We are now in the 11th week of our stroll down memory lane, and the argument could certainly be made that with 2002 at this week’s forefront, we’ve finally reached rock bottom. Some of the 90’s seasons were painful, no doubt, but after more than a decade of awful, this 2-14 Bengals squad was, at the very least, a gut punch for Bengals fans. I described last week in much detail about the beginning of a new era in Cincinnati, but had a said that at the time, I’d have had a hard time finding support.
Before the misery, as always, our fun facts, starting with one of my favorites of our 11-week run (but let’s be honest, Blockbuster not purchasing Netflix is likely to stay my favorite) – Spider-Man was released in 2002, starring Tobey Maguire. What I learned is that if you recall the season where Peter Parker catches Mary Jane and everything on her lunch tray – there was no CGI involved. It took Maguire (Parker… it occurs to me I’m switching names) 156 takes to nail the scene.
One of Eminem’s biggest hits, if not the biggest, Lose Yourself reigned supreme as the year’s top song, CSI was the top television show, and New Coke was officially discontinued in July of 2002. Though it had been around since the mid 1980’s, it was widely considered a failure from its launch, as Coca-Cola Classic was re-introduced three months after New Coke was introduced.
Moving on from mediocrity to an even lower level, we’re back to our beloved Bengals of 2002. In the first year of the AFC North as we know it, the Bengals were 2-14. They began their season 0-7 before beating the expansion Houston Texans 38-3… so yeah, it didn’t really impress anyone. They eeked out a shocking victory over the New Orleans Saints in Week 16, who wound up 9-7 that season.
I’m not the only one who perceives this season to be rock bottom – in a piece published on ESPN.com, they called this version of the Bengals the worst in the franchise’s history. This 2-14 team had a myriad of issues, headlined by an uncertain quarterback situation and the worst defense in the NFL. No, seriously – the defense allowed a league worst 28.5 points per game, despite some solid performances I’ll mention below.
Corey Dillon remained one of the few bright spots on the roster, rushing for 1,311 yards – his sixth thousand-yard season – and seven touchdowns, but his irritation and disgruntlement in Cincinnati started to build here in 2002. Chad Johnson, now in his second year, had 69 catches for 1,166 yards and five touchdowns, which really established him as a force on this Bengals’ offense. While we all know where this Dillon story ends, the Johnson story is much different from the perspective of fan of the Bengals.
Peter Warrick was… okay… again. He had 53 catches for 606 yards and six touchdowns – I don’t mean to turn my nose up at these numbers, especially with the quarterback situation we’re about to address, but as a fourth-overall pick, it’s hard to accept what many would consider No.2 receiver numbers.
And that leads us to our quarterbacks. Jon Kitna was the starter for most of the season (Gus Frerotte and Akili Smith would have three and one start, respectively), tallying 3,178 yards with 16 touchdowns and 16 interceptions – shockingly good numbers when you consider how bad the offense truly was. Even with the stats of some of these guys I’ve discussed, the Bengals scored under 10 points a whopping six times, including doing it in five of their first six games (and first four overall).
It’s hard to fathom the defense being as bad as it was when you consider the talents there – Takeo Spikes was a top-notch linebacker, Justin Smith wound up being an upper-tier defensive end, and Artrell Hawkins was a very good defensive back, at the very least – it’s this writer’s opinion that he never got his due respect in the league. And oh, by the way, the team was coached by DICK LEBEAU! As Bengals fans, we all know what he would go on to do with Steeler defenses… but that may just be what good cultures will do for you.
Part of the reason the defense was so bad was more likely because they were on the field so often – evidenced by the fact that Takeo Spikes racked up an incredible 171 tackles, along with two forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries. Smith notched 6.5 sacks, while Hawkins gathered 92 tackles of his own and had hands in five turnovers.
The only notable Draft selection in 2002 was the 10th overall selection, Levi Jones, an offensive tackle who was very good for his early seasons here, but ultimately left on sour terms later in the decade.
The 2002 season saw the Dick LeBeau era come to an end, and while there were pieces added in his time here, no real progress was made towards relevance. It was really a continuation of the 1990’s era, where expectations weren’t met and results were wildly underwhelming.
So, we head into 2003 with a coaching vacancy and a first overall Draft pick. 2003 wound up being a critical year in Bengals history, as it was the true beginning for most fans of a new era.
An era that still continues in 2018.