Following Cincinnati's loss to the Denver Broncos last week, many Bengals fans (myself included) axed our postseason expectations, reverting to a familiar attitude that usually accompanies a 3-5 season. Peyton Manning fades in the rearview with the Super Bowl champions on deck. Crushing expectations liquefy into a declining stream, headed for the storm drain of depression, the season was declared over.
Yet an A.J. Green 56-yard touchdown against the "hole-y" Giants secondary, followed by an Adam Jones 68-yard punt return that setup Andrew Hawkins' first quarter touchdown, unexpectedly setting the pace for a crushing 31-13 defeat over the New York Giants.
Alright. How are we supposed to process this? When it was all said and done the Bengals snapped a four-game losing streak, have partially recovered the static on the playoff picture at No. 9 with a five-game stretch against teams sporting a combined 15-29 record.
Due to those prospects of a potential postseason run becoming fractionally available, a divide predictably develops within the Bengals fan base. Trust me. It happens every year.
There's the optimists, who see a sparkling 4-5 record fueled by a dominating victory with a stretch of games against teams with a losing record -- and for the most part not playing well. Next up is the Kansas City Chiefs, who haven't claimed a lead during regulation this entire season (their only win was won in overtime against the Saints). Following that is the Oakland Raiders, who last won against the same Chiefs team and the Jacksonville Jaguars before that -- in overtime.
The hope is there, glowing within the spirit of optimists. Or native idiots, as the opposing faction of Cincinnati's fan base may incite. Not that there's malicious undertones to it; many older fans feel this way. Decades of futility, often tricked by the promise of postseason glory only to be shredded by iterations of similar incompetence, tends to make the most rosy personas grumpy.
Paul Daugherty with the Cincinnati Enquirer concludes with same heartbeat from those, at the very least, not buying into this just yet.
Watching the Bengals across a couple decades produces a jaundice that makes optimism a risky prospect. The solid wager is to keep your heart in your chest and your wallet in your pocket.
Yet who can blame anyone that feels this way? Only one week ago the entire nation of loyal Bengals fans were a down-trodden bunch, sighing hurricane force winds and somewhat dreading the completion of this season. After all the Bengals failed to sellout on Sunday, largely due to the anxious expectation of failure that tends to follow a passing stream of... well let's just call it inconsistency.
One game is hardly convincing evidence from a 3-5 team making an attempted U-Turn for a postseason run. At the very least we'll sit back and watch how this unfolds, doing our duty as Bengals fans, cheering the game, rather than being clouded with some postseason arguments that remain two months away. The Bengals see it far more clearly, only because they can. Though the postseason window isn't yet closed, cornerback Adam Jones speaks a more simple truth for the team's long-term planning: "The guys know that the playoffs started today."
Translated: They can't lose another game at this point.
As for the divide within the base, who cares? Who cares if my tweets enthusiastically promote an awesome win against the New York Giants; saying nothing about the previous eight games, nor anything about the next one. This moment of digital high-fives invites resistance from those that are quick to remind me that they lost to the Miami Dolphins and Cleveland Browns, as if that absence in my long-term memory was due from radiation treatment after a mutated Bengals win on Sunday.
Similarly the thought of someone bemoaning the win identical to a loss is their god-given freedom, bestowed on them by those before us. If Cincinnati's 31-13 loss draws the worst memories during a 20-year Mike Brown reign, by all means kick the empty can down the dirt road.
At the end of the day it doesn't matter what anyone thinks or says. Enjoy Sunday's win or don't.