I received a text message from a friend today (well, I used to consider him a friend) who reminded me of a certain pearl of wisdom that I passed on before the season:
There’s a story I’d like to tell about the 2011 Cincinnati Bengals: They suck. The end.
Mea culpa! I did think the Bengals would stink to the tune of 6-10 this season. I felt Mike Brown had done little to improve the team and was disgusted at his stubborn stance of refusing to trade Carson Palmer.
Fast-forward roughly three months and the Bengals are 5-2 and pulled off the trade of the young century when they fleeced the Oakland Raiders for a first and a second-round pick for Palmer.
Suddenly, things have never looked better in regards to Cincinnati’s much-maligned professional football franchise. Not only are the Bengals unexpectedly good this season, the future appears even brighter thanks to the host of young talent currently on the team, and the valuable draft picks that await the team moving forward. (Don’t forget: In addition to the extra first-rounder in 2012, the Bengals will probably have a compensatory third-round pick due to losing Johnathan Joseph to free agency, and will also have an extra fifth-rounder thanks to the trade of Chad Ochocinco to New England. The Bengals will also received a sixth-round pick in 2013 as part of the Ochocinco deal.)
If we’re now talking playoffs – and I can’t believe we are – this Sunday’s game at Tennessee (4-3) is pivotal because the schedule gets extremely rough after that. Not that the Titans aren’t a solid team – they are – but they’re also one of the weaker squads the Bengals will face from this point forward. Getting to 6-2 would mean the Bengals would have a lot of room for error down the stretch. They’ve already put themselves in a great position with a 5-2 mark and winning at Tennessee would put a stamp on what’s been an excellent first half of the season.
As for the win over the Seattle Seahawks, it was the closest 34-12 game in the history of football, but that’s OK. And really, that’s been the Bengals’ M.O. early this season: Make a big play (or two) late in a close game to make the final score look a lot better than it really should. This was really a game that looked like could go either way for a while, but there was rookie quarterback Andy Dalton, rookie wide receiver A.J. Green and the Bengals’ ferocious defense making key plays when they counted as usual. Also, Cincy received an unexpected boost from special teams with a long punt return from the just-activated Pacman Jones, and a punt return for a touchdown from Brandon Tate.
Against the Titans, the Bengals will get the services of running back Cedric Benson back, which will help the cause. I thought Bernard Scott played all right in spurts against the Seahawks, but overall there is no question Benson is the better back. Scott is more explosive, but overall Benson is better.
Also, hopefully second-year tight end Jermaine Gresham will be ready to play this coming Sunday — he missed the Seattle game with a hamstring injury — although veteran Donald Lee played well in his absence.