions, limiting Ray Rice to under 100 yards rushing and preventing former Bengals receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh from even recording a reception.
In fact, if you combined Baltimore's big three receivers, Anquan Boldin, Derrick Mason and Houshmandzadeh, they recorded six receptions for 67 yards receiving and a touchdown.
Cincinnati would eventually hold onto the football for over 34 minutes, winning the game on five Mike Nugent field goal conversions, giving Cincinnati, by far, their biggest win of the season.
Cincinnati 20, Carolina 7. Benson was featured heavily against the Panthers, picking up 81 yards rushing on 27 carries and a first quarter touchdown. Palmer records his second consecutive game with a passer rating below 61 with a yard/pass average below 5.4 yards. Yet Cincinnati won because of a defense that limited Carolina to 267 yards of total offense and an 18% conversion rate on third down.
Furthermore, the Bengals defense absolutely dominated Carolina in the first half, limiting the offense to 50 yards of total offense, allowing only one completed pass by Jimmy Clausen.
Cincinnati took a 10-point lead into half time and never looked back, eventually matching that in the fourth quarter, dominating the time of possession with over 36 minutes.
Cleveland 23, Cincinnati 20. Even though Cincinnati isn't destroying their opponents during wins, by this time there was enough confidence to feel that as long as they beat the teams they should beat, then everything will come together, provided we have patience. After several weeks of blaming Carson Palmer for the origins of smallpox, the Bengals passing offense truly explodes against the Browns. Carson Palmer records a 121.4 quarterback rating, completing 25 of 36 passes for 371 yards passing and two touchdowns. Terrell Owens was Palmer's biggest contributor, hauling in 10 passes for 222 yards receiving, which included a 78-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter.
Yet, the Bengals only scored 20 points and lost. Aside from the 10 points in the first half, the Bengals would punt, fumble, punt and miss a field goal in the first half and would go onto fumble a second time in the second half. Cleveland would kill the game's remaining 4:41 with a 10-play drive with Peyton Hillis running for 38 yards to seal Cincinnati's loss.
Tampa Bay 24, Cincinnati 21. Cincinnati came into this game, which was marketed as a great sports day in Cincinnati with the Reds hosting the Philadelphia Phillies at Great American Ball Park for the third game of the National League Divisional Series later that night. The Bengals had just come off a disappointing three-point loss to the Cleveland Browns. All combined, the Bengals had nearly every reason to win this game and there was a ton of excitement.
Cedric Benson had, by far, his best game of the year, picking up 144 yards rushing on 23 carries with an additional 19 yards receiving. Terrell Owens picked up 102 yards receiving on seven receptions which included a 43-yard touchdown reception.
Yet, the Bengals only scored 21 points and lost. Even though Palmer recorded his second straight multiple touchdown performance, with five touchdowns in the past three games, Palmer threw three interceptions that led to 17 points for the Buccaneers. The Bengals defense, just as appalling, played terribly soft, allowing Tampa Bay to record just under 400 yards of total offense with a 45% conversion rate on third down. Josh Freeman would go on to pass for 280 yards, with rookie Mike Williams hauling in 99 yards and a game-tying touchdown.
I hate taking anything away from another team, but if there's a great example of how the Bengals lose a game, rather than another team beating them, it's this. Cincinnati turned the ball over three times (four times if you include the Bernard Scott fumble on the kickoff return at the end of the game) and committed nine penalties with most stalling offensive possessions. What's worse is that two of Palmer's interceptions would come with the Bengals holding onto a 21-14 lead with 2:28 left in the game. Two interceptions, 10 points later, the Bengals biggest meltdown of the year was completed. Oh, and the Reds lost later that night, eliminated from the playoffs.