Not even I was immune. Dusk had fallen on Manhattan on Sunday and I was standing on the street corner with Erik and Nisha—the two people I can count on to watch every Bengals game with me—when I said these actual words, “I just can’t be mad. I’m happier with this loss than last week’s win.”
“What the hell are you talking about?” Nisha replied. “A loss is a loss.”
And she was right. But in the days since Sunday’s loss, everyone, from my colleague Ben Bergin to Paul Daugherty has been screaming in a high-pitched voice about Andy Dalton’s performance on Sunday. They’ve cited his leadership and spunk and overall chutzpah, fantasizing what he could be in the future. Again, this comes after a loss.
Each week before games I spend an hour-and-a-half in yoga under one of the city’s better instructors. You are forced to put away the stresses behind you and before you, to look within yourself and most importantly do one thing: Be present.
This idea and sense of inner peace is immediately chucked away when I sit down with a plate of nachos to watch the Bengals. But Bengals fans could learn a lot from the principle. Yes, everyone is giddy over the future Dalton seemed to promise when he finally stopped throwing 6-yard passes and worked over the Broncos defense like a quarterback playing against a very bad Broncos defense. But that isn’t now. It’s the future.
That’s not to say Dalton wasn’t good. He was damn good. Not scary, Cam Newton-good. But good for a rookie playing in what can be one of the most hostile environments in all of pro football, where the Bengals haven’t won a game since I was an infant. The Bengals we saw in the second half, led by Dalton, were an inspired lot—enthusiastic, but not panicked. Poised, at times confident. It could be said that Dalton inspired his teammates as he walked up and down the sidelines while giving encouragement to his young group of receivers.
But as Nisha pointed out, they still lost and they were still the Bengals. A.J. Green and Jerome Simpson let balls fall through their hands. Dalton, the “Red Rocket,” took a crucial, game-killing sack on the final drive. Marvin Lewis decided not to try for a 53-yard field goal in a stadium where even mediocre kickers routinely look other-worldly because of the altitude.
Moreover, the defense stumbled badly. First, it was against the run. Then, late in the game, two defenders lost track of Eric Decker on a 52-yard touchdown pass from Kyle Orton. Orton, whose miscues last week had fans calling for Tim Tebow, perhaps the worst first-round pick since [insert random Bengals player here] managed to calm his critics, with thanks to the Cincinnati secondary. He looked less like the drunken internet star, than, well, a star.
And what of the offense that was touted so highly in the off-season? The one that would emphasize the run more than the pass in a league where the best teams routinely throw the ball 50 times a game? It proved brilliant in the second half when the Bengals did the very thing they said they wouldn’t do—stop running the football.
Where then does that leave us? With a franchise quarterback, who like Matt Ryan and Big Ben can take his team to the playoffs in his first season? With a defense that can be truly brilliant at stretches but not the entire game? With an offense that will only live up to its potential when down two scores?
I don’t pretend to have the answers and neither should the rest of Bengals nation. The best thing for all of us to do might be to buy yoga mats in bulk, spend about an hour in downward facing dog, and, regardless of what happens against San Francisco, do one thing: be present.