In case you weren’t sure, the word “fan” stems from “fanatic”. Few professional American sport fan bases are as passionate as those in Cincinnati, while even fewer have experienced heartbreak by their hometown teams in the most inexplicable fashions as the Cincinnati faithful.
The 18 games since January 9, 2016, a date which lives in Bengals infamy, have been a bit of a blur. That’s not because of the success of the Brown family tigers, or a fast-paced and high-scoring offense, but because it’s been a mish-mash of talent that hasn’t matched up with the winning percentage.
There has been a myriad of issues since that date, ranging from the above-mentioned hangover, to player attrition, questioning leadership and coaching turnover. You know the saying: when you win, everything’s awesome, but when you lose the fingers start pointing...or, something like that.
Well, boy, have the fingers been sprayed out in different directions within the Cincinnati locker room.
After starting the 2017 season with two home games, which seemed very winnable, the Bengals are suddenly staring at an 0-2 start and haven’t scored a single touchdown. A.J. Green uncharacteristically called for the football, Dre Kirkpatrick bluntly said “we suck”, while Mr. Mellow, AKA Carlos Dunlap, also called out the status quo.
Marvin Lewis reportedly wanted to re-emphasize a stronger locker room after the 2010 season, adding in a lot of promising young players to some high-character veterans. While it has largely been the case since, it has now backfired a bit on Lewis, as the talented and low-key guys are speaking up on what they have seen in their time in the Queen City.
Still, if there’s one thing we know about the Bengals in the Lewis era, it’s to expect the unexpected. The 2009 playoff run, including a 6-0 record in the AFC North, seemingly came out of nowhere, while the 2011 team surprised everyone with a 9-7 finish with a push to the postseason again.
In 2013, the team got off to a lackluster 1-1 start, as they hosted these same Aaron Rodgers-led Packers at Paul Brown Stadium. Insanity ensued, as the Bengals grabbed a late fumble recovery for a touchdown and didn’t look back, as they finished 11-5 for the rest of the season.
Could this pitiful 0-2 onset to the 2017 season begin its turnaround this Sunday at iconic Lambeau Field? Did we mention that Lewis is 3-0 against the Packers, with two of those wins coming against Rodgers?
Ironically, there is some talk of how the Bengals and Packers have such similar front office operating practices. Slow in outside free agency, a focus on the draft and re-signing the core stars are the tenets to both franchises. Yet, the Packers and their decorated history far outweigh what the Bengals have done in their respective 50-year history.
If we’re talking other NFL franchises, as well as apples and oranges, one thing Bill Belichick does well with his team is embracing the Boston mantra of “us against the world”. For one reason or another, Lewis hasn’t been able to promote the same urgency within his locker room.
Of course, if one were to closely examine the ins and outs of the Bengals’ winless start to the season, it’s all on the offense. The defense and special teams have done more than their fair share to keep the team into each of the first two games, but the offense has completely let them down. And, while players might subtly be pointing at Lewis as the reason for the continued struggles, it was offensive coordinator Ken Zampese who faced the chopping block.
In steps Bill Lazor, who has a tall task. On one hand, small improvements, say like, oh, I don’t know, scoring a single touchdown, would be more than welcomed. However, with successful predecessors like Jay Gruden and Hue Jackson, as well as the myriad of weapons he has at his disposal, Lazor will need to concoct a scheme that is immediately effective in order to keep his job in the long-term.
The fall from grace that Andy Dalton has experienced this year is something to marvel. Dalton hasn’t ever been fully embraced by Who Dey Nation, but many have seen his improvements in 2015-2016 and realize he’s a quality NFL signal-caller, even in the wake of major player attrition—be it from injury or in free agency. Still, he looks absolutely rattled in the first two games of this year.
When approached about the possibility of replacing his pro football mentor, AJ McCarron balked at the opportunity to throw Dalton under the bus, reminding the boo birds to “trust the process” from the team. It’s sage advice, even if it’s a tough pill for a starving fan base to swallow.
Though the Packers have certain limitations, namely on the offensive line and on defense, they still have Rodgers, a home field advantage and many other talented skill players. Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb are nicked up, but when has that truly stopped Rodgers from being productive?
While people are pointing to Dalton as the source of the Bengals’ troubles, many realize that the offensive line is causing a lot of issues along with Zampese’s coaching style. This is where guys like Nick Perry and Clay Matthews can wreak havoc off of the edge, as they face tackles Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher, as they look to put any kind feathers in their proverbial caps.
It’s both very difficult and very easy to say where this game will be won. Captain Cliche will tell you that whoever pressures the quarterback more frequently and the team that can run the ball more consistently will win the day. But, that’s like, every game, isn’t it?
This contest, as is a microcosm of the NFL, is a game of intangibles and emotion. That isn’t to say that talent won’t play a part in this contest, but penalties, big plays and lucky bounces could also play a role in the final score.
Both teams are angry from Week 2 losses and want to prove to the rest of the league that those scores aren’t indicative of the teams that they are in 2017. Unfortunately for the Bengals, a win won’t make believers out of the national pundits, but rather spur a proclamation of luck.
For Cincinnati, it might be better to be lucky than truly good this week. We’ll see if they’re one of the above, or maybe even both.
Bengals 17, Packers 27
AC — Not trusting “the process” since 1991.