Slowly we plummet through the Bengal universe.
In what has felt like a long come down from magic mushrooms, this season has been a total buzz-kill for me and my striped brethren for the past four months now. It seems the stuff we were sold last year just looks the same but has a much weaker effect on the system. We were just tricking ourselves into believing it was the same early on, but now we know that it's bogus and schwag and we want our money back, or so we say.
This past Sunday was just another bad batch of the stuff.
It started out okay, as a Bengals three and out was followed by a defensive stand that led to a Saints punt. Problem was, Cincinnati roughed the punter, and the five yards given to New Orleans was enough for field-goal range and got them a three point lead. Stupid.
Then, on their second possession, the Bengals throw to Brian Leonard on third and four, which isn't necessarily a bad idea, but the pass was thrown too far behind him and carried his momentum behind the line of scrimmage causing Leonard to end up with a five yard loss. Stupid.
On fourth and one on the Saints' five yard-line, Cedric Benson was given the hand-off, but instead of following the giant ponytail of Domata Peko to a first down, he tried bouncing it to the outside and was stuffed for a loss. El stupido.
And finally, Pat Sims. I don't even have to say it.
Though I think Pat has been blamed too much for this loss. Wanna real goat to this game? Check out Chinedum Ndukwe. The gambler was wrong on three huge pass plays; all of which led to points, including the last score of the game. Or how about Jonathan Wade who was absolutely roasted by the Saints' extra slot receiver, Robert Meachem, for a fourth-quarter touchdown. Or even Cedric Benson who has developed a case of happy feet that is preventing him from gaining the tough yards.
For a long time, I've been quite complimentary about Mr. Benson and his weekly contributions to the Bengals, but I think he's pressing too hard right now. Either he's overly worried about his upcoming free-agency, he doesn't trust his blockers, or he is being used in the wrong way. Regardless of the reason, I think he cuts back excessively, searches for holes rather than creates his own, and would rather wait for the big run than etch his way down field. Plus, he has fumbled at an alarming rate this season. Elite backs can average more than 3.5 yards-per-carry and not fumble six times in 12 games, and if your back is not elite, there's no reason to keep him. Running back is the most replaceable position on offense, and if the Bengals would simply open their eyes, they would see they already have a back that could be better on their very own roster.
Not only did Bernard Scott provide a bevy of quality kick-returns on Sunday, he also racked up 43 yards on six carries. The Bengals are in love with the stretch hand-off. Despite Carson's slow and clumsy feet, and despite their inability to get a consistent push on the outside, they refuse to give up on the stretch hand-off play. It's ridiculous, but it is less so when they run it with Scott. Benson has his moments getting the ball wide and following his sprinting line down field, but Scott changes direction much faster, has better overall field vision and is more designed for a play that takes longer to develop—like the stretch hand-off. What Scott is less effective doing is pounding the ball up the gut on straight hand-offs, but he is curiously often asked to do so anyway. If the Bengals insist on being a wide-play running team, why not give more carries to the man who does it better than anyone else on the team? Why? Because they are stupid, once again.
As for the nonsense that unfolded during the last Bengals possession, one need not look farther back than the end of the first half to find the recurring theme. With eight seconds left in the half and one time out remaining, the Bengals found themselves at mid-field with scoring aspirations on their brain. After a poorly-thrown pass to Chad Ochocinco on an out-pattern, Palmer was given no chance for a long heave to the end-zone because he was sacked. Following the botched time management at the end of the game (which is apparently too heavy for the quarterback to handle on his own), the offensive line once more failed to give enough time for a hail-mary pass. Again, this is an offense that insists on deep drops, long routes and a vertical attack. How is that possible when the quarterback never feels comfortable, especially on the last-gasp desperation throws? When the game comes down to the will of the participants and it's simply a matter of who wants it more, why is it that the other team keeps coming out on top? Why can't the Bengals muster their collective talents and efforts into just one winning performance? What in the hell is going on?
Perhaps historians will one day be able to intelligently answer these questions and more. Perhaps the answers are right before our noses but, due to our loyalty and emotional attachments, we are unable to currently admit what's really going on. Or, perhaps Mojokong is working on it in his laboratory and will soon enlighten the world with his analysis. Who knows? The fact is, close losses, dumb losses, irrelevant losses, all count as losses, and in sports, there's simply nothing worse—especially to the fan.
So, knowing me and knowing you and knowing there's only one dealer in town, I'd imagine we'll be out there again next week buying from the same dude and just hoping it gets better. Why? Because it's football and it's the Bengals, and goddammit we love them both.
Mojokong—I drink them and with them.