CINCINNATI - NOVEMBER 21: Fred Jackson #22 of the Buffalo Bills runs with the ball while defended by Johnathan Joseph #22 of the Cincinnati Bengals during the NFL game at Paul Brown Stadium on November 21 2010 in Cincinnati Ohio. The Bills won 49-21. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
I’m having trouble coming up with much to say about the Cincinnati Bengals at this point because even the act of discussing them as if they were a professional football team accords them far more respect than they deserve right now. It would be like having The New York Times’ theater critic come and review the performance of my daughter’s middle-school drama club, or talking about whether I could win a NASCAR race on my neighbor’s riding mower. None of those conversations can be considered the least bit serious.
Should Marvin Lewis (or Bob Bratkowski or Mike Zimmer or [insert coach here]) be fired? Should the Bengals pick up Chad’s option? Should they try to re-sign Joseph or Benson before next March? Should they stick with Carson Palmer?
The answer to all of the above: who cares? What reason have the Bengals given anyone to believe that anything they do will matter? This year has been nothing but an endless string of failures, starting with the Antonio Bryant signing and carrying through to Sunday’s history-making loss. No matter where you turn – coaches, players, medical staff, ownership – there’s no respite from the smoldering ruin that is the 2010 season.
Talking about ways to fix things seems absurd. Even if the Bengals could identify a problem and a solution, who out there thinks they could implement that solution successfully? And even that whole "identifying the problem" thing is problematic because just about everything appears to be busted right now. The 2010 Bengals remind me of the scene in "Apollo 13" just after the tanks in the service module explode. "It’s reading a quadruple failure," says one member of the mission control team. "That can’t happen." Later, asked by the flight director, "What do we have on the spacecraft that’s good?" he can only reply, "I’ll have to get back to you."
Very little is good on spaceship Bengals today. There are a few players, like Jordan Shipley, who look like keepers but overall about 90% of the roster could be jettisoned out the airlock without impacting the team’s performance in the slightest. I’m quite sure that the Bengals could find 45 or 50 college free agents who are capable of giving up 49 points in four quarters of football against one of the league’s worst teams – and they would cost a lot less than the current crowd of foul-ups, bleeps and blunders.
Same with coaching. Even Mike Zimmer’s stock has cratered due to the defense’s sloppy and undisciplined play. None of the staff have made much of an argument for keeping their jobs, and I have to wonder if many (if not all) of them wouldn’t be just as happy to be someplace else – anyplace else – next year.
And then there’s the front office. Abandon hope all ye who enter here. Despite two decades of abject failure, we know the cast here won’t change, so the same people who have been making all the wrong calls for so long will have yet another opportunity to screw things up. And based on their track record, I fully expect them to grab said opportunity and run with it.
Yet despite the fact I have no hope whatsoever, I can’t walk away from this team, if only because the Bengals have once again become horrifyingly fascinating, like one of those 200-car freeway pileups or a massive train derailment. As much as I might want to, I can’t look away. I was out at a bar Sunday with a friend who’s a Bills fan, and I told him at halftime that the Bengals wouldn’t score another point and Buffalo would come back to win. I wasn’t joking; I knew that they would blow it, the only question was exactly how they would implode. And then we both sat there and laughed for the next 90 or so minutes as the Bengals not only lost, but gave up the biggest comeback in football history. That, my friends, is the kind of high comedy you don’t see every day.
And so my suggestion to all Bengals fans is this: laugh. We’ve tried everything else. Knowing the circumstances under which Lewis must labor, I have tried to be tried to be understanding, supportive and patient since his 2003 arrival. I’m done with that. With Lewis on the cusp of returning the team to the same 2-14 basement in which he found it, yukking it up is the only strategy left. I have no illusions that, no matter how embarrassing this season might ultimately be, the front office will make any fundamental changes, but I figure I may as well get some enjoyment out of yet another Lost Decade.