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A Year in the Life of the Bengals – 2008

Andrew Dunn

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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!

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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