A thrilling loss, like the one witnessed Monday night, isn't the worst thing to happen to a young, up-and-coming team—too bad the Bengals are anything but that. The theme of rallying back from deficits only to come up short in the end is already a tired one for this bunch. Unfortunately, it seems it's their only trademark and there simply aren't any more options to explore. Despite the shiny facade and previous accolades, this Cincinnati Bengals team before us is simply not any good, and the worst part is, their future somehow looks even worse.
The prime-time loss to the hated Steelers hurt more than just eliminating Cincinnati from any realistic playoff chances (as if that hadn't happened two weeks ago). It represented more than the epic failure and tremendous disappointment that this year's team has given us. When walking out of Paul Brown Stadium that night, one could feel the wave of deflation and forfeiture that those wearing striped clothing gave off. Those waving yellow towels and profanely abusing the home crowd, met no resistance to their mockery. What could a Bengals fan say? In a flash, Bengaldom time-warped back to 2002 and everyone knew it.
Everyone knew it.
This is an organization out of answers. Its stubborn, backward business motto has finally reached a crescendo of ineptitude that, without change to a more modern approach, was inevitable. A wise man recently pointed out to me how the Bengals were never good, but only lucky when they were able to achieve success. And while I stand behind the belief that playoff years are good years no matter how you slice it, I can no longer disagree.
Since 1991, the Bengals have never experienced two winning seasons in a row and have only made the playoffs twice in that span. No organizational move, including hiring Marvin Lewis or drafting Carson Palmer, has led to any real sustained success. This has gone on too long to not define it as anything else than failed policy. It has become more fact than opinion—the Bengals stink.
So what do we do? We like football but our favorite team is back to the familiarity of circling the drain. Do we hope for more losses for a better draft pick and further cause for sweeping changes in the offseason? Do we just want the Bengals to win games no matter who is in charge or what their record is? Will some of us turn our backs to the NFL altogether and spitefully hope for a lockout to transpire?
No one knows exactly how Joe Bengalfan will continue living with a Mike Brown-led team, but it's already expected that the upcoming home game against the Bills will not sell out, and for the first time in 57 chances, Cincinnati will not have the privilege of watching their home team play football. If that keeps up for the remaining home games, it may send Brown a message that his constituency's support for him and his club is waning. However, after surviving (comfortably) throughout the dark ages (1991-2003), it makes no sense to think that Brown really cares about sellouts or any other form of fan loyalty.
The man wants to win, but admits he wants to do it his way. Therefore it's up to that man to come to grips with the fact that his way does not work and that a new way—another man's way—is needed to win. The needless suffering, mockery, and well-deserved inferiority complex this city has gone through for 19 years could end with one person admitting they're wrong. I think I speak for many Bengals fans when I say that losing is okay if there is a perceivable commitment to do better. As it is now, we all basically hope to get lucky every year, seeing how no real organizational changes ever take place. In other words, if Cincinnati was 2-6 with a young, rebuilding team composed of promising, well-coached prospects, then I would tell everyone I know that things will get better and to be patient. Instead, we have veterans at nearly every position, most of whom have inexplicably decreased in their skill set in a year's time, we have all the same coaches that we've had for a good, long while and all the above simply looks terrible right now.
As for me, I plan on finishing out the season with the Bengals and seeing what happens in the early half of 2011. I would be lying if I said I wasn't eying other teams to spend my autumn Sundays with, and I always knew that Mike Brown would eventually become a deal-breaker, but I'm afraid that day is approaching faster than I expected. In the meantime, I, like so many of you, will gape at my television, scratch my head and drive myself mad trying to find solutions to this broken machine called the Bengals. That is to say, find an alternative solution to the obvious one I have ignored for the past eight years: replace the owner.
Mojokong—we aren't bound to suffer. We have a choice.