For most fanbases, three consecutive playoff appearances by their team would be viewed as a pretty good accomplishment that would merit some optimism. However, with three straight losses under his belt and an overall 0-5 playoff record on the books, Marvin Lewis received a lot of heat by 2014. Many were shocked he hadn’t been fired following an inexcusable blowout home playoff loss to the Chargers. Many called for Defensive Coordinator Mike Zimmer to take over for Lewis, but he was not offered the job, so he left for Minnesota – go check out how it’s been working for him. The same heat was starting to go towards quarterback Andy Dalton, as many fans started calling for his backup to be the starter – spoiler alert, 2014 is when AJ McCarron arrived.
Our fun facts for the week – American Sniper was the year’s highest grossing film, but I’m going to expand on that for a moment. The film, arguably Bradley Cooper’s best, grossed just over $89 million in its opening weekend. Let’s compare that to a film also released in 2015 called United Passions – this film, a French drama (though it’s an English-spoken film), grossed $918 during its first weekend. No, that’s not a typo – I did not mean to type $918,000. An astonishing $918 was grossed in its first weekend.
Also, this was the year the ice bucket challenge was popularized in an effort to raise awareness of ALS, otherwise known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. And finally, an incident occurred at a Kanye West concert where the artist stopped performing in the middle of the song Good Life as he noticed not everyone was standing. The person he was stopping for, in particular, was in a wheelchair… because Kanye West.
Now then, onto the 2014 Bengals who finished a pretty solid 10-5-1, which wound up being good for second place in the AFC North and the fifth-seed in the AFC playoffs. This was a pretty good record in general, but especially so when you consider this team wound up decimated by injuries, which played a part in an offense that was not as good as it was capable of being.
The year’s Draft has largely turned out to be a dud, though there is still hope for first round selection Darqueze Dennard, a cornerback out of Michigan State who most thought was a steal for the Bengals at 24th overall. Other selections included running back Jeremy Hill, center Russell Bodine, quarterback AJ McCarron, and linebacker Marquis Flowers.
Hill – outstanding rookie season aside – was mostly a bust and no longer with the team, Bodine was a below average lineman who is now in Cleveland, and Flowers is actually managing to turn his career around. Following very limited use in Cincinnati, he is now with the Patriots, set for a big role after collecting 32 tackles and 3.5 sacks in limited time last season.
As for McCarron, we will be referencing him a lot over the coming few weeks despite the fact he’s no longer with the Bengals. For his rookie season, he was on the shelf with injuries for the entirety of it.
The 2014 campaign got off to a great start with a 23-16 home win over the Ravens. This game didn’t come without cost – tight end Tyler Eifert, who had started to garner Gronk-level expectations (maybe not that high), endured a nasty elbow injury that ended his season. He had three catches for 37 yards in the first half before his injuries, looking like a dominant force over the middle.
Victories over the Falcons and Titans took the Bengals into their Week 4 bye week feeling good at 3-0. However, they’d come back out to go 0-2-1, including an ugly 43-17 loss to the Patriots on Sunday Night Football. That was the game that featured the infamous “We’re onto Cincinnati” rant from Bill Belichick. Leave it to the Bengals to assure everyone that the Patriots were, in fact, NOT past their time.
Skipping ahead, the Bengals walked into Heinz Field in Pittsburgh on a Sunday night in December of 2014 in what was the NFL’s regular season finale. The game was going to decide the AFC North champion, as the Steelers entered the game 10-5, while the Bengals entered 10-4-1. We know how this story ends – Steelers win, and take the division with them, as well as a home playoff game.
The Bengals, on the other hand, were set for a matchup with Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC’s Wild Card round. I’ll preface this – this playoff team was unlike the teams that came before it. This team entered Indy without AJ Green, Marvin Jones (who missed the whole season), Vontaze Burfict, and of course, Tyler Eifert, among others. So depleted were they, the Bengals ended up using Rex Burkhead very heavily as a receiver in various formations throughout the game.
This may not seem so bad given where Burkhead stands in the league now, but at the time, he was, at best, the team’s third running back – say what you want about Marvin not recognizing talent, but the point is that they were forced to use him because they had so few options.
As we know, the game was never really close, as the Bengals lost to the Colts 26-10. Another very pedestrian performance from Dalton did not help things – he went 18/35 on the day with 155 yards… no scores.
As had been the case in the seasons prior, many fans were just defeated after another playoff loss. Sure, no one really had great expectations given the injury bug biting hard, but it didn’t change the fact that the Marvin Lewis era, now over 10 years, had no playoff wins on its resume.
One key factor to note in 2014 was the uncharacteristically average play of Andy Dalton – he threw for an okay 3,398 yards, but only had 19 touchdowns to 17 interceptions. Again, part of this can be contributed to injury – he didn’t have Marvin Jones at all, he had Eifert for one half, and Green missed three regular season games, parts of two others, and the entire postseason game.
Speaking of Green, he still had a solid season, if a little underwhelming from an overall standpoint considering his talent – he caught 69 passes for 1,041 yards and six touchdowns. It was up to Mohamed Sanu and Jermaine Gresham to pick up the slack. Sanu caught 56 passes for 790 yards and five scores, while Gresham stepped back into the starting tight end role to the tune of 62 catches for 460 yards and five touchdowns.
It was the running game here in 2014 that carried this offense – rookie Jeremy Hill was outstanding, running for 1,124 yards on an amazing 5.1 yards per carry, and scored nine touchdowns. It turned out to be, by far, Hill’s best season in Cincinnati. Meanwhile, second-year man Gio Bernard ran for 680 yards on four yards per carry, scored five times, and he caught 43 passes with two touchdowns.
The defense, despite losing Mike Zimmer, was decent in general, though not one of the better units they had been in the past. Linebacker Vincent Rey burst onto the scene with 133 tackles in Burfict’s absence, while Reggie Nelson registered 99 of his own, as well as four interceptions. George Iloka and Adam Jones accounted for three picks apiece, and Carlos Dunlap notched eight sacks, continuing his trajectory up the defensive end ladder.
And next week, we have finally arrived at a season that is probably the top of the list in infamy. A promising start to the season wound up getting derailed by an injury to Andy Dalton, and of course, we will be covering the playoff game we would all like to forget… a game that, after watching, forced me to stare blankly at me television for nearly an hour after it ended.
Tune in next week for the wildest season we will cover!
Blog of Football Sorrows: Week 13
Today I officially changed the name of this game recap blog. It just fits. To be positive about this iteration of the Bengals is to be a master of the mind that I cannot comprehend (aka delusional).
They’re done. I didn’t think they had much hope for the playoffs before the game, and they certainly don’t now. The injuries are a problem, but they aren’t the problem. The offense has been stale for weeks thriving on an identity-less scheme filled with dink and dunk passes and zero creativity. They now have four games left. The Raiders seem winnable, but with the hope of starting over, do we fans want that? Do we want there to be a glimmer of hope in management’s eyes? I don’t. I want change, and that doesn’t happen by winning any remaining games, this year. Lose em all, blow it up, let’s start fixing the problems that have been ignored for too long.
Jeff Driskel, to no fault of his own, was meh. Which is much the story of 2018. The game plan, in the beginning, seemed to be for him to get momentum built through screens and flat routes…but then they kept the training wheels on. Second quarter, third quarter…it kept going. The Bengals fell behind on the scoreboard and their answer was to run more crossing routes and short outs? Cincinnati ran RPO plays…and only passed. They asked an athletic quarterback who can move to stand tall in the pocket and fend off pressure from a defense with its ears pinned back matching up with a bad and battered offensive line. Kind of like James mentioned on the post-game pod, how bad is Cedric Ogbuehi that the answer to filling in for Cordy Glenn is the starting left guard and not your former first round pick, who is actually supposed to be a left tackle? So the coaching game plan was to tell Driskel to grin and bear it behind an uninspired line with uninspired play calling? But, you know, Marvin Lewis says “We’ve got to do our jobs better. The players have to execute the game plan the way it is coached.” What? The game plan hasn’t changed in 10 years! Different personnel, different opponents, different circumstances, same stale, boring, dull, lifeless, clueless plan. I get sick to my stomach when I listen to Marvin do a press conference.
The only thing left is the future, whatever may come. I know that is bleak. Not one of you reading these words can say, with a straight face, that you can see a different coach roaming the sidelines in 2019 who isn’t Marvin or Hue Jackson. We know. We know there isn’t going to be any change, and that’s why the stadium is empty. That’s why the orange in the stands at Paul Brown Stadium was Bronco orange and not Bengal orange. The sound at the end of the game? Cheers and applause, because anyone still there was a fan of the visiting victors. There’s no one left to boo because they’ve been booing for so long they’ve lost interest. It is understood that the most likely outcome this season, if change comes at all, is that Hue takes the reigns. We’ll go from a boring, uninspired, regularly out-maneuvered coach to a joke of a coach. So how can anyone care? I looked at tickets before the game. You could have sit 12 rows back in the endzone for $35…and I said no. Why? Because the joke that is the visual of the stands at PBS is the last thing we fans have left to tell ownership to get their rear in gear and fix this. Will they? You tell me…
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A lot of Bengals fans (myself included) wondered before the year why a young team with so much talent was pegged with worse Super Bowl odds than our in-state neighbors.
In the eyes of Las Vegas, it didn’t matter that the Bengals rallied to end last season at 7-9 with a signature victory over the Baltimore Ravens. It didn’t matter that the Bengals made legitimate offseason moves to sure up the offensive line. It didn’t matter that Bill Lazor was given a whole offseason to install his system or that Teryl Austin was bringing a turnovers-or-bust mentality with him from Detroit.
It. Didn’t. Matter.
The only thing that mattered was the face of the franchise returning for his 16th year. Marvin Lewis is and always will be the reason people around the NFL don’t take the Bengals seriously and it’s become both a blessing and a curse.
When Lewis arrived in 2003, he inherited what many considered to be one of the worst franchises in pro sports at the time. The players were using old jock straps, it was a dark time in Bengals history. Though to Lewis’ credit, he rebuilt this franchise into something fans could actually be proud of.
They became competitive, they got to the base of Championship Mountain, but that’s not good enough. Of the six coaches in the NFL who’ve been at the helm for at least a decade, Marvin Lewis is the only one without a Super Bowl trophy.
As of Nov. 28, Cincinnati has lost five of their past six games, their defense is the worst in the league, the offense can’t operate without A.J. Green, and they’ve fired one coach in waiting while rehiring another. That go-ahead score against Pittsburgh in mid-October feels like it happened in 2015.
The Bengals might not have moved on from Marvin, but I have, there’s nothing else I need to see following that 35-20 beatdown this past Sunday. ESPN has pegged Lewis with a 60 percent chance to be fired and though this might be for nothing, here are two head coaching paths the Bengals could choose to down in January.
Anyone But Hue Jackson
That’s really all that needs to be said. Hue Jackson is a great POSITION coach, but he has proved over a large sample size that he is inept as a HEAD coach. Jason La Canfora reported before the Browns game that Jackson has a real shot to replace Lewis if he steps down or takes a front office role.
Fans would be less excited about this than retaining Lewis, especially if he’s in the building overseeing nine of the 10 or 11 losses this team is headed for. Who are we kidding here, this is Lewis’ best friend and if anyone has shown the ability to persuade Mike Brown over the last 16 years, it’s Marvin Lewis.
Jackson is the clear frontrunner if a coaching change ends up happening.
A former Bengals player from 1995-98, This is the home run hire for Cincinnati. Bieniemy is in his first season as offensive coordinator of the Kansas City Chiefs and I don’t have to throw stats in here to prove why that’s been a success.
As a former player for the franchise, Bieniemy has that familiarity that Brown always looks for in new hires. He could come in and immediately offer a fresh perspective on this roster, answer the Andy Dalton question, and start to move this organization into a new era.
Bieniemy has primarily coached running backs before taking over for Matt Nagy this season and some great ones at that: Adrian Peterson, Jamaal Charles, Kareem Hunt have all learned and thrived under Bieniemy. Imagine his expertise paired with the talent of Joe Mixon.
Oh and for those concerned with the “lack of coaching experience” after just one season as an OC, just look at the past two guys to hold Bieniemy’s current spot. Doug Pederson went from Chiefs OC to winning a Super Bowl, Nagy has turned the Bears from a laughing stock to a contender in his first season. Those expectations might not be fair for Bieniemy, but the blueprint is out there for Mike Brown to make a championship hire.
A Sucker Until the Bitter End
Am I frustrated? Yes. Do I look back at week 5 when the Cincinnati Bengals sported a 4-1 record and feel as though that was a lifetime ago? Sure. Here’s the thing, Stephen A. Smith said, and I don’t remember word for word, but if you continue to support the Bengals who continue to refuse to put a competent product on the field then you are a sucker. I must confess, I am a sucker.
Sure, I am in the camp that is counting down the days until things change…even though I do not know when that countdown will end. You can check out my last post for reference. That being said, I am still going to be a fan. I’m still rooting for my team. That won’t change. Heck, I even mentioned that I might go to the game, this Sunday, if I can get a deal on some lower bowl tickets.
I had a buddy tell me he’d rather get hit by a car than go to the game, and I can’t blame him. Heck, there might be more value in staying away from the stadium, to get the point across to Mr. Brown. Here’s the thing, though, I am actually sort of looking forward to what will happen with Jeff Driskel. Now, I’m not saying I want him to be theguy, but entertain me for the rest of the season. When we think of football, that’s the basis of what we’re looking for, entertainment. I believe Driskel has the possibility to be entertaining. Urban Meyer once thought he could be the next Tim Tebow. What that tells me is he has heart and toughness. Joe Goodberry broke down a play in which Andy Dalton ran against the Browns and Driskel later ran, against the exact same defensive look. Andy threw a pick and Driskel threw a TD, so who knows? Maybe this won’t be that awful.
So what are you thinking about the Bengals? Are you burning jerseys? Are you cancelling season tickets? Are you switching allegiances? Hit me up on the Twitter (@jefffcarr), or here in the comments section, I want to get a gauge. I don’t blame you if you do any of that, by the way. I can see why you’d want to switch allegiances (just don’t be a Steelers’ fan, that would be messed up). Just know that I will be here, still. There’s something in my DNA that no matter what Mr. Brown and the gang try to do to my fan heart, I keep coming back. It might physically hurt me to no longer be a Bengals fan, I don’t know, but I’m not going to find out. I keep hanging on to that super-slim hope that one day there will be a Super Bowl ring. One day I’ll get to sing “We are the Champions” in regards to my Bengals, and that will be enough to erase all these years of wondering if I could have better used my time on Sunday.