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Season Recap: Part Four

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For Part Three of the Season Recap, click here.

Heading in to Week 9, the Ravens traveled to play the first-place Bengals; a team they had lost to four weeks before on their own turf.  Nonetheless, the Las Vegas wizards refused to accept Cincinnati as a contender and made Baltimore a three-point favorite.  This ruffled a few Bengal feathers, mine included. 

There was no reason to analytically assume the Bengals would lose.  They were fresh off demolishing Chicago, 45-10, the previous week and already proved the experts wrong on three separate occasions that year.  Yet the festering Bengal stigma that lurks in the minds of football fans was still so thick that the majority expected Cincinnati to "come back to Earth" and suffer their first divisional loss.

Ha!

Like the Bears game, the offense came out of the gate hot, and rolled to a quick 17-0 lead in the first half.  Dick Enberg, the television commentator that day, accurately described Cedric Benson as having "a mean running style" as he powered into defenders and swiped away arm tackles.   Benson is bad to the bone, and the Ravens were reminded of that both times they faced him. 

Laveranues Coles also had his best day and came through with some key catches in those early scoring drives by the Bengals.  When reviewing the season as a whole, Coles had stretches where he appeared in sync with the rest of the offense.  It raises questions surrounding his inconsistency on the year.  Perhaps we, as a Bengal nation, are too rough on him.  Maybe it's possible that he still may find a rhythm with Carson and become the productive player he was in New York.  After all, Carson didn't have his most accurate season and the whole offensive shebang is run by a guy who has a difficult time incorporating anything new at all.  Either way, Coles looked good against the Ravens at home and it helped the Bengals win that game. 

Once Cincinnati had their three-score lead, they took their foot off the pedal and put it up on the dashboard.  Even with no more points, and not much more excitement, they ran enough plays to control the ball for 40 minutes of the game; twice as much as Baltimore for those skipping the math. 

Of course, you can't pull off a statistic like that without great defense, and by that point of the season, the defense was hardening into the coldblooded mold it would be all season long.  Zimmer and his men put Baltimore in a choke-hold that rendered them useless on offense---twice.  The run-stoppers were fierce, the coverage was like a giant rain-tarp, and Rey and the Boys chased running backs and screening receivers out of bounds on a regular basis. 

It was a strongman win, 17-7.  The game-plan unfolded nicely; three quick scores and a stockpile of good defense was all it took. 

Lots more after the jump.  Please, read on. 


But it came at a cost that no one could have predicted.  Chris Henry broke his forearm and needed surgery.  He would miss the rest of the season.  It was a setback that proved insurmountable to the offense, but more importantly, an event that contributed to his young death.  I certainly don't know anything about it, but it seems like Henry playing football was the best situation for him.  It's all so very sad.

That sadness, though, was not yet upon the team as he died a few weeks later.  Instead, after the second Baltimore win, the Bengals prepared their trip to the confluence of the Three Rivers to settle the division once and for all.  For both teams, it was the game of the season and everybody knew it.  Beating the Ravens and going 4-0 in the AFC North was nice, but taking out Pittsburgh a second time would be simply majestic. 

Again, very few thought that would happen.

Ha, ha!

I remember raking leaves and heavily contemplating the upcoming match-up.  I decided both teams would score three times but that Cincinnati's red-zone defense would limit two of Pittsburgh's scores to field goals.  That meant Carson and Crew would need at least two touchdowns to win.  After playing a near-flawless six quarters before going into the protect-the-lead mode against Baltimore, the offense seemed capable of getting into the end-zone twice.  I picked the Bengals with my heart, and developed a presentable reason why with my brain.  I was wrong about all of it, and I'm glad that I was.  The offense didn't score any touchdowns that week, but it somehow didn't matter. 

It was a fierce, brutal contest; a real rolled-up-sleeves and bloody-knuckles kind of fight.  Cedric Benson aggravated a hip flexor and was shelved for the next three weeks, Troy Polamalu bothered his hurt knee and was never seen again that year. 

Things started out poorly for the Bengals after Shayne Graham missed a field goal on their opening drive and Pittsburgh responded with a made field goal of their own.  The ensuing kickoff was returned 94 yards by Bernard Scott for the game's only touchdown. 

The run was terrific.  Scott caught it on the bounce near the sideline, looked to be in trouble, spotted a hole on his stop-and-start move, and zoomed through it.  Quan Cosby zoomed with him and made two tremendous downfield blocks that enabled Scott to score.  After an exuberant celebration on the Bengals special-teams behalf, fans' spirits were quickly dampened when the extra-point attempt was botched. 

Many questions will be raised and remain unanswered about the direction of the team and the various decisions that determine such things, but the one that stands out to me is why Darrin Simmons was brought back for 2010.  Yes, Shayne Graham went on to make four more field goals in that game in one of his more impressive showings of the year, but he still missed one, didn't he?  The botched PAT was one of a handful of embarrassing gaffes in the kicking game that season, and there were two holding penalties on additional quality returns by Scott that day.  By rule, it's still a 10-yard holding penalty, but often the spot of the foul is far behind where the returner was tackled.  Therefore, it becomes something more of a 20-yard penalty and it makes the ensuing offensive drive seem that much more difficult.

Thankfully for the Bengals, with a Benson-less rushing attack and a mediocre passing game, compounded with spotty special-teams play, the defense saved the day again.  These once castaways collected by Marvin Lewis and Mike Zimmer, were good enough to earn themselves a nickname in 2009, yet sadly none took hold.  If that situation were to happen again next year, I recommend: The Beggars & Thieves Defense. 

The pass rush was in full force, tossing Big Ben to the ground all day.  If they weren't forcing punts and field goals with sacks, they were forcing them with the batted ball, and it was only a matter of time before one of those tips would end up intercepted. 

The play where that happened was my favorite of '09.  The score was tied 9-9 in what had clearly become a field-position brawl.  Roethlesberger's pass was not deflected by a Bengal lineman, but rather ricocheted off the helmet of Hines Ward, up in to the air and into the hands of a large man named Frostee.  What made this play so sweet was that as Rucker thumped down the sideline, two Steeler offensive lineman were obliterated on blocks as they ran toward the play.  Frostee was caught on the return, and Cincinnati settled for three, but it was one of the sweeter tastes of the season. 

The combination of getting to Roethlesberger on the pass rush and driving on offense consistently enough to get field goals, propelled Cincinnati to the catbird seat of the AFC North where they now sat alone.  They had roughed up the previous champs for the second time and exerted a visible dominance in doing so.  No divisional competitor had bested the Bengals and their record at 7-2 sparkled in the eyes of their fans. 

Even the doubters started to allow the possibility of an actual Bengals postseason to drip into their collective opinions after winning in Pittsburgh.  Bob Costas himself, the smug know-it-all who rubs elbows with the other smug know-it-alls of NBC football shows, had to ask on the air, "Are the Bengals for real?"

It was like Houdini or Jack Buck, I can't believe what I just saw, but there were no more reasons not to believe.  The Bengals had worn the big boy pants all season, routinely dispelling the many theories of why they couldn't beat the good teams.  Lots of people still won't admit it, but after Cincinnati walked away from that pile of dust in Pittsburgh as winners, a new layer of respect was given to the Bengals.  They had slayed their dragon---twice.

But of course, there was that faint and distant voice that kept talking about a dying Bengals passing game.  That irksome reminder of how this is a passing league and that power, grind-house teams won't be there in the end.  After such a monumental win---one of the best of Marvin's career---that voice was drowned in the din of celebration, but it remained present nonetheless.  And when things quieted down again, it would be heard more clearly.


Mojokong---it may not always seem so, but these recordings are important.