One of the biggest achievements in sports was accomplished on Sunday when Tiger Woods secured his fifth win at The Masters and his 15th major win overall. It had been 14 years since Woods had won The Masters, which is the longest stretch in between victories at Augusta.
14 years is a very long time, and admittedly, I’m personally not a huge follower of golf. What I do know quite a bit about is the 2005 Bengals, easily the most exciting team the Bengals have had this millennium.
Expectations coming in and the draft
I doubt most fans who were around at this point could forget any part of that 2005 roster. A big reason for that, they were pretty much the best team we’ve seen in a long time (Although the 2015 team is very close).
The Bengals entered the season after finishing the previous two seasons 8-8 under Marvin Lewis. This was Lewis’ third season as the head coach, which is really still hard to believe. This was also Carson Palmer’s second season as a starter. He sat his entire rookie season behind John Kitna. Many were wondering what the former first overall pick could do.
The 2015 draft class was also quite the enigma, but it had a huge impact on 2015.
2005 Bengals’ draft class:
- 1st Round: David Pollack, Linebacker
- 2nd Round: Odell Thurman, Linebacker
- 3rd Round: Chris Henry, Wide Receiver
- 4th Round: Eric Ghiaciuc, Center
- 5th Round: Adam Kieft, Offensive Tackle
- 6th Round: Tab Perry, WIde Receiver
- 7th Round: Jonathan Fanene Defensive End
Each of those first three picks had a pretty big impact on 2005, but each would unfortunately be a distant memory for fans in a few seasons. The hardest one being Henry, who after struggling with off the field issues early in his career passed away in 2009 after getting his life back on track for him and his family.
Thurman is probably the least recognizable since his rookie season was probably his best year. After that, he struggled with drugs and alcohol. The league suspended him for four games ahead of the 2006 season, after failing to get to Cincinnati in time to take his drug test. He then was arrested for drunk driving, which extended his suspension for the rest of the season.
Henry was also punished by the Bengals for being involved in the incident. Too make a very long story shorter by cutting out a bunch of legal mumbo jumbo, Thurman wasn’t granted reinstatement for the 2007 season, and Lewis and the Bengals were upset that Thurman didn’t show up to OTA’s in 2008. He was waived by the team following that. Thurman failed another drug test and was suspended indefinitely by the NFL.
Pollack is probably the most recognizable of the bunch. He is now an analyst for college football on ESPN. He was Lewis’ first project with the Bengals’ defense. Pollack played defensive end at Georgia, but Lewis wanted to turn him into a pass rushing linebacker. Pollack did a fairly good job in this role, but he suffered two neck injuries over his career with Cincinnati, so it will always be a matter of what if with his career.
What made the 2005 Bengals special
Hopes weren’t particularly high for the Bengals in 2005. They were in a division with the Steelers and Ravens, who were still viewed as the darlings of the AFC North after dominating it for the past few seasons. In fact, the Begals hadn’t won the division, been to the playoffs or had a winning record since 1990. That all changed in 2005.
When you talk about great Bengals’ offenses, you simply can’t leave out the 2005 team. Palmer looked like one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL on his way to throwing 32 touchdowns, over 3,800 passing yards and completing just over 67 percent of his passes. He was voted to his first Pro Bowl that year.
Rudi Johnson also rushed for 1458 yards and 12 touchdowns on his way to having a Pro Bowl season as well. Chris Perry also had one of his best seasons. The former first round pick caught 51 passes from his running back position, which was still a rare feat among NFL running backs.
The receivers really stole the show though, literally. This was one of Chad Johnson’s best seasons as a pro. This was the first time people really cared about Cincinnati during his career, and the limelight really hit him hard. He and Steve Smith basically spent the season trying to out celebrate the other which ultimately led to the league banning certain celebrations until recently.
Johnson wasn’t the only one enjoying the 2005 season. T.J. Houshmandzadeh also enjoyed a breakout season. He just missed out on a 1,000 receiving season, but he did catch 78 passes and seven touchdowns, numbers that would easily increase the next few seasons in Cincinnati. Henry also showed flashes of incredible talent at times, but Johnson led the group with 97 receptions for 1,432 yards and nine touchdowns.
A big reason for this offense’s success could easily be traced back to an offensive line that was one of the best to ever walk on the field for the Bengals. Led by Willie Anderson and Levi Jones at offensive tackle, the line only allowed 19 sacks on Palmer while opening up alley ways for Johnson to run through.
The defense is often forgotten. They admittedly weren’t the best slowing down other offenses, but what they did exceptionally well was create turnovers. Led by cornerback Deltha O’Neal’s league-leading 10 interceptions, the Bengals as a team created 31 interceptions and forced 17 fumbles. They were easily the most opportunistic group on defense we’ve seen in Cincinnati in a very long time.
What happened in 2005
The Bengals finished with an 11-5 record, which was good enough to win the AFC North. Cincinnati also finished 5-1 against AFC North teams, and they scored a combined 421 points.
They were staring at a home Wild Card game against the Steelers, who they had just beaten about five weeks earlier in Pittsburgh. The start of that game is something that just can’t be erased from fans’ minds who watched.
The game started with a bomb from Palmer to Henry, and I remember the joy I had in that moment. It really seemed like the Bengals were the better team, and we had one of the best quarterbacks. There was no way the Steelers were going to keep up with this offense.
Then the camera went to a shot of Palmer writhing on the ground. I don’t think anyone understood in that moment that an entire era of Bengals and probably even NFL football changed in that moment when defensive lineman Kimo Von Oelhoffen got rolled up into Palmer’s leg. You can argue whether he was blocked into him or not, but the reality was Palmer wasn’t coming back to that game.
The entire mood shifted, and even though Kitna kept it within a few scores, it always felt like we were just waiting for the nail in the coffin.
The Bengals’ 2005 season ended with a 31-17 loss to the Steelers in Cincinnati, and even to this day’ we are left to wonder what could have been. Who knows what just one playoff win could have done for not only the Palmer era but for the Andy Dalton era as well. Imagine not having to answer the playoff win question every year. Imagine that boulder on these players shoulders to finally win their first playoff game since 1990 not being there.
Even if they didn’t win a Super Bowl, having a playoff win or wins and a healthy Palmer going into the 2006 season would’ve been huge. Instead, it wasn’t until 2009 when the Bengals would have another shot at the playoffs with Palmer.
Even though the 2005 season ended in such a terrible way. I still try and go out of my way to remember that team from time to time. It was the kind of special team you are lucky to get a handful of in your lifetime as a Bengals’ fan.
Hopefully, Woods’ win means it can be a repeat of that same kind of special season for the Bengals as well.