CINCINNATI -- This is not an excuse for the Cincinnati Bengals. The Bengals weren't going to win Monday night in any shape or form, not even with their full roster of healthy players plus half of another NFL team's roster of healthy players. The Bengals weren't going to beat New England, because the only team that can beat New England is New England -- and on Monday the Patriots decided they weren't ready to lose just yet.
But still ...
|Kevin Faulk and the Patriots run over Chinedum Ndukwe and the Bengals. (Getty Images)|
Late in the first quarter, Patriots leading 3-0 and about to tack on seven more points. It's first-and-goal from the 2, and sadistic New England coach Bill Belichick sends out a formation with linebacker Mike Vrabel at tight end and linebacker Junior Seau at fullback.
On the other sideline, Bengals coach Marvin Lewis must have been nauseous. He had started the game with just four healthy linebackers, then lost one of them -- starter Lemar Marshall -- to an Achilles' injury on the second play of the game.
If Lewis had known what lay ahead, he might have puked right there. Before the half was finished, his best linebacker and leading tackler, Landon Johnson, would be knocked from the game with an eye injury. That reduced the Bengals to two healthy linebackers, Dhani Jones and Anthony Schlegel, both of whom were garbage. Don't look at me like that! Jones was released by the Eagles and the Saints, Schlegel by the Jets. The Bengals picked both up on the waiver wire. That makes them recycled or refuse, depending on your viewpoint.
That's not the point. The point is, the Bengals were forced to play the Patriots' No. 1 NFL offense with only two healthy linebackers and a rookie seventh-round draft pick, safety Chinedum Ndukwe, pulling emergency duty there.
Meanwhile, New England was so loaded with linebackers, Belichick was loaning them to the offense in bulk. That first-and-goal situation from the 2? The Patriots ended up scoring a touchdown. On a pass play. To the linebacker.
Oh, sorry. I need to specify the linebacker, seeing as how the Patriots had as many linebackers playing offense (two) as the Bengals had on defense. The linebacker who scored was Vrabel, who has caught nine passes in his bizarre NFL career, all of them for touchdowns.
Poor Bengals. What happened Monday night was sort of pathetic, and somewhat avoidable. This being the Bengals, they don't avoid issues. They create them, then milk them for the maximum self-inflicted damage. Don't be fooled by the Bengals' respectable 36-32 record under Marvin Lewis. The only difference between this team and Dick LeBeau's Bungles is Carson Palmer, Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh, three offensive players who fell into Marvin Lewis' lap and have spent the last four years trying to overcome Lewis' baby, the Cincinnati defense.
Cincinnati's ineffective defensive schemes have been exacerbated by Lewis' shortcomings as the team's de facto general manager, including wasted draft picks on known character risks Odell Thurman and A.J. Nicholson. Both knuckleheads are -- were -- linebackers. The Bengals began the season with just seven linebackers, including injured Canadian Football League refugee Rashad Jeanty, and have been battling additional injury problems there ever since.
Entering this game, starting middle linebacker Ahmad Brooks was doubtful and replacement Caleb Miller was out. That left four healthy linebackers for three spots, which became three for three spots when Brooks was inactivated -- but the Bengals made no moves earlier in the week to shore up the position. There isn't a spare linebacker on the practice squad. There aren't even the full allotment of players on the practice squad. Same old cheap Bungles, I'm telling you.
And it's the same old Patriots, too. They lose one player, they plug in another and life goes on. Tailback Laurence Maroney (groin) was a surprise scratch, but veteran Sammy Morris -- acquired as a free agent in the offseason -- had surpassed the 100-yard mark with his second carry of the second half. He finished with a season-high 117 yards, including a 49-yarder he punctuated with a vicious stiff arm to Bengals safety Madieu Williams.