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.
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.