Look, I get it. This is new territory. The national media all of a sudden is obsessed with us, especially our Montana-esque quarterback and Moss-ter of a receiver.
Admittedly, I have to constantly catch myself not drifting into day nightmares as well. But that is expected for someone my age.
You see, Bengals fans fall into three categories:
- Those who lived through the nightmarish 90s. They see success, like a hot start to the season, as an aberration. The franchise just has too many issues: how it spends, how it scouts, and how it selects coaches. Yes, winning records in the regular season are possible, but when the games really matter, like in primetime or the postseason, the team will show its true colors. Even when the Bengals look like a top regular season team, fans will ultimately have their hearts ripped out (see 2005 and 2015) due to some unanticipated misfortune (Carson Palmer’s injury or the Jeremy Hill/Vontaze Burfict/Adam Jones meltdown).
- Those who are too young to remember the 90s and grew up during the Marvin Lewis days, when the Bengals were a respectable franchise. For them, there is nothing inherently cursed about the franchise. Rather, they just needed the right direction and some updates in policy, like spending on big free agents. For this group, the 90s are no more of a reflection of the team’s fortunes than are the 80s, in which Cincinnati appeared in two Super Bowls.
- Those who are irrepressibly optimistic. Primetime embarrassments? The refs just love the Pittsburgh Steelers. Playoff collapses? Injuries or youth were to blame. They embrace whatever direction the team takes and, at every point, think success is just around the corner.
I’m happy to announce that, thanks to Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase, I’ve moved from category #1 to #2 (though my mind sometimes drifts back to #1). Actually, it’s not fair to only give credit to our top picks in the last two Drafts. In fact, the reason I think this time things are different is that the entire franchise looks different.
While the entire movement started with Burrow, a lot of smart moves and great development have happened subsequently, largely due to the franchise QB, of course. Zac Taylor has morphed into a coach who can help maximize Burrow’s strengths. The o-line has gotten its act together thanks to the addition of coach Frank Pollack and some other moves that were made in wake of Burrow’s terrible knee injury. The defense, in part due to big-time free agents like D.J. Reader and Trey Hendrickson wanting to play with the promising young passer, has become dominant.
I can’t really blame the media (or other fans of the NFL) for sleeping on us when our front office was asleep at the wheel for about three decades. But now that we have a young, hungry, disciplined, talented group of men who are capable of dominating a game from start to finish, everyone still seems to be a bit uneasy.
Burrow was depicted as being arrogant. Fans of opposing teams, especially those of the Baltimore Ravens, told us to calm down. And many in Who Dey nation (again, it’s that creeping feeling that results from years of falling under category #1) are worried the team will suffer a letdown against the 1-5 New York Jets.
The reality, though, is that confident Bengals players and their joyous fans are acting entirely appropriately. This is a good team. It is different this time. These guys will not back down, whether they’re facing the Steelers, a big deficit in primetime, Lamar Jackson, or outside pressure. And, again, it all starts with Burrow’s resolve, vision, and ability to elevate others and lead them.
In our preview of the Jets game, John Sheeran told us why he has no problem with Bengals players believing in the hype. “People are confused about taking the Bengals legitimately,” he said. “But there is no other shoe to drop.”
In other cases of great success in the NFL, like Tom Brady’s start to his career with the New England Patriots or Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs, players found themselves in an already solid situation, Sheeran noted. That meant that they didn’t know how to approach failure when it first presented itself (see 2002 for the Pats and this year for the Chiefs). The Bengals, though, struggled mightily for five years (one of which was Burrow’s rookie year) and have been considered an overall failure of a franchise for over a quarter of a century.
In short, trap games don’t make sense for a team that knew nothing but disappointment until very recently. The Bengals have a lot of perspective and are not about to take an opponent lightly, especially when they were in that very same position only shortly before.
You can listen to our entire preview on iTunes or using the player below: