What happened to the Bengals? Well, the Bengals got bullied.
There’s an oft-repeated tale of how, in 2008, with the Bengals a miserable 0-8, Andrew Whitworth got his eye gouged against the Jaguars. Whit responded by pommelling the perpetrator in the head and was duly— gleefully—ejected, to the delight of the Bengals crowd, thus setting the tone for the grittier, tougher, no-nonsense roster that has since seen the Bengals make the playoffs every season since, save for 2010.
I’m not saying this Bengals team isn’t still tough. But on Sunday Night Football, the Patriots (humiliated themselves the week before on Monday Night Football) had a plan in place for the last unbeaten team in the NFL—yep, the Bengals. Really. It lasted about 4 hours, technically, though realistically the Bengals were cooked by halftime.
The plan had two parts: a tactical element and a psychological element. Tactically, the Pats focused on running the ball against a Bengals defense that, without the concussed Vontaze Burfict, simply couldn’t stop it (has anyone seen Geno Atkins recently?) and took advantage of the Zimmer-built-defense’s blind spot when it comes to tight ends. Most importantly, they ran a no-huddle that several Bengals defensive players admitted after the game they hadn’t prepared for. This is the sort of thing that for most journalists, sports fans, or even humans, might prompt a follow up question: Why weren’t they prepared? The Bengals were coming off a bye week. All they’ve been doing for a fortnight (yep, I used it) is preparing for this. Since the Bengals played their last game, Bulgaria won the gold medal at the World Rhythmic Gymnastics Championship. Bulgaria also celebrated 106 years of independence from the Ottoman Empire. Bulgar—it appears that the top Google search for “news in the last two weeks” may have inexplicably led me to The Sofia News Agency and I’m not the sort of cowardly writer who goes back and hits delete just because what he has written is bizarre or incoherent. Anyway, it’s not like the no-huddle is a radical new concept, and it isn’t like the QB running it is unfamiliar with the idea: Google “Tom Brady no-huddle” and you get thousands of non-Bulgarian websites paying homage to his skill and propensity for it. This is an issue.
Part B of the plan was to smack the Bengals around. The Steelers used to do this: chop blocks, late hits on special teams, roughing up players. And it worked. The Pats wracked up penalty after penalty but they didn’t care: the bullying worked. As per usual the Bengals—arguably the best team in football over the first month of the season—choked in primetime. Lamur dropped an interception, Gresham dropped a very catchable TD, and Brandon Tate really did his best to show the world what Bengals fans have been screaming about for years.
All in all, watching the Bengals come up small made for a miserable evening. It’s almost to the point where I’d suggest the Bengals just forfeit primetime games, take the loss as given and spend the extra time prepping for the next game. Though it’s obvious the bye week didn’t help much in this one. (It seemed like defensive coordinator Paul Guenther spent his bye week with Channing Tatum promoting their new movie 23 Jump Street.)
Fortunately, Al Michaels was there to put everything in (hideous) perspective by explaining that Bill Belichick isn’t so much a football coach as he is “a doctor…or a surgeon.” This is worse than when players compare themselves to the military. (“He’s a warrior. He’s down in the trenches, going into battle every day.” Shut up. No he isn’t. You know how you can tell? Because nobody is shooting at him, and after a couple hours of quite literally playing, he strolls off in a $14,000 velour suit to his mansion in the shape of a dollar sign to play with his pet llama. I’ve met soldiers. They don’t do that.) These things have never been said: “Gosh, thanks to Bill Belichick’s swift diagnosis they caught my cancer early and I’m in remission”; “Bill Belichick saved my life”; “Open heart surgery is scary, but luckily I went to the best and feel better than ever—thanks Bill Belichick.”
He isn’t a doctor. He’s a poorly dressed football coach who hasn’t won anything since he was caught cheating and looks like someone you’d report if he was hanging around your kids’ school. And the best thing about an otherwise dreadful evening of football is the knowledge that slipping back down to a place where the media can contentedly ignore the Bengals is probably better for the team—the sweet relief that nobody has, or ever will, suggest Marvin Lewis is less a football coach and more a deific being sent from on high to cure the world of its evils and bring us to redemption. Man the Patriots are the worst.
Except when it comes to football. They’re good at that.
Patriots 43, Bengals 17
Man of the Match: Not me, for sure. I worried about whether I should start writing again and look what happened? First week back in business and our first loss. Oh well. I’ll go with Adam Jones. He had an exciting punt return and prevented a TD on third down with a nice pass breakup. Honestly, this was a process of elimination. Everyone was pretty dire.