Note: I posted this in a comment but then decided it would be more appropriate as a fanpost.
I understand all the venting and blame-throwing. People are disappointed. I'm disappointed too.
But I think we need a little reality check. A bad result does not mean you have bad coaches or bad players. It certainly doesn't mean you need to make wholesale changes and blow up the ship.
The fact is, Marvin Lewis took a team with a skinflint owner and single-handedly dragged them into relevance. He built a team of nobodies and castoffs and made them winners. The reason why this team is considered deep and talented is because this coaching staff took a bunch of late round picks, busts and UDFAs and turned them into great players. Nobody else was clamoring for Geno Atkins or Vontaze Burfict or Wallace Gilberry or Reggie Nelson. Same with MJones and BabyHawk. They became great players in Cincinnati.
As much as we all wanted to win yesterday, 11-5 still counts for something. So does 3 playoff appearances in a row. This team's future is still bright. And since we'll get some of our best players back from IR next year we're already better off even before the draft.
I firmly believe that the disappointment we're all feeling is not because the team underperformed yesterday, but because they overperformed all season. The main problems yesterday were in the trenches-- OLine and DLine. Both of those groups were majorly affected by injury. The fact that we managed to fight back after losing Geno and Leon and Lamur and Geathers and Mays and TNew and Boling made us believe that anything was possible, but those injuries came back to bite us in the end. As did the fact that our entire offensive line was on the injury report.
If we had crumbled after the Miami game I think people would have understood. But because the coaches brought everyone together and got the next man up to play well we forgot about the impact of those injuries.
Some are going to say this is just an excuse. Fine, say that. But I firmly believe that these players-- and this staff-- will bring us back to the playoffs next year. Will we win? Who knows. It will depend again on injury, and luck, and the refs, and everything else. Even this game came down to a few moments that didn't go our way. Gio doesn't fumble or AJ makes that catch and I believe we win. But the fact that we now expect to make the playoffs and expect to have a winning season is massively different from where this team used to be.
The dirty truth is, the Bengals are not the Steelers. We do not have a history of winning. Progress is made in stages. We have gone from a perennial loser to a perennial winner. We have seen the team turn from a laughing stock to a contender. You don't go from the Bungles to a dynasty overnight-- there are stops along the way.
So, you can choose to be heartbroken, but I am going to enjoy the run for what it is. We were 11-5 despite losing our best defensive player, our two starting CBs, and pretty much every coverage guy we had.
Yes, we lost our third playoff game in a row. But we were also in the playoffs for the third year in a row. Most teams dream of that kind of success. (We used to be one of them). I remember when this team sucked for year on end. I remember when we were the Cleveland Browns in an endless cycle of coaches and QBs. That is caused by making change for the sake of change. You can't throw the baby out with the bathwater.
I hope that Marvin and Gruden and Zimmer continue to grow as coaches. But I also respect them for what they've accomplished here. And I'm going to continue to enjoy the fact that we are a strong team made up of players I genuinely respect. These are the Bengals. They're not pretty, but they're my team. And they always will be.