This is my take on the Bengals' season so far, and also my first fan post. The Chicago and Pittsburgh games' narratives were written during the game, the Packers one, the next day. I know I can be rather pessimistic, but believe me - during the fall, my mood every Sunday evening totally depends on 53 men wearing black and orange thousands of miles away. If you don't believe me, ask my wife.
When the 2014 NFL season rolls around, I will, God willing, be a father. Since that will be a new experience for me, I'm not sure how closely I'll be able to follow important world events such as football. Therefore, I've decided to chronicle my thoughts throughout the current season. Maybe someday I'll share it with my kids and we'll laugh together. Maybe they'll even be wearing orange and black as we do.
Opening game at Soldier Field against a Bears team that is supposed to contend for a playoff spot. Not an easy game, but certainly not mission impossible. Indeed, a good team, the kind that the Bengals can make a statement by beating.
The first 15 minutes are spent trying to find an Internet stream of the game. Finally found one and it's already 7-0 Chicago. Apparently Dalton has already been picked off and the Bengals have had two special teams' penalties. More of that to come. Cutler has pass batted down by a DL named Still. Who's that? Never heard of him before. Nantz and Simms go on about how the Bengals have so much talent, they could just effectively redshirt him last year, when he was their 2nd-round draft pick. Looked it up. Yep they're right.
Dalton and AJ Green get going, however and it's 7-7 after a lovely 42-yard connection. The Bengals are totally in control –when they want to score, they do (45 yards, Dalton to AJ) and when they want to let Chicago back in it, they do (AJ bats Dalton's pass into the air and Tillman gets it). Some DL named Thompson makes a tackle. Never heard of him either. What a rotation on the defensive line! Then comes the first Marvin Lewis moment. With 1:43 left in the half and Chicago with one timeout, the Bengals get the ball on their own 12. Lewis decides to be conservative and runs the ball. BJGE loses 4 yards. 44 second off the clock. Another rush for no gain, another 44 seconds off the clock – no wait, that didn't happen. At least not in this world. Maybe in another world, where the Bengals are coached by someone who knows elementary clock management. In this world, for some reason, a pass is called, incomplete, 3 seconds off the clock. Now, a first down is necessary is keep the Bears' offense out for the half. Ah, right, now we need to run! So it's now 3rd and 14, and they're running. Short of the 1st down, but Chicago is now out of timeouts with 50 ticks left in the half. If they would have run on 2nd down, it would be 10 ticks.
Bears take over on their own 41. No, wait! Kirkpatrick has other ideas. Let's commit another special teams penalty: late hit, out of bounds! Three plays later it's 14-10 after a stadium-record 58-yard FG. By now I'm nervous and send a WhatsApp message to my brother with a worried face. How many times have we seen this? Fan on cincyjungle.com makes fun of me, since I blamed Marvin Lewis but he says Jay Gruden is calling plays. Oh, sorry. Big difference.
Jim Nantz says the last time the Bengals had two 90+-yard touchdown drives in the same game, the quarterback was… (and I mouth it along with him) Boomer Esiason. Ahh, those were the days.
Bengals begin 2nd half with 80-yard TD drive. No one can stop AJ Green. He's doing whatever he wants out there! Bears answer likewise. It's 21-17, should be 21-14. Orson Charles holds and Jim Nantz calls him Charles Orson. Just like Israeli soccer announcers! Gresham is having a good game with tons of yards after contact. I guess drafting a good backup TE really scared him. Things are looking good. If only we weren't afraid of that stupid end-of-half brain meltdown.
The 4th quarter begins with Cutler throwing right at Burfict. With the way the Bengals' offense is going, that has to be it. They're going to seal it, right? Wrong. This is the Cincinnati Bengals. Even when they win, it's only after giving fans a heart attack. Sanu fumbles it right back. Another message to brother: "Bengals ahead but can't put it away." Reply comes in. "Nothing new, eh?"
It's 4th-and-1 on the Bengals' 27. Defense calls timeout. Only 10 guys on the field. Forte converts. Next play. Defense calls timeout. Twelve guys on the field. No more time outs. It's 24-21 with 8:06 left. Plenty of time, right? Bengals go three and out, and punt. Can't stop the clock. Punishment for not being able to count to 11.
Defense stops Bears with 1:15 remaining around midfield. Dalton will have about 35 seconds to go about 90 yards. Wait a minute! We haven't had a bonehead, dead-ball, stupid penalty for a whole half. This cannot be tolerated! Maualuga manhandles some Bear and the game is over. Do dishes, take shower, brush teeth, get into bed. Wife asks who won. Tell her not to go there. Grumble that I deserve a gold medal for sticking by this team for 25 years. Change my mind, and declare that the medal can be black and orange, instead.
Next day, decide that the team's biggest weaknesses are LB, S, WR and HC. Can't they get a cheap veteran to complement Green? What about a replacement for Maualuga?
Next week it's Pittsburgh, on Monday Night, at home. Since I'm a Bengals' fan, I know all of the negative statistics. Marvin Lewis can't beat the Steelers at home – one win in eleven tries. Bengals haven't won on Monday Night this millennium. Looked it up on Internet. OK, I was wrong. "In prime-time games under Marvin Lewis the Bengals are 4-10 and are on an eight-game losing streak. The average margin of loss during that streak is 18.6 points with only two being in single digits. The Bengals last win in a primetime game was the 2007 opener against Baltimore on Monday Night." Thanks to Joe Reedy for that one.
It's Steelers' week, and that's always an intense one. Early on in the game Pacman forces a fumble that the zebras miss. Lewis only gets his challenge flag down in time because the Steelers botch their quick snap plan, and wins. Bengals ball. Long pass to Eifert sets up TD. MNF crew mentions James Brooks. Bengals lead 10-3 for a while, but can't pull away. No question how that's going to end and the answer is 10-10. Jon Gruden calls the play and it happens, as if his brother is the offensive coordinator for Pittsburgh, and not Cincinnati. He's not so sharp during halftime when he says MIA beat IND in a divisional game. Sorry, Jon that's about 12 years ago.
After the first half it's a 10-10 tie. Not the best game for either team, a rather scrappy affair, and it's completely open. I guess the glass can be seen as half empty (should have padded the 10-3 lead) or half full (Bengals not playing so well, but not losing).
Finally, some naches (that's Yiddish for "a good feeling") from Andy Dalton. Mid 3rd quarter, puts together a good drive, running and throwing, mainly to Grehsam, who racks up the YACs. Drafting Eifert was the best thing that happened to Gresham in his career. He got motivated, or scared. Either way, I feel he's trying much harder. You always knew he could play, but it always seemed like something was missing.
With about 8 minutes left, a good Bengals' drive stalls near the goal line. There was finally a good mix of passing and running. It's (only) 20-10. But, boy, would a TD have made me feel better. It's going to be an intense 10 minutes.
Just like last year, Reggie Nelson comes up with a late INT off Roethlisberger. This is un-Bengals-like. Coming up with the big play exactly when you need it. Now, just kill the clock.
And boy, do they. After two runs by BJGE for short yardage, to milk the clock it's 3rd and 6. Do you call a run, giving up possession but forcing a 2nd timeout? Or pass and risk a clock stop? For once, the Bengals had their cake and ate it too. The Law firm pushed through the pile for a 1st down! Shortly after, tempers flare and Woodley gets called for a dead-ball foul. This is great! The reverse of everything we're used to!
Ahh, that feels good. Beating Pittsburgh always does. They look really bad, too. Nothing at all on offense, although the defense might keep them in a few games. At the moment, it looks like it's between CIN and BAL. I think I have to credit Lewis, too. Nothing overly stupid, good clock management at the end of either half, and a good challenge (even if we have the Steelers to thank for taking so long to snap the ball).
Next week: Green Bay. Oh, boy.
Quote of the day: "Ben Roethlisberger is like sacking an oak tree" (Jon Gruden)
Wow! One of the craziest regular season games ever! Didn't see the first half (beach and dinner with wife), but followed on mobile phone – first check 14-0, Bengals. Told wife that no way would they win without causing a collective heart attack among the faithful. Each check afterwards got progressively worse. Turnover after turnover. Got home at 23-14, found live stream, saw 30-14. My brain began to try to convince my heart that the game was over, and I should give up hope. For some reason, that didn't succeed. Got text message from Mom asking if I was watching the Cincinnati Bumblers. Discovered that, after a multi-year layoff, it is now possible to get a live radio broadcast for free. Dan (Hoard) has replaced Brad (Johansen), but Dave (Lapham) is still there. I think Dave was a little over-excited, because he was mostly just gasping, groaning and yelling during the plays that Dan was trying to announce. Followed open thread on Bengals forum. Comments I agreed with most belonged to a woman, named Anya, for the second game in a row. Most un-Bengals-like ending. Aren't they supposed to be the team having a 4th-and-inches fumble returned for the winning TD? Anybody remember Corey Dillon tripping over his teammate on the last play, at the goal line against Tennessee in 2002? Isn't Lewis supposed to be the coach that can't handle challenges? It's a new era in Cincinnati and it sure feels good.
Look, this team has talent, and a lot of it. I also think Dalton is good enough, although obviously not outstanding. Talent alone might be enough for a playoff spot. But, that's not enough to satisfy anyone this year. To go further, they'll need discipline, coaching, and the ability to kill off a game in which they lead. So far, those things have been spotted at PBS, but, it's still too early to say with any confidence that it'll stay that way.
Also, this game evens out with the Bears' game. That game was a coulda, shoulda, woulda loss. This game was a coulda, shoulda, woulda win. At the end of the season we won't have right to say "If only we had beaten Chicago", because the immediate answer will be "Yes, but you probably should have lost to Green Bay."
Quote of the day: Dave Lapham -