Having been born in 1990, I’ve encountered a lot of really bad sports seasons in my Cincinnati fandom – the mid-2000’s Reds seasons were pretty much all painful, 2010 for the Bengals was rough (we’ll get there), and the recent era of the Bengals where everyone loathes Marvin Lewis doesn’t sit well either. Keeping in mind that I was pretty young in the 90’s, and therefore can’t recall much about the abysmal Bengals of the time (researching it just isn’t the same), the 2008 Bengals were dreadful to watch.
The offense lost the pop it had had for the last few seasons, there was growing impatience with Marvin Lewis and Chad Johnson, and the Bengals simply didn’t win many games. There had only been one playoff season in the Lewis era at this point, but the team had at least been around the .500 mark, a marked improvement from the doldrums of the 90’s. What brought this team to such a screeching halt?
We’ll get to that, but first, our fun facts – which, by the way, were slim-pickin’s this week. The Dark Knight was the year’s top movie, which stunned me that that movie is now that old. Flo Rida and T-Pain topped music charts with Low, singing about apple-bottom jeans and furry boots. And one that I had to choose from a personal standpoint – 2008 marked the second season of Kitchen Nightmares, which was Gordon Ramsey’s version of Bar Rescue. If you don’t know what either of those are, I apologize. To the point – every restaurant that Chef Ramsey “saved” on season two of the show wound up closing following his trips to each place.
On the positive side, 2008 was the first season Mike Zimmer took over as the team’s defensive coordinator, replacing Chuck Bresnahan whose contract had expired at the end of 2007. Past that, the offseason was very similar to 2007 for our Bengals – lots of losses to free agency and a Draft that was, overall, a miss.
The Bengals lost four starters, one of which was All-Pro defensive end Justin Smith, who left town for San Francisco. They also lost safety Madieu Williams, veteran offensive tackle Willie Anderson, and running back Rudi Johnson. In addition, given wide receiver Chris Henry’s ongoing legal problems, the team wound up cutting him, with Marvin Lewis declaring he would never play for the Bengals again. It wasn’t long before Henry was brought back, but had to first serve a four-game suspension.
And finally, the Odell Thurman issue was finally put to bed. He was reinstated to the league before training camp after two full seasons of suspensions, but the Bengals waived him. He wound up violating the league’s substance abuse policy, and was suspended from the NFL indefinitely.
On the Draft side of things, the 2008 class had some names you probably remember – Keith Rivers, Jerome Simpson, Pat Sims, Andre Caldwell, and Anthony Collins. Those guys had their moments, especially Collins’ showing in recent years before he left for Tampa Bay and the big money, but it would be hard to consider that draft class any better than ‘okay’.
And here we are, at the start of the season… which ultimately ended with the team going 4-11-1. They opened the season 0-8 before finally upending the Jacksonville Jaguars as they went into their Week 10 bye. A 13-13 tie against the Eagles followed, and Cincinnati would close the season with three straight wins to rebound from a really bad 1-11-1 start.
A huge reason for the 2008 struggles had to do with Carson Palmer. He started the first three games of the season, as well as the fifth game, before it was determined he had a partially torn ligament and tendon in his elbow. Palmer passed on Tommy John surgery, but his need to rest the injury and not throw ended his season. Enter Ryan Fitzpatrick, who has managed to find a way into a starting lineup everywhere he’s been…. I have conspiracy theories about the guy.
Fitz was, in a word, bad. In Palmer’s absence, he threw for 1,905 yards and eight touchdowns, but he threw nine interceptions and fumbled a whopping seven times. This was still very early in Fitzpatrick’s career, but it stands as one of his worst showings in his storied career.
TJ Houshmandzadeh, Chris Henry, and Chad Johnson suffered mightily due to the quarterback issues. Chad notched his worst season in a Bengals’ uniform since his rookie year, reeling in 53 passes (on 97 targets) for 540 yards and four touchdowns – it’s also worth noting that he missed three games. Henry managed 19 catches and two scores in his limited action. Houshmandzadeh actually wasn’t bad, catching 92 balls for 904 yards and four touchdowns of his own.
A new look running game began to take shape following Rudi Johnson’s departure – former first-round pick Cedric Benson joined the Bengals in 2008, and he racked up 747 yards and two touchdowns. Those aren’t too impressive, but he only had ten starts. Chris Perry saw increased workloads as well, but failed to take advantage – he logged 269 yards on a very disappointing 2.6 yards per carry.
While Zimmer had taken over the defensive duties, there wasn’t much to write home about on that side of the ball either. Leon Hall and Johnathan Joseph were okay in coverage (‘okay’ being used since we know how good these two would end up being), and Dhani Jones logged one of his best seasons with hands in three turnovers and 75 tackles. But, with Smith gone, there were no true playmakers left for the defense to lean on.
And with 2008 (mercifully) behind us, we arrive at 2009, which was another season that featured the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, but the lows we experienced as a city and franchise in 2009 stretched far from the football field. It’s one of the seasons I’ve really been looking forward to talking about, so join me next week as we inch closer towards the beginning of 2018!
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.