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A Year in the Life of the Bengals – 2006

Andrew Dunn

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Following a heart-wrenching ending to the 2005 season that featured a devastating injury to Carson Palmer, hopes were still high in Cincinnati for a 2006 Super Bowl run.  Even with Palmer bouncing back from a major knee injury, he’d burst onto the scene with an MVP-caliber season the year prior.  Sadly for us in the Queen City, 2006 would ultimately mark a return to the dark ages of prior seasons, and also had late-season meltdowns we’ve grown so used to in the last decade.

Fun fact – your friendly writer of this walk down memory lane was named Time Magazine Person of the Year.  True story.  Or, rather, ‘You’ was the winner.  Beyonce topped the music charts with Irreplaceable, and the social media age kicked into full swing.  Users all over the world were using MySpace, but Twitter was created in 2006, and Facebook became open to all individuals over the age of 13.  More fun facts about that Facebook note – Mark Zuckerberg was offered $1 billion by Yahoo for Facebook, which he turned in “LOL nah” fashion.  The man is now worth over $72 billion, so I think he’s okay with his decision.

Yet another solid draft from the Bengals set expectations higher, as the team landed four guys who would be key pieces of the team for the next handful of years.  Johnathan Joseph (24th overall) and Andrew Whitworth (55th) became top five players at their positions in time, while Frostee Rucker (91st) and Domata Peko (123rd) were good additions to a defensive line in need of upgrades, outside of Justin Smith, of course.

We’ll get to the games and season momentarily, but it’s worth mentioning here that 2006 was a year marred by legal troubles in Cincinnati, which has continued to hover around the team as something of a bad reputation.  All told, nine players would be arrested over the course of the offseason and regular season.  Among those, second-year receiver Chris Henry had four separate incidents, Eric Steinbach was arrested for boating under the influence, and veteran cornerback Deltha O’Neal got caught driving while intoxicated.

Odell Thurman, who was incredible during his 2005 rookie campaign, was arrested for a DUI while in the midst of a four-game suspension he was already serving.  He would wind up sitting out 2006 altogether, and the shame of all this is that Thurman’s final NFL game would wind up being that 2005 playoff game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, ultimately making him one of the biggest what-ifs that I can think of.

This slew of legal troubles played one of the big parts in what became the downward spiral of this era in Cincinnati.

Onto the season – the Bengals went 8-8, finishing in 2nd place in the AFC North behind the 13-3 Baltimore Ravens.  Palmer jumped back under center and had a Pro Bowl season to the tune of 4,035 yards, 28 touchdowns and 13 interceptions.  Rudi Johnson also registered another stellar season, finishing with 1,309 yards and 12 touchdowns.

And, of course, with the success of Palmer came success of three Bengals wide outs.  TJ Houshmandzadeh led the team with 90 catches, racking up 1,081 yards and nine scores.  Chad Johnson continued to stand out as a league trash talker and something of a distraction (he would unveil the Chad Ocho Cinco jersey this season), but also as a top-tier receiver, as he totaled 1,369 yards and seven touchdowns.  Finally, the young Henry had nine touchdowns on his own, which came on only 36 receptions.

Robert Geathers was one of the standout defensive performers, pacing the team with 10.5 sacks, with All-Pro defensive end Justin Smith just behind him with 7.5.  Landon Johnson filled in admirably in Thurman’s absence and after the David Pollack injury (more on that in a bit) with 132 tackles and three forced fumbles.  And while Detlha O’Neal and the rookie Joseph stood out in the secondary, it was Kevin Kaesviharn’s four sacks, six picks and forced fumble that topped the list.

The Bengals began the season with a dominating defensive performance against the Kansas City Chiefs, helped by an injury to Chiefs’ quarterback Trent Green (on a hit Robert Geathers would’ve been crucified for in today’s NFL).  The beat rolled on for a couple weeks as the Bengals started 3-0 following wins over the Browns and at Heinz Field over the Steelers (yes, really).

Note about that game two win over the Browns – this was the game that effectively ended David Pollack’s career.  Pollack suffered a C6 vertebra fracture, a non-paralyzing broken neck, which marked the end of his 2006 season.  He would get cleared for some light activity in early 2007 following months of rehab, but would wind up retiring later down the road, not willing to risk his overall health after the injury.

The team was in prime position for another playoff run as a Wild Card team late in the season as they sat at 8-5.  They dropped game 14 on a Monday Night in Indianapolis (shocked?), which led to a key matchup with the Denver Broncos on Christmas Eve 2006.  Late in the game, Palmer connected with Houshmandzadeh on a 10-yard touchdown pass, pulling the Bengals within an extra point of tying the Broncos.

I remember this vividly – family and friends, gathered to celebrate the holidays, began clapping and high-fiving, while my dad and I looked at each other nervously (yep, I was a little pessimist even then).  My 16-year old pessimism piped up loud enough to try to remind everyone of the extra point that was still to come… and sure enough, the beginning of the Cincinnati sports curse was upon us.

The extra point snap sailed through holder Kyle Larson’s hands, the conversion was no good, and the Bengals would lose 24-23 to fall to 8-7.  One week later, the Bengals lost their home finale in overtime against the Steelers, a shame since their entire playoff scenario had played into their favor.  That is to say that had they won, the Bengals would have been playoff-bound again.  But, the Steelers were the spoilers once more, as they finished 8-8 alongside Cincinnati.

It was a disappointing end to what should’ve been a much more enjoyable season for Bengals fans.  There was an expectation that this team could follow up a tremendous 11-5 season and overcome the injury to Palmer.  However, injuries and legal troubles contributed to overall struggles on the field, leading the Bengals back into the depths of…. Non-playoffness.

Next week comes 2007, which was the last season in which the Cleveland Browns had a winning record (just in case Bengals and Reds woes have you down).  Tune in next week to see how our Bengals fared!

Andrew graduated from the University of Kentucky (direct your hate tweets to @atdu222) with a degree in Business Management and minor in Communications. You can find some of his previous works on Bleacher Report. Andrew is a lifelong fan of the Cincinnati Bengals and Reds... he was born in 1990, so his life as a sports fan has been pretty crappy until you extend the boundaries to Lexington. Andrew works full time for Western & Southern Financial Group and is married with a 1 year old daughter.

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© Cincinnati Enquirer-USA TODAY NE

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Chances are, if you’re reading this, you saw his performance in the preseason, and you may have had some questions. Let me enlighten you as to why I am looking forward to…no…excited to see Walton get some plays in.

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