I am putting down something that has been building inside me for about a month now, ever since the last playoff loss. Prior to the start of the 2012 season I proclaimed that 2013 would be the one that the Bengals would really put it together. This, along with what I considered setting realistic expectations, allowed me to still have faith in what is happening with this team despite what could have been (and was to some extent) a season that would fall short of the realistic expectations of a playoff win. In truth, it is a hollow win and I obviously wish 2012 had ended on a better note.
As we all know, it's tough being a Bengals fan. There has been lots of disappointment. Lots of despair. The brief periods of hope often seem to take longer than expected to unfold, and always seem to meet swift, abrupt ends. There have been times when the idea of hope was alive, yet we all knew deep down inside those were just ideas, not the real thing. Not since a long, long time ago.
This same story has been played out recently, but to a different tune this time around. In 2011 I was expecting a long, terrible season. My "hope" was Andrew Luck. Then, something awesome happened. We were good. Playoff good. We found our QB and a legit, all world playmaker good. "Did that really just happen?" good (with the national media trying to pick apart how it 'shouldn't' have happened at the same time). On top of that, there was a brilliant trade to propel my enthusiasm further. It seemed as though all of those years of stubborn management was building up to that one single moment of time where it seemed worth it.
In 2012 there was more speculation. The media again pointed to the schedules and proclaimed that the Bengals had it too easy in 2011, and they would show their true colors in 2012. A 30-year back-to-back playoff drought all but confirmed this analysis. A smashing defeat in the opener, and a terrible stretch of games losing to bad teams had us all but out of the hunt (and according to standings charts we were not even "in the hunt" after the Denver loss). The media and fans gave up. Here we go again. But for the second year in a row, a shocking surprise. 6 of 7 to end the year and BAM! Playoffs 2 years in a row. We all know what happened then.
This young team has given us something to look forward to. They have exceeded expectations both years of this new era. There have been incredible moments, and in some ways it's not fair to put it on their shoulders. Yet still we don't have a single playoff win. And that's what it all comes down to. More of the same. More hope. Tired, boring, stale hope. Nothing to show for all that hope, waiting and wishing.
This year there is a chance to push it over the top. No more waiting. No more wishing. It's built, so the focus shouldn't be on the future, but rather the here and now. It's time for MB to put his money where his mouth is and buck up for the guys he drafted. Build on this solid foundation. Start playing your cards like now matters, as it does for this fan base more than ever.
What would this look like? First, against the odds (simply because the odds are made due to history as opposed to capability), bring back Smith and Johnson. No excuses. Lock in Atkins. For the love of everything that football stands for, lock in Atkins as soon as you can! Draft for now. Rookie LBs and RBs often hit the ground running in this league. DEs, safeties and tackles don't. That's my opinion, though there are always exceptions. Regardless, in the first few rounds I want someone who will be a day one contributor even if it means a lower ceiling. That has never been my philosophy, but it is now. Pick up that missing piece in free agency. $50M in cap space and an extra early second rounder, all of this is more than reasonable. The fact that there is doubt that we will do this frustrates me to no end. This shouldn't be some kind of speculation. It should be expected, and once the time is right it should just get done. Good teams don't let talent walk out the door without having the last word in some form or another.
This season is crucial. 3 decades of ineptitude have made it this way. The idea of building more hope pisses me off. It's a tired, washed up feeling that I don't want anything to with anymore. Hope is no longer filling the fans with what they need, and the attendance in the stadium reflects this. Almost any other team in the league that had exceeded expectations in this manner for 2 years in a row would have people fighting for season tickets. Instead, the return of the Despised One and the visiting Super Bowl Champions from the largest market in the country gets blacked out. The well is all dried up, there is nothing more to borrow on.
In short, play like this season is for all the marbles. In many respects, it is. I want to go into next season with people actually talking like the Bengals are going to do some damage. Then I want them to do damage. I want a season that makes people have to pay attention to the Bengals. I want teams to be scared to death of playing them, like the schedule makers had it out for them, no matter which team they face that week. I want playoffs. Then I want want wins. Yes, winS! Deliver on promises. If not, I have no idea how I can even think about the Bengals in 2014. Seismic changes in the organizational structure would be necessary in order for me to want to pay attention, which really seems beyond unrealistic. I am dreading the fact that it may come down to that. I'm even having a tough time getting into this team now, despite the fact that I know the sky is the limit.
The time is now. Play like there's no tomorrow.
Thanks for listening to my pointless rant. This isn't how I usually am, and I wanted to share it with you all. If only one person out there feels me, it was all worth writing.