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No need to panic after Bengals’ disappointing 2016 season

Losing is never fun, but we should remember that the Bengals still have a good core of players who they can build on in 2017.

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Philadelphia Eagles v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Losing sucks. There, I said it. We shouldn’t try to cover that up and pretend like the Bengals’ potential to be better next year makes this season’s results feel OK. The Bengals suffered the ultimate loss to the Steelers on Sunday in a 24-20 game that the Bengals were winning 20-9 at the half. The result perfectly summed up the way the season has gone and magnified the issues that have been causing the Bengals and their fans frustration all season.

Not only are the Steelers the most hated rival for many Bengals players and fans, but this loss means the Bengals are officially eliminated from playoff contention. They still have to play the Texans and Ravens in the next two weeks, but somehow, it just feels difficult to get excited about those games. Just ask rookie receiver Tyler Boyd, whose perspective on this loss reflects the frustration that is so familiar.

“Coming into this organization, I felt like I was going to fill the void of the guys that departed,” Boyd told Bengals’ play-by-play announcer Dan Hoard. “I’m pretty upset because I wanted to continue to play.”

That said, there is a difference between being disappointed and panicking. It’s easy to panic because of the pathetic effort we saw on Sunday, but the Bengals still have plenty of talent on a roster that looked like a potential Super Bowl contender just last season.

Many are calling for head coach Marvin Lewis’ job and will continue to do so during the next few weeks. Why would fans and spectators do this? Because it feels like the Bengals should be seeing much better results given all of the talent on their roster. In fact, Lewis admits that he is to blame for the team’s struggles.

“It is hard because I feel like I’ve not found the right buttons, push people, et cetera, to get us where we need to be. And I always take credit for that,” Lewis said after Sunday’s game. “I’m never going to blame somebody else. It’s my job to figure it out why we don’t get it to where it needs to be. We’ve been short.”

It seems Lewis is admitting that he hasn’t been an effective coach this season. That said, firing Lewis as retribution for the team’s poor performances is the wrong move. That’s not to say the Bengals shouldn’t move on after carefully considering their future and laying out a plan for what comes next. But cutting ties with Lewis before the season is over or doing it out of frustration would do nothing more than anger the players. They are emotionally attached to their coach who has been coaching with the Bengals longer than any of them have been in the NFL. Many of the players are willing to speak up and fight on his behalf, and Adam Jones did just that on Sunday.

“As a player, it’s all on us,” Jones said. “Coaches coach and players play. Marvin can’t go out and guard Antonio Brown. He can’t tackle Le’Veon Bell. He can put us in great position to make plays, and there wasn’t one point today were we not in great position. So you can’t put that on Marvin.”

Dre Kirkpatrick echoed those thoughts.

“Not on the coaches. It’s always on the players,” Kirkpatrick said via the Cincinnati Enquirer. “They do a great job of weekly preparation, getting us in the best situations. I tip my hat off to Marvin. I felt like he did a great job getting us a great game plan this week. It’s our job to go out there and execute. I put myself in front. I got calls on me, and I fell short. At the end of the day, there’s no excuses. I’m going to take it like a man.”

Tyler Eifert also blamed the players and their execution as the reason why the Bengals have lost more games than they’ve won this season.

“I know these guys,” Eifert said. “We put the work in. We work hard and we play hard. There’s no question about that. It’s just a matter of execution and we just didn’t have that enough throughout the year.”

It is impossible to deny the Bengals are having a terrible season. It is also impossible to deny that Lewis has not been as successful with this team as he could have been. I want to stress the fact that I do not think the Bengals should keep Lewis around as head coach next year. But, I do realize that they probably will and I do agree with former Bengals quarterback Boomer Esiason who said there is plenty for the Bengals to build on in 2017.

“They’ll be good players in the future, but right now there’s a learning curve and unfortunately it impacts the quarterback in a negative light,” Esiason told Dan Hoard. “I think about the wide receivers that I played with when they were rookies like Wayne Chrebet in New York. He was a good rookie but he turned out to be a great player, and hopefully one of these rookies will turn out to be that – a good rookie who will turn out to be a great player and a nice piece of the offense next year. When they come back next year they’re going to be totally different because they’ll know all the vocabulary, they’ll know exactly what their assignments are, and Andy will feel more comfortable with them in really high anxiety situations.”

Bengals fans are running out of patience after constantly seeing the team find and develop top talent, yet rarely yield important results when it matters most. But, big moves can have big consequences and the Bengals should ensure they are prepared for those changes since they have the luxury of preparation this time around, as opposed to the last few times major organizational changes have been made.

“When you look at all of the circumstances surrounding the team – on top of losing three coordinators to become head coaches in other cities – you realize that the Bengals have been poached and next year hopefully they’ll add a couple of draft picks and maybe a couple of free agents and get right back to where they belong,” Esiason said of his former team.

All of the changes that took place in the 2016 offseason set the Bengals back this year. They lost a number of starters, a host of coaches and the additions they made require some time to smoothly transition. That’s not an excuse for the overall terrible performance throughout much of the season, but it is a reminder that things aren’t as bad as they might seem. Unfortunately, when a lot of big changes happen at once, it’s hard for an NFL team to bounce back immediately.

“I think it’s just life in the NFL,” Esiason said.