A month ago, the Bengals were the toast of the NFL. The fools who actually have "Power Rankings" had them ranked #1. They were 3-0 and headed into a bye week where their best player, AJ Green, needed a week off to rest his injured foot.
Their defense was ranked in the top ten of the NFL. They were getting turnovers, making plays on special teams, and basically blowing people out.
Devon Still and his daughter's fight against leukemia reminded everyone that the NFL still has good guys as opposed to child abusers and crooks.
Then the by week hit, which is always a dark time for Bengals fans as Marvin Lewis' record after the bye is something like 3-10.
That week they sat at home and watched Monday night football where the Pats (their next opponent) were destroyed by the Chiefs.
Everyone wrote and talked about how the Pats' dynasty was over and the Bengals were about to show the NLF they were for real.
The Pats were reeling and coming off a short week where the Bengals had a full two weeks to prepare. Then Sunday Night Football rolled around in and the Bengals were - as usual - humiliated on national TV 43-17 in a game they were never ever really in.
The following week they managed to tie - yes tie - the Panthers, 37-37. It might not have been so bad if their kicker hadn't missed a give me field goal. That moment plunged the Bengals into Dark Ages. Andy Dalton, playing without AJ Green, put up solid numbers and the Bengals had their first 100 yard rusher (thanks to Gio Bernard's 89 yard TD run) in the better part of two years. In fact, Dalton drove the Bengals right down the field in OT to kick a FG (a TD would have won the game for them). Of course, the Bengals reeling defense allowed the Panthers to drive down and also kick a FG. That meant the next one to score, wins. And Dalton did a great job driving the Bengals down the field . . . all the way to the 16 yard line.
He set up his kicker for a chip shot FG. Yet, Nugent missed and the Bengals "lost" the tie.
Next the Bengals had a chance to take on the division leading Colts. Instead of showing any type of offense - as they had against the Panthers when they piled up over 500 yards of offense - the Bengals had their worst offensive game I can recall since the Ravens piss pounded them back in 2001.
And now here come the Raves to PBS where the Bengals (remarkably) haven't lost in two seasons. The Bengals already beat the Ravens in week one. But the Ravens have been on a tear since. In fact, they sit atop the AFC North with a 5-2 record while the Bengals are near the bottom with a 3-2-1 record.
The problems - injuries.
On offense, the Bengals are missing three vital pieces of their offense - all world AJ Green (who single handedly won their first meeting against the Ravens when he hauled in a juggling 77 yard touchdown on the Bengals' last drive) is out with turf toe. This is an injury that will plague him all year. The Bengals' second leading receiver last year, Marvin Jones, is now out for the year after missing the first month of the season with a foot injury and then injuring his ankle in his first practice back. The third missing cog is Tyler Eifert, this year's starting tight end, who was well on his way to a monster game vs. the Ravens in week 1, before he fell awkwardly on a big catch and dislocated his elbow. That is over 2,000 yards and over 20 touchdowns gone from the offense.
Thanksfully, Mohammud Sanu has stepped his game up this year, leaving the Bengals with at least one legit option on offense. Former starting tight end (and first round pick) Jermain Gresham, in a contract year, has not been consistent enough to offer the Bengals much of anything in place of Eifert.
Worse yet, their once great defense (ranked in the top 5 the past three seasons) is now at the bottom of the league. It hurts not having our excellent coordinator Mike Zimmer (who is having problems of his own as the Vikings head coach). Paul Guenther is a solid replacement (after all, he could have been Zimmer's defensive coordinator in MN if the Bengals hadn't promoted him), but his team isn't responding the way they did to Zim.
Vontaze Burfict, who signed a long term deal this summer, has reverted to his old bad habits that caused him to drop out of the draft his junior year at Arizona State: injuries, penalties, and undisciplined play. He was the leader and heart and soul of the defense, but the defense mirrors his play, which for much of this year, has been terrible.
Geno Atkins, our all world defensive tackle, who dominated the league for the past 2.5 years, blew out his knee on Halloween night last year against the Dolphins. He simply hasn't come all the way back. He just isn't his dominant self. Hopefully, he will get back to his old dominant ways if not this year, then next year.
Damota Peko, our defensive line captain who signed an extension this summer too, is playing his worst ball of the year. He has just been above average for his entire career, but when he was surrounded by great players (Atkins, Dunlap, and Michael Johnson, now playing for the Bucs) that was good enough. But with Atkins playing very average and Johnson gone, Peko has been exposed this year.
There has been precious little pressure on the QB this year, which allows for big chunks of yardage against our secondary, which does have six first round picks playing for it, but they are showing their age.
So the Bengals sit at 3-2-1, but today's game really is a make or break game for them. Lose and they will not win 6 games the rest of the way. Win and they might have a shot at a Wild Card.
I'm torn. The Bengals are never big spenders in free agency. So if they tank this year, it's not like they're going to go out and throw big money at anyone who can come in and make a difference (like bringing in a great middle linebacker or a great NT to replace Peko or even a third wide receiver to offer depth). So that means the higher the draft choice they have, the greater the impact player they will likely have a shot at. Thus, I'm secretly kind of hoping they tank the rest of the way.
They won't be a legit contender this year. If they do happen to make the playoffs, it will be another one and done game this year (as it has been for the last 3 consecutive years and the last 5 playoff games under Lewis).
Maybe if they tumble to 5-10-1, they could get a top five pick.
That means they might have a shot at a top tier QB (not that I see them drafting one after signing Dalton to a long term deal, though if he reverts to his old ways later this year, they might consider it). They would have a shot at 2 or 3 impact defensive linemen, which they certainly could use. Or they could draft one of the stellar offensive tackles available (while this isn't a huge need, it's value. Plus, they could always move Whitworth to left guard - where he excelled the last half of last season - and improve their very, very poor running game).
Ah, the life of a Bungals fan. Hope always springs eternal. In the draft!