The Bengals’ 2016 roster is quite similar to the team’s 2015 roster. Players come and go and names like Marvin Jones, Mohamed Sanu, Reggie Nelson and Leon Hall have moved on to new teams. But, the bulk of the team from last year remains in tact. That team started off the year 8-0 and finished 12-4. But, the Bengals already have as many losses through eight games in 2016 as they had throughout the entire 2015 regular season.
Having an experienced roster, the Bengals know their season is far from over. Safety George Iloka believes the Bengals have what it takes to turn this disappointing start to the season into one to remember.
“We have the guys with the character to turn it around,” Iloka said this week via Bengals.com. “So far this year we’ve taken a different fork in the road. Last year we started 8-0 and we didn’t end the season how we wanted to. This year we took a different route. We started off slowly. Kind of bumpy, but I know we have the guys in this locker room who can do it over the second half of the season and if we do, we’ll definitely turn things around.”
This team believes it’s better than its 3-4-1 record indicates. Coaching changes, roster moves and a tough schedule to start the season all contributed to more losses than wins in the first half of the schedule.
“All this stuff we’ve been talking about and asked about the last eight weeks, it doesn’t matter,” veteran left tackle Andrew Whitworth said. “All that matters is the last eight games and who wins the most games.”
Whitworth has been through great years with the Bengals, such as the last five straight playoff seasons. But, he’s also been through some difficult seasons in Cincinnati, such as the 4-11-1 season in 2008 and the 4-12 season in 2010. If anyone knows and understands how NFL seasons become ones to remember, it would be Whitworth.
“There are a lot of teams at the .500 mark. Some teams with an easier schedule have a little better record, but for the most part everyone looks gettable.”
The Bengals will face a 5-3 Giants squad on Monday and it won’t be an easy contest. But, it’s one of those “gettable” games Whitworth referred to. The Bengals need to start winning if they want to get their season back on track and if you take a look at the games remaining, this primetime contest is one the Bengals need to give their all.
It also hasn’t helped that through eight weeks, the Bengals have played at home three times. That’s because of giving a home game away to play in London. But, the team also started the year off with two straight road games, and this week, they’ll return to MetLife Stadium for the second time this season.
“I feel like we’ve been away for the first part of the season,” defensive tackle Domata Peko said. “We have four home games. We haven’t played our best ball yet and we still have the opportunity to win the division. It starts this week. Just going out and getting a win this week to get back on track and we’ll be fine.”
A win this week would go a long way toward getting the Bengals back on track. The Bengals have yet to beat a team with a winning record this season, and defeating the Giants would do just that.
And, as Peko said, the opportunity to win the AFC North is wide open for the taking. The Ravens and Steelers are both 4-4, making the Bengals just a half game back in the division standings. A win this week would keep them in the fight, while a loss would put them one game further behind their division foes.
But Iloka says the team isn’t paying attention to the standings and playoff picture... Yet.
“Late in the year when you get down to three, two games left, when there’s not a lot of room to make up, then you might start paying attention to the standings,” Iloka said. “But right now, it’s fairly wide open. A lot can change. In this division, a lot can change. A lot can change in the AFC West. Everybody just has to worry about their team right now and be in a good spot.”
Right now, there is still time to make up for a shaky start. If the Bengals start playing as more of a complete team, clean up some of their issues from the first half of the season and ultimately, win games, the sky's the limit.
“For as horrible of a start as we had, at the beginning of the season, everything is still right in front of us,” Peko said. “That’s a very positive thing and everyone is trying to own it and we’re starting to grasp it that we’re right where we need to be. We didn’t start the way we wanted to. Last year we were 8-0, this year we’re 3-4, but we took a different fork in the road this time. It’s not going to be easy, but this is an important game and we know that in this locker room. This game is very huge for us and we’ve got to win.”
We’ll see if the Bengals can start winning the games they’ve “got to win” on Monday night.