The San Diego Chargers, despite some historically bad special teams play to open the year which cost them some wins, were among the best teams in the NFL. They typically finish strong in the 2nd half of the year, particularly in December, and they basically had the edge in every area of the game.
And the Bengals just whooped their asses anyway.
It leaves a lot of questions to be asked, chief among them the title of this post, so let's do another fake Q&A!
How did this team lose 10 games in a row?
While not talented enough or coached well enough to win a Super Bowl, this team certainly should be better than 4 wins. It was painfully obvious the Browns were outmatched facing us at virtually every position last week and yet they got more wins out of their schedule than we did ours (both ended up being about as difficult).
My main guesses:
- Uninspired coaching and preparation - the body language I could see on the sidelines as well as the sound bites I could hear on TV or read in the paper from the coaches really made me feel like there was an air of indifference to making the product better on the field. Why? Well 10 years of Brat got stale awhile ago but never seemed more obvious as we clumsily and transparently forced a move more towards the pass. With Marvin, it sure seemed like he embraced his lame duck status. I can only infer his negotiations for an extension and more power did not go as he hoped and he just lost the will to keep fighting ownership after 8 years. That's me speculating though. You can see this in all sorts of bone-headed mistakes (Sims) and penalties that persisted throughout the year.
- No accountability - this is similar to the above reason. But really, it just didn't seem like all the losing created an urgency among players and coaches. I think this falls back on the atmosphere Mike Brown creates as an owner and particularly in the lame duck status he created with Marvin as head coach. Marvin didn't have any real tangible reason to try to right this ship once it started going off course.
- Regression of Carson Palmer - he threw some terrible, terrible pick sixes this year that just crippled our chances to win games. Infuriatingly enough, I still do not know if we can salvage Carson or not, particularly after a game like tonite.
- Failure to play our best personnel to win - this mostly goes for offensive line. I didn't notice it until last week as I couldn't watch either the Saints or Steelers games but Evan Mathis finally started playing. Just go to Pro Football Focus and read all about him. Basically, we had a pro bowl left guard inexplicably sitting our bench. Mathis started playing in the Saints game, you'll remember that as the time we stopped getting blown out and started playing pretty well. Tonite, with a line of Whitworth, Mathis, Cook, Williams and Collins the offense looked fantastic against a good defense. Why on Earth this line didn't play the whole season escapes me. (of course, there were times our line played fine without Mathis and Carson & friends still played like ass)
Weren't Chad & TO Part of the Problem Too?
You can see this narrative emerging strongly in the past couple weeks. TO goes down and we beat Cleveland with a power running attack similar to last year. Tonite, with both of them out, our younger receivers and, more importantly, Palmer played a virtually flawless game against one of the better pass defenses in the league.
But remember, TO is probably the second best receiver in history behind Jerry Rice, at least statistically. And Chad had one of the most productive primes for any player I can remember in my lifetime.
Was the need to "get them theirs" hindering our offense? As much as we, the casual observers would like to believe we can say whether or not that is true, we cannot. That is something you'd need to be an insider to really understand. You'd need to know if Carson himself felt mentally burdened, if Brat called plays for them not because he wanted to but because he felt he had to, and other things of that nature. Or maybe you'd just really really need to go back and study the film.
However, if somehow having two mega talents like Chad & TO actually hurt the offense this year and Carson locked onto his receivers/forced passes to them, then all of sudden we need to rethink if Carson might still be a guy you can go to battle with.
Did the Bengals "Turn the Corner" to End the Season?
In a word, hell no. I don't want to dig up the post again but the Mike Brown specializes in late season meaningless wins (wins that come after the Bengals already have been eliminated from the playoffs). What we did learn ironically though, and what John Thornton talked about post game in his blog, is that it turned out this year did not end up being about making a Super Bowl run as the team hoped. Rather, it became the year we found out what kind of core young team we had to build with for the future.
Wait, Mr Revolutionary, Your Whole Site Claims the Future is Pointless with Mike Brown, so Why Are You Talking About it?
Because it turns out we actually have some serious talent to build around. Most encouraging, the line play looks solid, which drives everything. The offensive line with the current starters (though Bobbie is getting old) has most of the pieces in place and for the first time in ages the defensive line seems like it can get pressure. There is a first tier core of Whitworth, Mathis, Cook, Dunlap, Atkins, Joseph, Hall, Shipley and Benson you can definitely win with. Guys like Michael Johnson, Maualuga, B Scott, Adam Jones, Sims, Caldwell and if I'm feeling charitable, Simpson certainly should be considered in the mix of potentially solid pieces as well. And, well, we still have Carson too.
The defense still looks okay, despite generating very little pressure, particularly early in the year thanks to Zimmer. We will also get the gift of a great draft pick. A last place schedule even means you could see a real turnaround as soon as next year.
The Bengals can build and win with this core, the question is will ownership get out of the way and let someone else do that.
Will Ownership Get Out of the Way and Let Someone Else do That?
Great question! All of history tells us that there is no way in hell. However, recent Joe Reedy comments make me think perhaps some headway recently got made in talks between Marvin and Mikey. Certainly, ownership must be feeling the heat of this poor season and perhaps recognizes it needs to do something or it will lose its fanbase. I admit, that's just pure speculation...but the empty seats and boxes speak volumes.
I only hope that headway has been made between Marvin and Mikey because Mikey has given ground to Marvin...not because Marvin thinks he has no other better career option than to stick around here. Anyway, the point is that despite all the hurdles the Bengals impose on themselves, their is a core to build around if ownership will just let some professionals do it. Unlikely, but SOMETHING will change this offseason. It may just be a "new" era under Marvin, but the 2003-2010 epoch has reached its end. All we can do is hope the Bengals stay with the youth movement for their last game and then pray for the Brown Family to feel enough heat to make substantial front office changes.
I suggest, as fans, you make sure the Brown family feels the heat with continued season ticket cancellations and participation in our most recent Project Mayhem.