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A Year in the Life of the Bengals – 2009

Andrew Dunn

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Following what I perceive to be the most unpleasant Bengals season in recent memory, we have a scrappy 2009 team that bounced back to surprise us all.  I don’t recall much optimism around Cincinnati as the Bengals kicked off this season, and as we go through this, I’m thinking it’ll become clear that that was for good reason.  Another so-so draft (at least initially) and relative silence in free agency left a lot to be desired during the offseason, but Marvin Lewis had some tricks up his sleeve.

Before we get into the memorable season, our fun facts for the week.  Avatar hit theaters in 2009 and as of this writing, is the highest-grossing film of all time (per this article in Newsday), sitting a bit under $3 billion.  Mine That Bird won the Kentucky Derby with 50-1 odds to do so, second worst of all time behind the 1913 winner, Donerail (91-1 if you were curious).  And, of course, we lost Michael Jackson in 2009.

The 2009 season for the Bengals turned out to be an eventful one, both in terms of incredible highs and horrible lows.  Starting from the beginning – star wide receiver TJ Houshmandzadeh left the Bengals to go out west to Seattle, leaving a gaping hole on the offense.  Linebacker Brandon Johnson also left, and while he wasn’t quite the impact player TJ was, Johnson had some solid performances.

The team attempted to replace Houshmandzadeh with veteran receiver Laveranues Coles, who had three 1,000 yard seasons under his belt in nine seasons with the Jets and Redskins.  And, following a relatively good showing in limited action in 2008, former first-round running back Cedric Benson received a two-year extension to the featured back.

In the Draft, the Bengals added some key names – offensive tackle Andre Smith, linebacker Rey Maualuga, defensive end Michael Johnson, and punter Kevin Huber were some of the headliners.  There’s no doubt that all of these guys had shining times in orange and black, some moreso than others.  However, for the most part, the immediate splashes were underwhelming, particularly for Smith, the sixth overall selection that year.  He wound up holding out until the end of August, and fractured his foot a few days later.

And so begins another season following an offseason that left a lot of us shrugging, unconvinced that the front office was attempting to make real strides in the right direction.  The Bengals opened the season in heart-breaking fashion – they battled the Denver Broncos in a defensive struggle on opening weekend at Paul Brown Stadium.  At the end of three quarters, the score was 6-0 in favor of Denver.

One touchdown from Cedric Benson later, the Bengals led 7-6 with 38 seconds left.  On the ensuing drive, the win looked sealed as the Broncos lined up on their own 13 yard line with seconds to go – Leon Hall deflected the pass on the following play into the air, and it landed into the waiting arms of Brandon Stokely, who ran the 87 yards to paydirt.  Denver wins, 12-7.

However, the Bengals rattled off three wins in a row following that defeat, two of which came against the Packers and Steelers.  The offense seemed to be clicking again and Mike Zimmer had the defense humming right along, when tragedy struck.

Zimmer’s wife, Vikki, was found dead on October 9, 2009.  At just 50 years old, she had passed away of natural causes.

It’s hard to transition back into football, but we will give it a shot – Zimmer did show up for his duties as defensive coordinator just three short days later, when the Bengals went into Baltimore and upset the Ravens behind a strong effort from the defensive unit.  Zimmer received the game ball.

Ultimately, the team looked strong going into their bye week in Week 8 – they were 5-2 and fresh off a 45-10 beating of the Chicago Bears.  They came out of the bye with a 17-7 victory over the Ravens.  In this game, troubled wide receiver Chris Henry broke his arm in what would turn out to be his final game in the NFL.

Sadly, Henry died on December 16, 2009 following injuries he suffered after he was thrown from the back of a pickup truck during a domestic dispute.  He was a young man who seemed to have finally gotten his life and career on track, and I remember vividly the shock that shook the city, much the way it had been shaken two months prior.

Again, it’s not easy to transition away from that, but we’ll move forward through the rest of the season.  Following the Bengals’ 9-3 start, they finished the season by losing three out of their final four games, including an ugly 37-0 loss in the season finale against the New York Jets.  It was an ugly tone to set as the division winners (spoiler alert) ahead of what wound up being a rematch against the Jets one week later.

There are those that stick to the idea that Marvin Lewis and the Bengals were effectively resting up for an already clinched spot in the postseason – a difficult thing to sell considering the starters played most of that game.

As has become too common, the Bengals lost their playoff game a week later at Paul Brown Stadium, 24-14.  Despite an early 7-0 lead, Jets’ running back Shonn Greene proved to be too much and the Cincinnati offense was just not clicking on this day.  A 10-6 record, AFC North crown, and first-round playoff loss was the 2009 season, in a nutshell.

We did this week a little backwards, so onto the stats.  Carson Palmer put up a good season in 2009, if slightly more than mediocre – he threw for just over 3,000 yards, collecting 21 touchdowns and 13 interceptions.  Perhaps it may be unfair to be critical of that season, combined with the facts that he’d lost one of his receivers and this wound up being a division-winning team, but Palmer had set a bar for himself in 2005 that he really never came close to again in Cincinnati.

The aforementioned Benson rewarded the team for their faith in him, as he ran for 1,251 yards on 4.2 yards per carry, and scored six times.

Chad Ochocinco (yep, it’s time for that) had a good bounceback season in his own right, a thing that seems to be forgotten when fans remember the ‘Ochocinco’ seasons.  He caught 72 balls (on over 100 targets) for 1,047 yards and nine scores.  His backup was okay, not great, as the offense tried to move on without Houshmandzadeh.  Andre Caldwell and Laveranues Coles combined for eight touchdowns.

The defense, from an overall standpoint, was a solid unit, even if there were no dominant stat hogs.  Leon Hall and Johnathan Joseph established themselves as a top-tier cornerback tandem, totaling 12 interceptions (six each) and also had 58 tackles apiece.  Defensive end Antwan Odom tied a career high with eight sacks, and linebacker (turned network star) Dhani Jones led the team in tackles for the second year in a row with 76.

This brings to an end a highly memorable 2009, which means we have to step back into the dark ages for another year in 2010.  While 2008 was my least favorite season, 2010 wasn’t far behind, and I’ve labeled that year not as a season, but a circus.  Terrell Owens joins the fray as we prepare to discuss Carson Palmer’s swansong in a Bengals uniform.

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 Bengals

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Jeffery Carr

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© Cincinnati Enquirer-USA TODAY NE

This Sunday, the Cincinnati Bengals will look for production out of their rookie running back they selected in the fourth round. Some expressed concern over the pick, but make no mistake, Mark Walton is ready to showcase his talent.

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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Walton was touted as a steal by some national writers (the same who have dogged the Bengals this year). He’s got winning pedigree, because he won a state title with Booker T. Washington high school, in Miami, and he ran a 4.6 40-yd dash. He profiles, according to NFL.com, as a third-down back with speed on the outside and decent hands. Look for him to spell Gio on some passing downs and, maybe, even see them in, together, if Bill Lazor decides to get creative. I mean, come on, if he’s this good in shorts, he’s a shoe-in to turn some heads when he puts on the pads:

Make sure you’ve got your subscription to the podcast, you’ve rated it five stars, and you keep your Twitter feed tuned in to @lockedonBengals, @jamesrapien, and @jefffcarr for all your daily Bengals content, throughout the season.

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