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Is a Bengals Collapse Coming?

Now before everyone jumps on me about being negative in a season full of positives, let me tell you that I am the most optimistic person here.  My wife will vouch for that.  The glass is always half full with me, rarely will I look at anything pessimistically.  Also before anyone questions my loyalty, which has happened recently, I am as loyal a Bengals fan as anyone around.  I live and die with every play in every game and bleed burnt orange and black.  Ask the nurse who took some blood from me recently, she'll tell ya.

We have seen this kind of situation before.  We have experienced the euphoria of winning games and making the playoffs.  But mixed in, we have felt the misery of a team collapse during the last quarter of the season ending up out of the playoffs.  Since Marvin Lewis has come into a situation that looked hopeless in 2003, he has shown an ability to get the most out of the team and get them into playoff contention on a number of occasions.  But as the season starts to wind down, the team seems to run out of gas causing unexpected losses and missing the playoffs after a promising start. 

The first season Lewis was at the helm in 2003, he guided a team that exceeded expectations by making a run at the playoffs with a mid-season four game winning streak. Factoring into 2003's excitiment was a win over the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Ketchup Bottle putting the team at 7-5 entering week 14.   All that was needed was a couple of wins in the last four games and the Bengals make the playoffs for the first time in over a decade.  The tank must have been out-of-gas as they proceeded to lose 3 of those games letting the Cleveland Browns eliminate them from playoffs in the last game of the year.

Entering the 2006 season, there was concern about Carson Palmer coming back from his devastating knee injury in the 2005 playoff appearance against the Steelers.  The level of expectation was that the Bengals should contend for a playoff repeat and things looked like that was case as they compiled an 8-5 record entering those last three games of the season.  All they needed was to win one of remaining games to qualify for the playoffs for a second consecutive season, which would have been a franchise first.  Well, in true "snake bit" franchise fashion, they proceeded to lose each of those games with the Steelers kicking the Bengals out of the playoffs in the last game of the season.

Now fast forward to 2009.  A similar situation has arisen as the Bengals enter week 14 with a 9-3 record needing only one win to clinch a playoff spot.  They looked out of place going up against the Minnesota Vikings losing 30-10 on the road two weeks ago.  They traveled to San Diego last week to face the hot Chargers who had won 8 straight games coming into the game.  The Bengals played well despite playing with a heavy heart from Chris Henry's untimely death, losing in the last seconds of the game due to a bad bounce.   Unlike the game against the Vikings when they fell behind and never recovered, the Bengals made an 11 point comeback to tie the game with an eye towards overtime.  The defense, which the team has relied on so often during the season, failed to make a much needed stop on the last drive which led to the loss.

The Bengals this season have built a reputation of playing well against top opposition by beating the Steelers twice and the playoff bound Green Bay Packers in cheese country.  But to counter that, they have also built a reputation of letting lesser teams frustrate them and on occasion, win.  In come the lowly Kansas City Chiefs to PBS who have won just 5 games the past two seasons.  With the Bengals ability to play down to the competition, this game could be tougher then it looks on paper.  They then travel to the Meadowlands into a stadium in which they have never tasted victory for a game against the New York Jets (who currently have an outside chance to make the playoffs at 7-7).  Unless the Jets are eliminated this week against the Indianapolis Colts, this game could be more important than we first thought.

The Bengals are once again in playoff contention in the Marvin Lewis era with two games left.  All they need to do is win one of the two remaining games and they clinch a playoff spot and the division title.  Win the final 2 and they finish with a respectable 11-5 record and possibly the number 3 seed.  Help would be needed if this were to occur as they are currently the 4 seed with the New England Patriots occupying the 3rd spot.  If the unthinkable occurs and they fail to win their remaining games they will have lost 4 straight games after starting 9-3, finishing 9-7.  With a number teams still in contention for just a few playoff spots, anything could happen.  Including the possibility of the Bengals not qualifying for the playoffs. 

Simply put, the Bengals control their own destiny, which is enviable for any team in that situation.  A win seals the deal and a position in the playoffs.  If a collapse occurs and they need help to get in, relying on prayers and tie breakers could have the Bengals participating in the playoffs as spectators.  With the offense showing signs of life again and a defense that is still baring their teeth, there is an excellent chance the Bengals can rebound from the two previous losses and win against the Chiefs and Jets to secure not only a playoff spot but become division champs for the second time in 5 years and host a first round game.  Who Dey, babe!!!