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2016: The year of the Bengals hangover

Instead of a year of redemption, the Bengals have had their most disappointing season in six years. Unfortunately, it’s a myriad of topics that contributed to the failure.

Cincinnati Bengals v Houston Texans Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

Few seasons in the recent history of the Cincinnati Bengals have been as disappointing as 2016. After years of the team failing in the playoffs, many thought redemption would be coming their way after an awful ending to 2015 in the Wild Card embarrassment to the Steelers.

So many facets have led to the Bengals sitting at a 5-9-1 record with the regular season finale coming this Sunday. It hasn’t been one issue that has caused the team to miss the playoffs for the first time since 2010, but many problems combined.

On Christmas Eve, the Bengals lost to the Texans in an incredibly ugly way on national television. The 12-10 loss to Houston pointed to a number of deficiencies on the current Bengals team, but also noted the apathetic nature of many fans towards the team this year.

As we wrapped up the loss, some of our loyal readers divulged some personal feelings about the 2016 team that we found quite poignant. Take a look at some comments from some Cincy Jungle frequenters that should resonate with many fans this year.

In response to Eric, another good CJ friend, BALCO Blue Bombers, was in agreement and noted a similar blase attitude toward the Bengals this year after their 2015 Wild Card game loss.

If you’ve been listening to The Orange and Black Insider Bengals podcast, my stance has been that the team hasn’t emotionally recovered from the loss to the Steelers in the Wild Card game. It’s that and a number of other factors that have led to a massively disappointing 2016 season.

Emotional versus physical:

Like any other NFL team, the Bengals have shortcomings. When looking at the Xs and Os, many issues regarding depth and even fringe starters are easy to point out with such an underachieving season. After all, professional sports are a blend of solid organizational culture, sound coaching and key roster talent in an effort to reach a championship level.

With some ancillary Bengals players leaving in free agency and massive assistant coaching turnover, one could understand why Cincinnati took a significant step back this year. However, an almost palpable emotional hangover from the crushing January loss to Pittsburgh has seemingly lingered over the club like a black cloud.

When it comes to the dissection of sports there seems to be three different camps, depending on the amount of stock you put in certain facets. If you’re a data-driven person, statistical numbers and Pro Football Focus’ metrics are likely what determines players’ worth.

If you’re someone who takes the non-quantifiable/emotional aspects into account, momentum, body language and other facets not counted into statistical categories play a role into the success or failure of a given team. As it is with research, there are pros and cons with one’s stance, making the acceptance of multiple approaches a solid practice for a third option when examining an NFL roster.

We can talk about the losses of receivers Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu, as well as coaches Hue Jackson, Jay Hayes, Vance Joseph (and others) all we want, but the largely-familiar roster filled with veterans should have had the wherewithal to rebound this year. Head coach Marvin Lewis has relied on productive, high-character veterans to lead his locker room.

Some of those “productive” players haven’t statistically carried the Bengals this year, and the rest of the team just haven't played with the passion we’ve seen in previous years. Could the above-mentioned fan sentiments be those that have permeated through the Cincinnati locker room?

Imagine, after playing a sport for a decade and a half or more, you’ve experienced the worst loss you’ve ever experienced as a player. Following said loss, you’ve lost productive teammates to other squads without adequate replacements, while also keeping the same leadership figureheads in place. Is it hard to picture some Bengals player becoming nothing more than “paycheck players” this year?

The lack of discipline from the franchise and sending of a message in some form probably bred complacency. Mike Brown, Marvin Lewis and Co. preferred to not rock the boat after such a tumultuous ending to the 2015 season, which is understandable, but in hindsight, it wasn’t the best strategy.

Looking forward, not in the rear view:

For now, it’s about the future. It’s an odd statement, given the talent on the roster, the team seeming to have a championship window open for a handful of years and the Bengals’ inability to capture a Lombardi Trophy.

Regardless of Lewis’ cloudy future, maybe it took the club hitting a year-long low point for this them to rebound in a big way. But, it’s going to take a strong showing in the draft, a different approach in free agency from the norm, as opposed to recent years and maybe even some coaching turnover—even if it’s at the lower levels.

What will it take to send an electric shock to the locker room—especially the stars who have been there for years? It would seem as if Lewis can maintain the head coaching gig for as long as he would like, but things could change.

Whether it’s the purging of long-vested Cincinnati veterans who have seen too much heartbreak, or adding new faces who are used to winning in the college or pro ranks, the Bengals need change. If said change isn’t going to be in some of the head leadership ranks, it might need to be among the veterans who have seen it all and those who have contributed to some of these huge losses.