With a disappointing 2006 season in the rearview mirror, the city of Cincinnati seemed to be in the same sort of limbo that we find ourselves in 11 years later here in 2018. It was hard to know what to make of the Bengals for this season – coming off a heartbreaking end to the 2005 season and collapsing as 2006 came to a close, it almost felt as though the tide had shifted, despite some solid talent still dressing in orange and black.
As things changed in the Queen City, a new invention (Time Magazine’s Invention of the Year in 2007, incidentally) was taking the world by storm – the iPhone. It was initially released this year at a low cost of $599. Speaking of crazy, 2007 could be considered rock bottom for pop star Britney Spears, as this was the year in which she shaved her head. And finally, to cap off this week’s fun facts section that apparently has been brought to you by the word “crazy” – Oklahoma declared the watermelon the state vegetable. I know what you’re thinking, and it’s not a typo…. That is actually a thing.
The 2007 offseason was not really one of the better ones for the Bengals – after several offseasons in a row of good roster moves and drafts, the wheels sort of began to fall off. The team lost many veterans from the roster without really replacing them – those being safety Kevin Kaesviharn, guard Eric Steinbach, linebacker Brian Simmons, cornerback Tory James, and center Rich Braham retired. Not all of these guys (or, any of them really) would be considered stars, but they all were effective players that left town without adequate replacements.
Hindsight also tells us that the Bengals really didn’t fare much better in the Draft – their lone pick that really panned out was first-rounder Leon Hall, who would form a top five cornerback duo with Johnathan Joseph in time. Second-round pick Kenny Irons – a running back from Auburn – had the town buzzing once his name was called, but wound up injuring his knee in the preseason. Irons would miss the entirety of 2006, and ultimately never played a down of regular season NFL football.
Finally, the team dealt with suspensions and more off the field problems. Chris Henry continued to land himself in legal trouble, which led to an eight game suspension for him in 2007, taking away one of Carson Palmer’s most elusive weapons. Linebacker Odell Thurman applied for reinstatement to the league after missing all of 2006 serving a suspension, but due to another run-in with the law, was denied and subsequently suspended for all of 2007. As I referenced last week, Thurman never did make his way back onto an NFL field.
So, right off the bat, it’s clear that the Bengals are behind the eight ball. They opened the season with a primetime matchup against the Ravens on ESPN, which they won 27-20. Unfortunately, the glimmer of hope that Week 1 gave Cincinnati didn’t last. They went on to lose their next four games, and begin the season 2-6 overall, effectively ending the season by the halfway point.
The Bengals wound up winning three of their final four games to claw their way to a 7-9 record. For the record – one of those final three wins (Week 16) was a 19-14 home victory over the Cleveland Browns, which would ultimately be a key reason why the Browns missed the playoffs in 2007 (they finished 10-6, finishing behind the Titans for the AFC 6th seed).
The offense wasn’t quite as electric as it had been in prior years, as Palmer appeared to be a bit more human this year. He racked up 4,131 yards with 26 touchdowns and 20 interceptions. Those aren’t terrible numbers by any means, but a near 1:1 TD/INT ratio isn’t great. And, as I mentioned in the 2005 piece, Palmer never quite looked the same following his knee injury… but that’s just this writer’s opinion.
Rudi Johnson’s run (no pun intended) as the Bengals’ lead back came to a screeching halt, as he managed only 497 yards and three scores in 11 games, averaging under three yards per carry. With the aforementioned Irons and Chris Perry (yep, he’s still around here in 2007) injured on the season, Kenny Watson was tasked with filling in for the struggling Johnson. He had what would wind up being his career year, collecting 763 yards on 4.3 yards per carry and seven touchdowns. Not bad for a guy who’d entered the league in 2002 and missed two full seasons because he wasn’t employed.
It wasn’t all bad – Chad Johnson and TJ Houshmandzadeh became, without debate, a top five receiving tandem in the NFL (probably best overall if not for the crazy 2007 Patriots team). The two Oregon State products combined for 205 receptions (TJ’s first over 100), an amazing 2,583 yards (more than half of Palmer’s total), and 20 touchdowns.
The downside to this is that it was around this time that the Chad Johnson antics began to wear on a lot of Bengal fans. His endzone celebrations, media quotes, etc. weren’t everyone’s cups of tea, and from my standpoint, it appeared that most people thought it was all fine in small doses. But it became a constant thing for Ochocinco.
Unfortunately, the defense struggled much more than the offense – this was a team that allowed 20 or more points in all but four games. Johnathan Joseph and the rookie Leon Hall combined for nine interceptions, marking the rise of their defensive tandem. The only other defensive bit of info of significance is this – Justin Smith, an established star defensive end – recorded only two sacks in 2007 despite playing in all 16 games. It may be worth noting here that Smith was on the team under the franchise tag. This wound up being his last season in Cincinnati.
Once this team struggled in 2007, this was when the rumbling surrounding Marvin Lewis really began. No, it wasn’t nearly as loud or prominent as it is in 2018, but the window had basically closed on what appeared to be a top-notch team, and only one playoff appearance was shown for it.
Sadly, next week is much of the same – free agents leave, a so-so Draft, but an abysmal season. Guess that’s not great advertising is it?
A Year in the Life of the Bengals – 2010
After a surprising 2009 season in which the Bengals swept the AFC North division, there was a lot of optimism surrounding the team in 2010, especially after they landed Terrell Owens in free agency. Granted, there was also plenty of criticism of that move, as it now took two of the biggest mouths in the league (T.O. and Ochocinco – T.Ochocinco, if you will), and stuck them together on the same team. Still, at the end of the day, Owens supplied something the Bengals lacked in 2009 following the departure of T.J. Houshmandzadeh – a true No.2 receiver. How did this turn out?
Oh we’ll get there, but 2010 supplied some pretty solid fun facts for the week. Social media took another step forward this year, as Instagram was launched. Eight years later, I have an account, but haven’t posted in quite a few years, and even those posts came about via persuasion from my wife. Furthering the social media age, the iPad was also released in 2010, giving us yet another platform to stare at. And finally, one of my personal favorite Disney movies, Toy Story 3 was released, topping the movie charts and nearly crushing fans’ hearts after the end of the 15-year saga (if you’ve seen it, you know what I mean).
While I remember plenty of folks being wildly optimistic about the 2010 version of the Cincinnati Bengals, I will toot my own horn a bit and admit I was not. Sure, the adrenaline was still in place from the 2009 season, but the back-to-back losses to the Jets had left a sour taste in my mouth, and I was in the group that wasn’t impressed by the Owens signing. He and Ochocinco had already been incredibly talkative together in front of cameras before he was signed, and that couldn’t lead anywhere good, in my humble opinion. The 2018 Hall of Famer put up a good season in his lone appearance in Bengal stripes (we’ll get there), but this team had a wildly different look.
The offseason, unlike prior seasons, hadn’t been all bad – or, unproductive, if you will. Aside from Owens, the Bengals were quiet in free agency, but the 2010 Draft produced a couple names that are still in Cincinnati to this day. Carlos Dunlap was drafted in the second round and Geno Atkins in the fourth. The Bengals also selected Jermaine Gresham and Jordan Shpley in this draft, which at the time shaped the offense up to have a starting tight end and slot receiver.
In a year I’ve dubbed The Circus Year, the Bengals finished a rotten 4-12, in the cellar of the AFC North – yep, even behind the Browns, who were 5-11. They started 2-1 following wins over the Ravens and Panthers, but would go on to lose their next 10 contests, before winning two of their final three games. Now, to give the Bengals a break, it’s worth pointing out that in this 10 game losing streak, seven of those games were one possession. Say what you want about answering the call late in games, but that’s horrible luck in one-possession games to lose that many of them.
There was also an indication of fan reaction to the team during this time – four of their eight home games were blacked out (back when that was a thing). Clearly, the fans were frustrated by this point, even one year removed from a playoff season.
In what turned out to be his last season (more on that in a bit) in Cincinnati, Carson Palmer was once again decent, but showed plenty of flaws. He threw for 3,970 yards, 26 touchdowns and 20 interceptions. His favorite target that year was not long-time teammate Chad Ochocinco, but the newly signed Owens. Ocho-Uno caught 72 passes for 983 yards and nine touchdowns, a pretty good turnout for a guy who’d been considered past his prime at this point, even dating back to 2009 when he was in Buffalo.
The aforementioned Ochocinco was… okay. He caught 67 balls for 831 yards and four touchdowns – it feels silly to call that just okay, but by the measures he had established for his entire career, this was something of a letdown. Meanwhile the rookies Shipley and Gresham each caught 52 passes and combined for seven touchdowns.
The running game was fairly strong behind the legs of Cedric Benson – his 3.5 yards per carry was fine at best, but he did accumulate 1,111 yards and score seven touchdowns. Unfortunately, Benson struggled with ball control, fumbling the ball seven times.
On defense, there were some showings that were impressive, but from an overall standpoint, the unit wasn’t nearly as good as it would become. Star cornerback Johnathan Joseph – in his final season in Cincinnati – put up what could arguably have been his worst season since he was a rookie, tallying only three interceptions and 42 tackles (in 12 games). Rookie defensive end Carlos Dunlap notched an impressive 9.5 sacks in only nine games, while Geno Atkins logged three of his own.
A few paragraphs up, I mentioned that this was The Circus Year, partly due to the media party that accompanied Owens and Ochocinco being on the same team. However, this was largely a name I came up with in hindsight – huge team changes would come in 2011, and once a bunch of new guys were in place, not only did the two receivers seem like a circus, but so did Palmer’s offseason antics (more on that next week).
And so it begins – the official entrance into the current era of Bengals football in which we currently reside. Old faces are out, some new ones are in, but of course, one remains the same. Tune in next week!
Colin Cowherd isn’t high on the Bengals
The Bengals and Vegas are at odds
When a franchise like the Cincinnati Bengals hasn’t won a playoff game in 27 years and has missed the postseason in back-to-back seasons, expectations should assuredly be tempered.
Vegas oddsmakers are playing their part in that argument.
The Bengals have made plenty of changes on and off the field over the past few months: Revamping the offensive line with Cordy Glenn and Billy Price, new systems on both sides of the ball, and a rekindled hope for guys like John Ross.
What did all that mean to experts in Sin City? One less win in 2018 and a bottom-ten chance at playing meaningful games in January.
Las Vegas set the Bengals over/under at 6.5 games tied for the 4th-lowest win projection of any team in the league. The three teams below them being the Cleveland Browns (5.5 wins), Arizona Cardinals (5.5 wins), and the New York Jets (6 wins).
Now Vegas does favor Cincinnati to eclipse that total (-130) but scraping by through another 7-win season isn’t going to cut it for Bengals fans.
The low expectations from national pundits shouldn’t be surprising. They clearly value two things the Bengals didn’t make a change to this offseason: Head Coach and Quarterback.
In the modern NFL, the barometer for success is relatively unchanged with a new offensive line coach or a fresh defensive system. It’s about the man under center and the leader on the sidelines, both of which are still justified question marks as Andy Dalton and Marvin Lewis head into their eighth season together.
Just take a look at the highest O/U projection among NFL teams, 11 wins for the New England Patriots. That has almost everything to do with the greatest quarterback/head coach duo in history returning for another campaign.
Coinciding with the low win expectation, Vegas pegged the Bengals with the eighth-worst odds to make the playoffs and at first glance, it’s difficult to argue with that projection.
“What have you done for me lately?”
This might as well be the slogan for the NFL, and lately, the Bengals haven’t done much. 13 wins in the past two seasons, the worst offense in the NFL a year ago. Those are some bad optics and Vegas used them accordingly, but call me crazy, Cincinnati will be a different group in 2018. This Bengals team is a serious sleeper and I’d take that over any day of the week. Dalton and Co. have almost zero expectations outside of Paul Brown Stadium and that’s when they shine brightest.
Just look at what this team has done over the past decade.
In 2009 they were projected to be a bottom feeder after Carson Palmer’s elbow injury sent them on a 4-11-1 spiral the year before.
The Cardiac Cats won the division.
After the disastrous Terrell Owens experiment sent them right back to four wins, plenty of media outlets gave them no chance at success in 2011.
Wild Card berth from a bunch of rookies.
The bottom line is don’t count this team out when most of the “experts” have them on the margins, recent history says everyone should be jumping on those plus odds to make the playoffs. Vegas is more than justified with their projections for the Bengals season but don’t be surprised when they sneak into the playoffs and defy expectations once again.