PITTSBURGH -- These aren't the same old Bengals.
I'm not saying that for your benefit, but mine. I'm sitting here, staring at my computer, telling myself not to go off on the Bengals after this 35-7 loss Sunday to the Steelers. This isn't the same old Cincinnati franchise that people have grown to know and loathe over the years, a dislikeable team with idiots at receiver and a quitter at quarterback. This isn't that team. I don't need to be nice to the Bengals, but maybe I can avoid being cruel.
Though cruel seems like a plausible option, given what just happened here.
The Steelers were good, yes, but the Bengals were horrible. They were so horrible, I wish Chad Ochocinco was back in uniform -- just so he could have experienced it. That's how bad this 28-point loss to the Steelers was.
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But I've decided not to be cruel, because these aren't the same old Bengals. And these weren't the same old Steelers, either. These were better than the old Steelers, and the old Steelers weren't so bad. Two Super Bowl rings since 2005. Not bad.
The old Steelers were a lot like this group on Sunday -- physically strong, mentally tough, efficiently coached. Some things haven't changed. But one thing has: The older Steelers, the ones who won Super Bowls in 2005 and '08, didn't have explosive playmakers like this. They had Hines Ward and Heath Miller grinding out tough yards through the air, as does this team, but the old Steelers didn't have Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown outrunning people, stretching defenses and even special teams, as Brown did Sunday with a 60-yard punt return for a touchdown that broke the game open by breaking the Bengals' resolve.
Sounds like I'm saying the Bengals quit, right? Well, maybe I am. These aren't the same old Bengals, these aren't the same old Bengals, these aren't the same old ...
Sorry. Doing it again. The nicest thing I can say about the Bengals -- the lousy Bengals I saw Sunday, not the improved Bengals who came into this game with a decent shot at the playoffs -- is that history will judge this team, and this game. A month from now, we'll be able to look back on the 2011 Cincinnati Bengals, see where they end up, and see why.
If the 2011 Bengals don't make it into the playoffs, we'll know why. It happened Sunday, Dec. 4. Here at Heinz Field. Where the Bengals reverted to their old Bengally ways and had it linger for weeks, like a virus. This team couldn't throw, couldn't catch, couldn't run. Couldn't tackle. Couldn't think on defense. Couldn't hang onto punt returns or tackle the other team's punt returner. Couldn't coach. Am I missing anything?
"It was just one thing after another," said Bengals coach Marvin Lewis, referring to his team's first possession, when the Bengals scored a touchdown and kicked a field goal and still came away with no points after both scoring plays were negated by penalties, leading to a 33-yard field goal that was blocked. Because on this day, that was the Bengal way: Finding varying ways to fail.
|After their scoreless opening drive to the Steelers' 4, the Bengals played well enough to compete with some NFL teams. Just not Pittsburgh. Eighty yards in first-half penalties, a punt-return TD, 28 second-quarter points and two turnovers are too much to give the Steelers.|
|They scored 28 points in a second quarter when the Bengals have been outscored by 119-39, so the outburst could be something of a mirage. Cincinnati had 80 yards in first-half penalties and gave them their third multiple-takeaway game in a row. The best news: Four days until Cleveland.|
|By Chuck Finder |
"It was just one thing after another" refers to this team all day. One bad thing after another. Rookie quarterback Andy Dalton entered Sunday in the running for Offensive Rookie of the Year and even the AFC's third spot on the Pro Bowl roster, behind Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger. As it turns out, Panthers quarterback Cam Newton was making more magic for Carolina, and Tim Tebow was pulling out another crazy win for the Broncos. The fact that they were doing it on the same day Dalton was going 11 for 24 for 135 yards in a 35-7 loss to the Steelers, well, that makes me think Newton moved closer to Offensive Rookie of the Year while Tebow moved ahead of Dalton in the race for the Pro Bowl.
But there were more bad things. The Bengals were let down by what had been a solid defense, a group that on Sunday couldn't tackle Rashard Mendenhall or even Isaac Redman. When Redman enters the game, it's to get one or two tough yards -- not to run roughshod eight times for 51 yards, pushing the entire line of scrimmage 5 yards downfield when he wasn't spinning off the backside of his offensive line for 27 of the slowest yards you will ever see in the NFL.
More bad things. Dumb penalties? The dumbest. A.J. Green went Ochocinco on the Bengals' first possession, nullifying a touchdown with a careless false-start penalty. The Bengals then blew their 28-yard field goal by being called for delay of game. They also ran into the punter to extend one Steelers possession, committed a 45-yard pass-interference penalty to set up a Pittsburgh touchdown on another and set up another TD with a personal-foul facemask flag.
One thing. After another. Safety Reggie Nelson provided his own lowlight when he wiped out Brown on an incomplete pass, then got up and preened for the cameras and the crowd.
The score was 35-7 -- and Nelson's team had 7. There's a time to preen, and this wasn't it. Especially since the Bengals had encroached on the play anyway, meaning Nelson's pass breakup didn't officially happen.
But these are not the same old Bengals. They are better than that, and both the schedule and the AFC are soft enough that they can get into the playoffs anyway. Three more wins ought to do it, and the Bengals (7-5) play three of their final four games at home: against the Texans, Cardinals and Ravens. Beating the Ravens in the finale on Jan. 1 would seem to be a stretch, but the Bengals' only road game is winnable: Dec. 18 at St. Louis.
All things considered, the 2011 season isn't a lost cause for the Bengals. Most years, they're playing for nothing but pride by December. This year they're playing for the playoffs. Even after this disaster.
Because these aren't the same old Bengals.
Though for one day, you could have fooled me.