For 13 weeks, we have been taking these walks down memory lane, taking a look at some of the Bengals squads of the past. And for 13 weeks, it seemed like things were never going to get better. Alas, here we are in 2005, which marked a turning point in so many ways in Bengals history. This season featured the highest of highs, being the first season the Bengals went to the playoffs since 1990. And, as we all know, it also was arguably the beginning of the end for Carson Palmer in Cincinnati.
For the second week in a row, Oprah is going to be featured in our 2005 fun facts – wouldn’t have predicted that that would happen 13 weeks ago. This was the year Tom Cruise went onto her show and lost his mind, jumping up and down on the couch, flailing about and declaring his love for Katie Holmes. In similar news, Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston entered Splitsville, as the former ended up with Angelina Jolie. And, in arguably far more important than either of those, YouTube was founded in 2005.
And so it begins – this Bengals team went 11-5, finally paying off years of re-building, tearing down, and re-building again. The team was still very young and was shaping up to be a force for years to come – the 11-5 record earned the Bengals the AFC North crown and set up a Wild Card round home playoff game against the division rival Pittsburgh Steelers. The game changed the history of the Bengals forever (I’ll expand on this), ultimately triggering a downward spiral across the board.
Another good draft was a key factor in the Bengals’ success in 2005 – they drafted Georgia linebackers David Pollack (17th overall) and Odell Thurman (48th), before selecting wide receiver Chris Henry (83rd). Each player had solid success as rookies, yet more proof of how good the team was due to be for years. All three men, following brief success, would be out of the league prematurely… but we will get there.
Quarterback Carson Palmer was firmly entrenched as the leader in Cincinnati, and he turned in what would usually be an MVP effort had he not played at a time when Peyton Manning and Tom Brady were lighting up fields everywhere, and Shaun Alexander was having a career year. Palmer built on a promising sophomore campaign to the tune of 3,836 yards and 32 touchdowns with only 12 interceptions.
And his success had plenty of beneficiaries – Chad Johnson (97 receptions, 1,432 yards, 9 touchdowns) and T.J. Houshmandzadeh (78 receptions, 956 yards, 7 touchdowns) set what were franchise records at the time for combined receptions and yards for two receivers. The aforementioned Henry had 31 catches of his own and six touchdowns, while second-year running back Chris Perry earned some attention in the passing game with 51 catches.
The electric passing game opened a lot of holes for Rudi Johnson, who was impressive yet again with 1,458 yards and 12 touchdowns. None of this would have been possible if not for some solid offensive line work, led by veteran tackle Willie Anderson and young guard Eric Steinbach.
The defense found some outstanding success as well – the Bengals had added veteran cornerback Deltha O’Neal in 2004, and he really stood out here in 2005, pacing the NFL with 10 interceptions… okay, he was tied with Ty Law, but they were the league leaders. Justin Smith recorded 92 tackles and six sacks, continuing his work as a top-tier defensive lineman.
As for Pollack and Thurman – Pollack was decent, though not spectacular. He only recorded 28 tackles and 4.5 sacks, but earned his attention for his on-the-field presence as a leader. Thurman was the stat star, racking up an astounding 148 tackles, 1.5 sacks, five interceptions and four forced fumbles. Suddenly the middle of the Bengals’ defense was a force again, filling a void that had been left behind by Takeo Spikes.
This team stormed out of the gate to a 4-0 record, and entered their Week 10 bye week 7-2. They emerged from the bye with a matchup against the mighty Colts, led by Manning. The Bengals would lose a 45-37 thriller, but established themselves as marquis-level competition.
They would ultimately overtake the division lead with a December 4 victory in Pittsburgh, and would clinch two weeks later with a win over the Detroit Lions. The Bengals would play conservative football in Weeks 16 and 17, dropping those games to the Bills and Chiefs (in ugly 37-3 fashion in this case). All of this was leading up to January 8, 2006.
On a cold night in Cincinnati, Paul Brown Stadium came unglued as their division champion Bengals stormed the field, ready to storm past a division rival and get to the Super Bowl. The Bengals’ offense would take the field early in the first quarter and on the first play of the drive, Palmer launched a deep 66 yard completion to Chris Henry, much to the pleasure of Bengals’ fans everywhere. And then the nightmare set in.
The play ended and suddenly, the Who Dey nation saw their Pro Bowl quarterback writhing in pain near the endzone he’d just been backed into. Steelers’ defensive end Kimo Von Oelhoffen – who I referenced in my piece about 1994 – had rolled up on Palmer’s left leg, tearing the young quarterback’s ACL, MCL, and damaging his meniscus. There was even a brief thought that the injury could be career threatening. But in the immediate aftermath, Bengals’ fans watched on in horror as Palmer was carted off the field. Jon Kitna would be the guy.
Kitna wasn’t too bad overall, but not spectacular either. He would throw for just under 200 yards with a touchdown and two picks. The Bengals were actually able to jump out to a 17-7 first half lead behind a long touchdown run from Rudi Johnson and touchdown catch by Houshmandzadeh. However, as has happened so many times since, the Steelers scored just before halftime and ultimately dominated the rest of the game, outscoring Cincinnati 24-0 following their 17-7 deficit. The Steelers won 31-17 and would go on to win the Super Bowl. It could be said that this was the game to really kick off the red hot Bengals/Steelers rivalry.
I’ll give something of a spoiler in this part of the piece – I referenced above how much this game would impact the future of what looked to be an incredible Bengals team. Palmer was never the same after his injury, despite some solid performances in future seasons. Chad Johnson started to become something of a circus act, countless players (Thurman included) began to run into off-the-field issues, injuries would start piling up, and overall disgruntlement wound up being the reason for Palmer’s exit from Cincinnati.
While 2005 didn’t end anywhere close to how we wanted it to, it was one of the key years in Bengals’ history, and undoubtedly one of the most fun. Sadly, our weekly journeys are about to re-enter something of a dark period, as it would be a few years before the Bengals would be back in the postseason.
Next week – an extra point that is remembered for all the wrong reasons.
Not Another Bengals, Chiefs Preview
Week seven of the NFL regular season is upon us and the Cincinnati Bengals have a golden opportunity this Sunday on the road against the Kansas City Chiefs. Guessing that’s not where your mind went when you thought of this game?
The Bengals and Chiefs have squared off 28 times, over the years, with the Bengals holding a slight 15-13 advantage. Cincinnati holds a four-game winning streak over Kansas City with the last loss coming at Arrowhead in 2007. Marvin Lewis is 6-2 against the Chiefs and 2-2 at Arrowhead. The Lewis-led Bengals have outscored the Chiefs 167 to 136, in their eight meetings.
The last game between these two teams was in week four of the 2015 season. The Bengals won in Paul Brown Stadium 36-21 with four of the touchdowns coming from running plays. Three TDs were scored by Jeremy Hill and the other came from Giovanni Bernard. The lone TD pass was a 55-yarder to Brandon Tate from Andy Dalton.
This is a marvelous chance for Andy and the offense to get back on track. They managed just nine total yards in the third quarter against the Steelers, but will be facing a very pedestrian defensive squad, this coming Sunday night. In two games career games against the Chiefs, Dalton has completed 66% of his passes for 551 yards and three scores. He will face a Chiefs defense that ranks stone cold last in pass defense, allowing 340 yards per game, through the air.
Joe Mixon will be happy, though, as the Chiefs also allow an average of 127 rushing yards, per game. In fact, the Bengals offense, as a whole, should feast on Sunday. They’re averaging 29 points per game and the Chiefs allow 28.7 per game.
They’re banged up, and they’re outgunned in this matchup. Statistically, Cincinnati’s defense has fared only slightly better than Kansas City’s. The Bengals are allowing just over 400 total yards, a game, and 26 points per game. Couple that with the high-flying offense of Patrick Mahomes, who averages 418 total yards and 35 points per game, and I’d say you should bet the over, whatever Vegas has it set as.
Nick Vigil and Darqueze Dennard have been ruled out and Shawn Williams is listed as questionable. Given that eight different defensive starters came off the field last Sunday, at different points in the game, and this coming game may be crazy, simply from a health standpoint.
This matchup has a real chance at being a playoff preview as well as a carbon copy of the Falcons game, a few weeks back. The Chiefs will be in a battle with the Chargers, all season, for the AFC West and the Bengals, though on top for the moment, have no room for comfort with the Ravens and Steelers knocking on the door. Whoever has the ball last in this pivotal game could very well end up the winner.
I’d expect to see a lot of William Jackson and Tyreek Hill matchups. Some have said Hill is the best receiver, in the game, this year so Jackson will need to be on his toes for all 60 minutes. Meanwhile, Kansas City receiving threat 1-B, Travis Kelce, will probably be Teryl Austin’s biggest headache. The Bengals, no matter the personnel or the coaching staff, have always struggled to cover the opposing tight end. Enter, arguably, the best tight end in the NFL with his 468 receiving yards and three TDs. I’m no expert fantasy football predictor, but I’d bet he is a top scorer, this week. And I haven’t even mentioned the Chiefs’ stud running back, Kareem Hunt. Dude is a threat to run all over the place (456 yds, 4th in NFL) and be a pain to the Bengals pass defense (17 yards per catch). Pray for Austin and the Bengals defense.
Bringing it Home
That being said, this is a winnable game for the Bengals. They have the firepower to hang with Kansas City. If you jumped off the wagon after the loss to the Steelers and think the Bengals are going to get absolutely crushed by the Chiefs, you won’t agree with me, so whatevs, but this game isn’t that big of a mismatch. John Ross will be on the field for Cincinnati, giving them their bonafide deep threat to contend with the Chiefs’ big play abilities. AJ Green has nobody to worry about on the Chiefs defense, and will be able to roam free, looking for holes in the coverage. Which just means Tyler Boyd will be able to give as much of his safety blanket-ness to Andy as he can. Should the line have a rough day protecting the pocket, Dalton will have plenty of chances to scramble and make something happen while extending the play. One of these two teams will begin the game hot only to try to slow it down with the rushing game, but I believe both defenses will be porous enough to allow some highlight reel plays deep. This is going to be an entertaining game to watch, if your pacemaker doesn’t give out in the first half. Call me crazy, call me a homer (whatevs, I’m no professional), but I say the Bengals win.
Prediction: Bengals 42, Chiefs 38
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WATCH: Houshmandzadeh says the Bengals are going to beat the Chiefs
Former Bengals wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh says the Bengals are going to beat the Chiefs on Sunday night football. He also thinks Andy Dalton’s struggles in primetime games are just a ‘coincidence.’ He was a guest on ‘The Herd’ on Fox Sports One. Watch the video below.
‘Vontaze can be as great as he wants to be’
Vontaze Burfict has been talked about a lot this week. Not for his dominant play, but for a questionable hit on Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown.
— Dov Kleiman (@NFL_DovKleiman) October 14, 2018
This isn’t new for Burfict. His play has been discussed for years. He’s been fined or suspended 11 times in his career, which has cost him over $1 million in salary.
Some people believe Burfict should be suspended for the rest of the season. Others think he should be out of the NFL forever. There’s no denying that he’s earned his reputation.
Burfict doesn’t like how he’s viewed in the media. If he wants to change it, he can start by playing like an elite linebacker against Kansas City. He doesn’t look like the player he once was. It’s probably because he’s missed so much time over the past few years. Burfict has appeared in 11 games or fewer in his last four seasons due to suspensions and injuries. He hasn’t forced a turnover since 2016, which is the last time he was playing at an elite level.
That leads me to a question that has been asked a lot this week: Is Burfict worth the headache? His teammates certainly think so.
“Vontaze can be as great as he wants to be,” Carlos Dunlap said earlier this week. “And as you’ve seen up to this level he’s played as one of the best linebackers in the league. And I feel like he has the potential to be even better.”
Sunday is an opportunity for Burfict to put on a show. It’s a chance for him to remind people that he is one of the best linebackers in the league. If he goes out there, dominates and does it without any questionable hits, then the entire country will see why the Bengals signed him to two contract extensions. Leading a struggling defense into Kansas City and getting a win would be huge for how people view him. Fans and media could discuss his stellar play, instead of a late-hit or a PED suspension.
He needs to remind people, including fans, that he can be a great player. Burfict just turned 28-years-old. He signed a contract extension with the Bengals last season. There has been plenty of chatter about Burfict this week, but that isn’t bothering rookie safety Jessie Bates.
“He’s so smart and he makes things easier for me communication wise,” Bates said on Wednesday. “Obviously he’s been doing this for a long time. He plays very violent and some people don’t like that. I’m glad that he’s on our team.”
It’s hard to envision Burfict changing at this point, but he can use Sunday to his advantage. He can show a national television audience that he’s able to play the game at a high level and do so without getting fined, flagged or suspended for questionable play.
Once upon a time Burfict was an undrafted free agent who impressed coaches with his knowledge of the game. Fast forward to present day and he’s a ‘dirty player’ who should be suspended or worse. Burfict has a chance to remind everyone of how good he can be. Whether or not he takes advantage of it is up to him.
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