Maybe it was sour grapes. Maybe it was an innocent comment taken too far out of context. Or, maybe what came out of his mouth was exactly what he meant.
In both an interesting and disappointing turn of events, longtime Bengals defensive tackle Domata Peko took some shots at his former team during minicamp practices with his new team, the Denver Broncos. In case you need some refreshing here is the main comment he made, via Denver media members.
Peko said in Cincinnati that all talk was about winning a playoff game. "Here it's about winning a championships." @DenverChannel— Troy Renck (@TroyRenck) May 16, 2017
Domata Peko, on starting anew in Denver after 11 seasons in Cincinnati: pic.twitter.com/30EV9Jjfbs— Nicki Jhabvala (@NickiJhabvala) May 16, 2017
First impressions from Bengals fans in reaction to the comment seem to range from a sarcastic chuckle, coupled with a similar lack of gratitude for Peko’s poor performances in the biggest games, to shock that such a staple in the locker room and in the city would make such a remark. Both are reasonable reactions.
Peko could have given the media that simple, player-speak answer, with it centering around the final sentence of the quote. Instead, almost like a scorned lover, Peko had to somewhat-belittle the Bengals on his way to praising his new employer. For a guy who has been one of Marvin Lewis’ favorite players in his 15-year tenure as head coach, and for someone who was paid tens of millions of dollars over 11 years with the team, it definitely struck a negative chord.
Still, Peko isn’t wrong about the Bengals’ supposed mantra—at least from what we have heard up through his last season with the team. And, that’s what’s most concerning about the quote.
Lewis and owner Mike Brown have always been preaching about competitiveness, and really, that tone has only changed until just recently with a letter sent out to season ticket holders which spoke of championship aspirations this offseason. Perhaps everyone in the franchise is finally feeling heat after this team continues to find new and creative ways to break its fans’ hearts. Maybe it’s why Lewis hasn’t received one of his patented rental contracts again this offseason.
However, there’s been a sense, though a somewhat-unsubstantiated one, that some of the veterans have tuned out Lewis and his messages in recent years. Maybe the “keep shoveling” and other Lewis eye-roll-eliciting quips they have heard so many times began to fall on deaf ears and it has affected the focus of team’s aspirations. Peko, for all of his rah-rah actions with Cincinnati, could have fallen into this camp as the seasons wore on.
In defense of the Bengals and Peko’s claim, if this stance is true throughout the organization, maybe it’s simply in an effort to “get that first one and the rest will come”. The monkey on the Bengals’ back weighs heavily after not winning a playoff game since 1991 (the 1990 postseason) though, and if this “one (playoff) game at a time” approach is what the team is using, that monkey has only grown in size over the past 26 years.
And maybe, as unpopular and wild of an opinion as it may seem, part of the plan with letting veterans like Peko and Andrew Whitworth walk this offseason wasn’t just in the financials. Though they were locker room leaders for a long time, they may have had a bit of a jaded nature to them, seeing so many things transpire on and off of the field since their respective arrivals to the Bengals in 2006. If the team wasn’t going to make a fresh start at head coach, maybe it was time to do so in the form of player leadership.
The Orange and Black Insider crew spoke on the subject and it was a heated one, to be sure. Connor Howe, Scott Schulze and I all agreed that Peko’s comments were petty, but there is concern about the lingering effects of the remaining players who have experienced five straight playoff losses in the most recent rebuild of the Bengals’ roster since 2011. It’s especially frustrating when you look back at some of the performances against the run against the postseason, which is what Peko claimed he was a specialist for with the Broncos, and wonder why he’s pointing the finger at everyone else in Cincinnati.
Some fans are ready to disbelieve Peko’s statement, as it might be nothing more than a player who is continually P.R.-friendly to his employer continuing to tow the company line. Still, this isn’t the first time former Bengals have made public statements about how their new organization is run compared to how Brown runs The Queen City’s ship.
After he left for free agency to the Texans in 2011, Johnathan Joseph made some ridiculous statement about Gatorade availability in Houston, while Corey Dillon and Chad Johnson both noted the difference in Bill Belichick’s locker room, compared to that of Lewis’.
Heck, even the crown jewel in the Bengals’ outside free agency foray this offseason—linebacker Kevin Minter—was positive, but didn’t have the same tone as Peko with the Broncos.
“I know they’re (those in the Bengals organization) talking about how last year they haven’t lost like that in a long time,” said Minter, via Bengals.com. ”They’re ready to get it this year. It’s a good feeling to be a part of something like that. Everybody is ready to win.”
“These guys are good guys. They’re real focused. This team could do some special things this year,” Minter continued. “If we keep this edge. A lot of the guys have chips on their shoulders. They want to win this year. I’m excited about it.”
Notice how words like “win”, “special” and others are used in place of “championship” and Super Bowl”. Now, it’s incredibly likely that Minter’s comments in this regard are completely innocent, but nitpickers still have to wonder if comments like these are by-products of the culture the Bengals have continually created since their inception.
And, it’s very possible that Minter is a big key to the team’s overall improvement in 2017, regardless of what he says in mid-May. Still, this is coming from a guy who was with the Cardinals, a team who has had massive disappointments in the postseason, for four years.
With the optimism that has sprung from the exciting players the Bengals just added in the draft, Peko’s comments bring a painful reminder of how the team continues to fall short. And, in reality, it has to do with approach, preparedness, and having both lofty goals, as well confidence in the biggest moments against the NFL’s best teams.
All in all, it’s both surprising and disappointing to hear Peko make a passive-aggressive comment towards the Bengals. He’s always been a guy who has taken the high road whose infectious smile and affable personality won fans over—even when he was under-performing.
Maybe with the influx of so much new talent and an increase of urgency, the tone of “being good is good enough” will be no more finally in 2017. If so, it has to finally start this offseason, but one can’t help but take Peko’s comments seriously—even if the initial reaction is to brush them off.
You can download the audio snippet from The Orange and Black Insider on Domata Peko’s comments here on SoundCloud.
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