Bengals think they’re better than ’05 team
The last time the Bengals reached the playoffs, they were a chic
pick to reach the Super Bowl because of their passing game. When
Carson Palmer got hurt on his first throw in the postseason,
Cincinnati was finished.
Four years later, the AFC North champions think they’ve got more
The Bengals (10-5) won the division title on Sunday with a 17-10
victory over Kansas City that showed the difference between
Cincinnati’s last two playoff teams. The 2005 Bengals had a lot of
drama in the locker room and a lot of shootout games when they had
to outscore opponents. This low-key team relies on defense and
poise to grind out low-scoring wins.
Players who have been around for both like this combination
“You know what? In 2005, there was a lot of stuff,” offensive
lineman Bobbie Williams said. “That was too long ago to think
about. This is a much more mature team.”
These Bengals are taking a much longer view than their ’05
counterparts. It showed in their low-key celebration on Sunday.
They didn’t douse the coach or whoop around in the locker room.
“This title is one of the many goals we set out to achieve,”
said Palmer, one of seven players on the active roster who were
part of the 2005 team. “We are not going to pound our chest over
this. We don’t feel like we have conquered the world. We still have
a lot of work to do.”
That’s far different from the last time around.
The Bengals were giddy when they ended one of the longest
streaks of futility in NFL history with that 2005 division title.
They went 11-5 – their first winning record in 15 years – with one
of the league’s most dangerous passing games.
It masked a glaring weakness. The defense was ranked the lowest
of any in the playoffs that year, giving up an average of 30 points
over the last eight games. When Palmer got his left knee shredded
on the first playoff series, the Bengals could not keep up and
wound up losing 31-17 to Pittsburgh.
After failing to get back to the playoffs the last three
seasons, coach Marvin Lewis reinvented his team, stressing defense,
ball control and field position. The defense has been this title
team’s strong point, giving up the fifth-fewest points in the
The offense is the bigger concern heading into the final
regular-season game at the New York Jets (8-7), who need a win to
reach the playoffs.
The Bengals have been held under 20 points in nine of their 15
games. Their running game is among the league’s best, their passing
game in the bottom half. Against Kansas City’s struggling defense,
the Bengals managed only 53 total yards and three first downs in
the first half.
The offense was so inept that fans at Paul Brown Stadium loudly
booed their playoff-bound team as it headed for the locker room at
“First off, it was a good day yesterday at the stadium, albeit
some of the boos, which are kind of hilarious, at halftime,” Lewis
said on Monday.
Nothing about the offense was funny.
“It wasn’t pretty,” receiver Chad Ochocinco said. “It wasn’t
pretty at all.”
The Bengals have scored 305 points, by far the fewest among the
four AFC teams that have clinched playoff spots – Indianapolis
(409), San Diego (431) and New England (400). Five of the seven
teams still in contention for wild-card berths have outscored the
Bengals as well.
Palmer would like to get the offense moving against the Jets.
Lewis is going to have to decide how much to play his regulars in a
game that won’t have much bearing on the Bengals. They will host
one of the two wild-card teams. Then, if they win, they’d play
either at San Diego or Indianapolis.
When they won the division in 2005, the Bengals lost their last
two regular-season games. They rested their regulars in a 37-3 loss
to Kansas City, then lost their playoff game. Palmer doesn’t want
to get into a rut again.
“We are a team that thrives on momentum,” Palmer said. “We
need to go out and shut them down and put up some points. We need
that momentum and aggressiveness going into the playoffs. We need
that indestructible feeling going into the postseason.”
Lewis declined to say whether he would consider resting players
against the Jets. There’s one other possible complication: New York
could wind up coming to Cincinnati for the first-round playoff game
if the Bengals lose on Sunday.
“We’re going to take all those things into consideration
there,” Lewis said.