Rookie Of The Year: Andy Dalton sneaks it from A.J. Green. Though Green has been spectacular, Dalton has led from the front (and frequently, in the fourth quarter, from behind). His intangibles and his, erm, extangibles (?) enabled the Carson Palmer mega-trade to take place.
Andy Dalton Appreciative Nickname Competition Award Winner: TBD. The Red Rifle? The Red Rocket? The Red Baron? The Ginger Ninja? A-Dalt? Andy? Only eight games in this one is just too close to call.
Biggest Defensive Hair: It’s been a solid year of growth for Rey Maualuga, and far be it from me to ignore the exciting contributions of Reggie Nelson and Robert Sands but, year on year, nobody produces in this category like Domata Peko. Pound for pound he is not only the Bengal but the league MVP in this most hirsute category.
Biggest Upset: Mike Brown. Mike Brown is, of course, used to upsetting people—specifically Bengals fans—but the trade of a (to the Bengals) valueless commodity in Carson Palmer for such a staggeringly high price was a new sort of Mike Brown upset and, frankly, one that we could all get on board with a lot more than the whole “no play off wins in two decades” kind.
Defensive MVP: The entire D-line has rotated imperceptibly (impressive for a group whose combined weight is roughly one and a half tons) but the stud in the middle has been Peko. More tackles than any other defensive lineman in the AFC. Nelson, Dunlap, and Atkins are hot on his heels.
Offensive MVP: I get nervous about doing these things because I’m so paranoid about jinxing players with praise. So I’m not going to wheel out any statistics or verbose lauding of Andrew Whitworth until he’s been ignored for the Pro Bowl because his spot went to a guy in Miami or New Jersey who gave up more sacks in last year’s Pro Bowl than Whit has all year.
Award For Never Going To Win An Award And Nobody Outside Of Cincinnati Has Heard Of Them But Secretly Awesome And Exciting Playmaking: Brian Leonard (offense), Reggie Nelson (defense). You know only one SS has more tackles in the AFC than Reggie Nelson and nobody has as many forced fumbles? Did you also know that each of my game-day notes features a mass of black scribbles with the words “Third and 4, we have to get this…” followed by my name above Brian Leonard’s name in a little red heart with beer spilled over it?
Best Name: Still Frostee Rucker manages to hold off Jon Fanene, though a special mention to Rey Maualuga and Vincent Rey for having the same unusually spelled name, playing the same position, and basically causing hell any time anyone tries to figure out which “linebacker Rey” is being talked about.
Comeback Kid: Andre Smith. ‘Dre lost 25 lbs. this summer. For most people that requires some sort of amputation but for him it’s been just the tonic (slimline tonic, obviously).
The Chad Ocho Cinco Award For Johnson Reduction: Time was when one in three players in a Bengal uniform was a Johnson. Chad, Rudi, Brandon, Michael, Tank, Jeremi, James, Larry, Landon, we couldn’t get enough of them. Which frankly made things pretty easy for a young sportswriter: if in doubt over which player had done something you could just slip in the name “Johnson” and you were probably right. Now we’re down to only two and I have to do actual research. Thanks a lot Marvin Lewis.
Worst Room Mate Prize: A tie between Cedric Benson and Jerome Simpson’s brother. I’ll probably leave that there.
Coordinator Of The (Half) Year: Despite high pressure from the stylist that told Michael Johnson that frosted tips would complement orange and black stripes, it’s ultimately down to Zim or Mini Gruden. Zim’s doing a ludicrous job as always but I’m handing it to the rookie, especially considering his QB is also a rookie. And his best receiver. And his most experienced lineman got suspended for a quarter of the season just before it began. And his highest drafted lineman had never played more than three games in a row and previously appeared on google searches for “world’s largest land mammals in motion.” And his second best receiver’s house was busted containing massive amounts of drugs. And his third best receiver made two catches and had a season-ending injury. Wait—how are we 6-2?!?
Most Gratuitous Use Of A World War II Reference, Ben Bergin Category: “The Jaguars treated neutral zones the same way Nazi Germany did” edges out “if college football were World War II, Pete Carroll would be Italy.” Expect this category to grow as the year progresses.
Player Most Tempted To Go Home And Drive His New Lamborghini Around The Neighborhoods Of The Kids Who Bullied Him As A Child For Being Intense And Ginger: Andy Dalton. I know, I know, you were thinking Pat Sims. But it’s Andy Dalton.*
Player I’d Least Like To Stand Next To Shirtless: Rey Maualuga. Last year Rey Maualuga got busted for drunk driving. I assume he now circumvents the problem by picking the car up on his back and carrying it home.
Most Exciting Moment: Defense: Tie. Geno Atkins seals the deal against the Jaguars, Carlos Dunlap does likewise against the Colts. Offense: Tie. The entire fourth quarter against the Bills, and the touchdown against the Browns. Actually that wasn’t just exciting; it was hilarious. Special Teams: Tie. Cedric Peerman’s video-game block against the Colts and Adam Jones’s electrifying (if brief) return to action against the Seahawks.
Best Bengals Fantasy Pick Up: Mike Nugent. Three weeks into the season nfl.com was still predicting zero points per week for Nuge. Zero? Really? I know the experts didn’t have high hopes for us but that’s ridiculous.
Players I Don’t Have A Specific Award For But Have Been Studs Anyway: Offense: Jermaine Gresham. Defense: Nate Clements. Special Teams: Kevin Huber.
* If he gets a pay raise (hahahaha) next year, Jay Gruden will nail this.