CLEVELAND - OCTOBER 03: Quarterback Carson Palmer #9 and Kyle Cook #64 of the Cincinnati Bengals celebrates after throwing a touchdown pass against the Cleveland Browns during the first half at Cleveland Browns Stadium on October 3 2010 in Cleveland Ohio. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)
For the most part, our primary focus is to reflect the news, throw a few opinions into the mix and move on. That's not going to happen here, though I should be heard out anyway. You should know that even though I'm going to ask the questions with a biased pair of glasses the best I can, it'll come off as being very homer-saturated.
Aside from losing to the New England Patriots, the question that's rattling in my brain is, are the Bengals being beaten, or are they beating themselves? Before hammering me on the obvious Maddenistic Bubble that I surrounded myself with, consider the meaning with two examples. New England beat the Bengals, but the Bengals lost to the Browns and Buccaneers. Got it?
Though while playing by the rules of "hindsight is 20/20", unfortunately, you can't just say, well the team was lacking heart and effort. If that's the case, then that's on them because the emotional variable is too subjective to argue. Well, if Cincinnati came out better prepared, then they'd have better coaches. Well, if Cincinnati came out more willing to knock heads, take shots, then that's on the players; if a group of men of adult age that are paid handsomely, can't pump themselves up once a week, then you might not have the players that you necessarily need. Way too subjective to argue, which can't be weighted into the general argument of a never-ending loop of "if" propositions.
Anytime a player dominates the game, then you have to give him credit. And rushing for over 100 yards in an NFL game against an NFL defense is still a major accomplishment. Rushing for over 100 yards and scoring a touchdown, the Browns' Peyton Hillis is so far the only running back that's recorded over 100 yards rushing this season. And it's not like the rushing defense is playing terrible this year. Tampa Bay's Cadillac Williams has nine career 100-yard rushing games in his pocket. He rushed for 33 yards against Cincinnati's defense. Yes, Ray Rice averaged 5.4 yards/rush against the Bengals. However, if he doesn't run for 30 yards with nine minutes left in the game, Rice's average dips to 3.8 yards/rush. Carolina's DeAngelo Williams has 15 100-yard games; he finished against Cincinnati with 64 yards.
While Hollis had a great game against the Bengals, the truth is if the Bengals had better blockers on Mike Nugent's 44-yard field goal attempt with 1:39 left in the first half against the Browns, Cleveland doesn't begin the ensuing drive on their own 34-yard line. Add into the equation that if Chinedum Ndukwe's wasn't so "unnecessary" rough, the Browns don't charge down the field within a minute to kick a field goal that gives them a three-point lead heading into half time. If Chad Ochocinco doesn't commit a pass interference with 5:20 left in the game, the Bengals could attempt a game-tying 48 yard-field goal. Instead, with third-and-13, Palmer is sacked because Dennis Roland's attempt at blocking Matt Roth was about as inspiring as an armless man playing guitar.
Hence the Bengals beat themselves.
Against the Buccaneers, I believe the conclusive parts point to the obvious; lack of protecting the football, mixed with questionable play-calling during a point in the game where killing the clock would have made Tampa Bay's comeback ten times as challenging. Cincinnati's offense enjoyed a seven-point lead with just over two minutes left in the game, arrogantly smiling at Tampa Bay's lack of timeouts. Yet, a third down pass was converted into an interception and eventually, a game-tying touchdown. Palmer would go on to throw his third interception that would lead to Tampa Bay's game-winning field goal; although you could argue that of the interceptions, Palmer's last was hardly his fault. It was the second interception that led to Cincinnati's fatal blow that resulted from questionable playcalling. Yes, blame Chad if you must, but if the previous interception never happens, if that play is a run rather than a pass, then Palmer is never forced to throw the ball downfield to put the Bengals into position for a game-winning field goal.
Hence the Bengals beat themselves.
I'm not making excuses here. Not by a long shot. The Bengals are 2-3 and no amount of persuasive arguments can suddenly Harry Potter that. But don't give up hope. Don't jump off the bandwagon, or become obsessively angry with the Bengals just yet. We have 11 games left within a conference that has 14 teams within two games of each others.
Also find comfort that two of the Bengals three losses were decided by six combined points, in games that the Bengals are beating themselves. Once those little things that killed the Bengals against the Browns and the Buccaneers are righted, there's plenty of reason to find more hopeful expectations waking up Sunday morning.
Cincinnati will play up to their opponents -- except maybe the Colts. There's reason to believe that the Bengals will beat the Falcons coming out of the bye week. Cincinnati owns the Falcons with a 7-4 all-time record; Atlanta's two most recent wins against the Bengals came against a Michael Vick led offense against our defense, that didn't have the foaming at the mouth defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer. If you want a more emotional reason, consider that the Bengals players are hearing their fans and promising to respond. Don't you get the feeling that this unit of players are the fans' greatest ally, standing behind our complaints?
Also consider that if the Bengals play to their 2009 form, tough defense and a powerful rushing offense, then the Dolphins have no chance. Johnathan Joseph and Leon Hall will eat Chad Henne alive.
Win the next two games, and we're well on our way to mixing it up again. If the division is out of hand by then, then the Wild Card is very much alive. Stay on the wagon and let's play this out another 12 weeks.