Bengals Can't Be Choosers...
As Andy Dalton’s second “Hail Mary” fell dead out of the end zone under the lights of Paul Brown Stadium last night, perhaps I had more reason to be disappointed than any. I was wrong. Four months back in the face of overwhelming national media dismissal of the Bengals' chances of winning more than three games, I stubbornly predicted that they would go 10-6 and sneak the last Wild Card play-off spot. I was wrong. How would I have handled it, had my analytical brilliance/massively idiotic unjustified optimism/defensiveness been proved correct? Suggestions I mulled around included going all Jack Nicholson in The Shining and simply turning in a blog that said, “I said we’d go 10-6 and make the playoffs hahahahah!” over and over again; posting a link to my prediction and nothing else; an in-depth analytical pretense that my prediction was borne out of insightful brilliance, what I’d seen at training camp, and a clever parsing over the schedule, as opposed to, well being annoyed that ESPN was insulting my team and stubbornly going the other way just to be contrary. But none of those things can happen because I was wrong.
Why? The Bengals defense looked frankly a little hungover as Ray Rice burst 70 yards to shock a packed PBS into silence. It wouldn’t be the last time. Despite a puzzling missed field goal by Mike Nugent and a non-existent offense, as half time approached the team and the crowd were still very much in a 10-3 game. Until the officials intervened: the referees, who already (from a Bengal point of view) had worse spots than a teenage Burger King server, awarded inexplicable penalty after inexplicable penalty (most notably after a thumping but clean Reggie Nelson hit, though at one point I believe Chris Crocker was flagged for breathing too heavily). This was especially galling since AJ Green was subjected to the sort of physical interference that normally goes unpenalised only in prison, yet nary a hint of yellow was to be seen. The referees worked their magic and handed the Angry Birds a 17-3 lead at the half.
Fortunately, the Bengals offense got going in the second half. As the chill descended with the night, there were several sights to behold: just how quickly Ray Lewis, aged 76, runs laterally, despite being built like an industrial strength cleaning unit; Jerome “Tigger” Simpson saving a potential interception with a crunching tackle on Ravens linebacker Bernard Polland; The Bash Twins, ends Carlos Dunlap and Michael Johnson, getting the crowd raucous and rowdy any time the nerves began to quiet us; (courtesy of my girlfriend) just how handsome Cedric Benson is when he takes off his helmet and looks pouty on the sideline (this happens a lot).
Here’s something else to notice—that big bad Ravens defense looks an awful lot like the fat wheezy kids who didn’t really want to play sports at school when your receivers start to spread them out a little. After a swift Bernard Scott score, we marched down the field at a rate of knots, Ravens DTs McKinney and Cody (combined weight 700 lbs) looking desperate for a cigarette and sweating like an ice sculpture in the desert, with Dalton zipping the ball around and the Ravens 17-13 lead looking precarious. Then, they turned to the referees for (yet more!) help. When none was forthcoming, they cheated. Jameel McClain collapsed to the floor as if he’d been hit by a sniper in the stands, coincidentally the only logical explanation as nobody was anywhere near him when he fell. It worked. Once the chubby linemen had their breath back they stripped tight end Jermaine Gresham (inevitably cursed once I picked up his jersey on sale and wore it to the game) and despite a valiant effort, we never were able to snatch the victory.
Frankly, who cares? Despite the puncturing of my prediction, not I. And though the majority of fans were muted—the sentiment, “Well, I didn’t want to go into the playoffs on a loss,” echoed around Cincinnati—my gut response was, “Are You Mental!?” When you get a date with Angelina Jolie, you don’t complain about her choice of restaurant. We’re in the play-offs. This dismissed, ignored, maligned team of rookies and nobodies. This fifth-taken, too-small, second round, still won’t win rookie of the year QB and the receiver he’s been smashing records with. This defensive bunch of cast-offs, mis-fits and past-its. This rookie coordinator. This cast-iron guarantee of an 0-16 team (thanks, Rick Reilly!). This organization that a football player whose name I can’t recall turned down $40 MILLION rather than ever play for again.
9-7? Good enough for the Giants to win the NFC East. Better than the Broncos needed to win the AFC West. Better than Rex “Super Bowl” Ryan’s Jets, better than Carson (oops!) Palmer’s Raiders or Philip Rivers’s Chargers or the Philadelphia “Dream Team” Eagles or the Dallas “Galacticos” Cowboys or even “The Greatest Rookie In The History Of The Universe” Cam Newton’s Panthers.
I’ll take it. Bengals can't be choosers.
Ravens 24, Bengals 16. Who cares? Who Dey! Here’s to Saturday and the Texans…
Man Of The Match – Domata Peko.
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