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Groundhog Day

As ESPN’s Chris Berman reminded viewers during one of his Monday Night Football segments, it’s an old axiom in the NFL that, win or lose, you should throw out the results of week 1. I can’t say whether that’s a good idea for fans of any other team, but in the case of the Cincinnati Bengals, history says it’s the right approach.

To me, the really depressing thing about last Sunday’s game wasn’t that the Bengals looked like the football equivalent of the Keystone Kops, it was that they looked like the football equivalent of the Keystone Kops again. It wasn’t opening day, it was Groundhog Day.

We saw the same 53-Stooges act back in Marvin Lewis’ very first game in 2003, when a slow, confused and bungling Bengals squad got trampled 30-10 at home by the Denver Broncos. The next year’s opened at the Meadowlands wasn’t much better: the Bengals fell behind early, managed to creep back within 4 at the half, only to watch the Jets’ Donnie Abraham run a fumble back 41 yards for a touchdown. Sound familiar? And of course there was last year and the "Immaculate Deflection."

Even when the Bengals have managed to win their first game, it’s usually been in a lethargic manner. In ’05, a Cincinnati team that would end the season 11-5 opened against a Cleveland Browns squad destined for 6-10. The Bengals trailed 3-0 at the end of the first quarter before finally waking up and ripping off 27 points in the second and third quarters.

The same thing happened the following year, when they were behind the Kansas City Chiefs 3-0 after one, before going on to win 23-10. I have no idea why the Bengals so often come out flat on opening day, but they do. However, I do know that when they’ve taken a pie in the puss to start the season, they’ve usually bounced back in short order.

After looking completely hopeless against Denver on the 2003 opener, the Bengals traveled to the West Coast to play the Oakland Raiders. Cincinnati played like a team possessed in a venue in which they never seem to win, and fell only because of a last-second Sebastian Janikowski field goal.

After losing on the road to the Jets in 2004, the Bengals came home to edge the Miami Dolphins 16-13 on the strength of three Shayne Graham field goals and a 50-yard Brian Simmons pick-six. And last season, the loss to Denver sparked a four-game winning streak. Conversely, the one time the Bengals came out of the gate strong on opening day, it was a harbinger of disaster. In 2007, The Bengals opened against the Ravens at home. The Bengals jumped out to an early 9-0 lead in a brutal pummeling match that ended in a defense-fueled 27-20 Bengals win. The Bengals would go on to lose the next four straight.

I won’t say opening day is never indicative (see 2005 and 2008) but more often than not it’s been an outlier for the Bengals.