A.J. Green is likely out for the season with a torn hamstring. And the Bengals now have to somehow play out six more games?
If Week 10 was a confirmation of this season’s NFL elite, Week 11 was a reckoning for everyone else. The Bengals were its poster children — a team coming off its best record under Marvin Lewis matched its most losses in a season since 2012. The year isn’t over for the Bengals, not in a bad AFC North, but after Sunday’s loss to the Bills, it’s hard to imagine how they’ll persevere.
Especially not after losing Green. His will end his season just 36 yards shy of a sixth straight 1,000-yard season. Only he and Randy Moss have started their NFL careers with five straight, and now, only Moss has started his NFL career with six straight seasons at that level. Entering Sunday’s game, he was on pace for more than 1,714 yards, the eighth most ever in a single season (which would have actually been ninth, assuming Julio Jones stayed ahead of him). At 28, Green is in his prime. It will be difficult for him to be this good again — which is to say, all-time great.
Green was the only reliable thing the Bengals had going for them. Pick a unit, any unit — it has probably regressed relative to 2015. The defense suffered a number of offseason departures like Leon Hall, Emmanuel Lamur, and Reggie Nelson, and isn’t aging well — they ranked second and 11th in points and yards allowed last season, respectively, and rank 24th and 15th this season.
Last season, the offense was one of the NFL’s best, now it’s simply decent — Andy Dalton’s passer rating has dropped 11 points, and the running game that has held serve is down Giovani Bernard for the season.
That offense has to replace the man who accounted for 40 percent of its passing game and 28 percent of its total offense. They have to replace the man who caught a Hail Mary with one damn hand and an entire secondary draped on him:
The Bengals have to replace the Best Thing about their season, and somehow find a new Best Thing or else just be miserable for six more long weeks.
The Bengals aren’t alone. The Cardinals have a slightly better record than the Bengals at 4-5-1, but they also might have had even bigger expectations after making the NFC Championship game last season. They may also be even further from the playoffs, with time dwindling to overcome the 7-2-1 Seahawks in their division and the handful of NFC wild card contenders.
Packers fans are still psychoanalyzing their superhuman quarterback even as their secondary gave up touchdown bomb after touchdown bomb to Kirk Cousins and Washington on Sunday night. The Packers are slipping further and further behind the Lions and Vikings in a division that’s been assumed to be rightfully their for several years.
The Jaguars ... oh man, the Jaguars. The team has so much young talent — FUN talent — and it’s now 2-8 after entering the season as darlings. They have one of the best rookie classes of anyone in the NFL, and even the youngsters can’t handle the hurt. Cornerback Jalen Ramsey has been sensational this season — like Green, perhaps the team’s only consistent bright spot — but towards the end of the Jaguars’ loss to the Lions he was in tears and appeared to mouth the words, “I’m tired of losing.”
The 2016 season is beginning its end game. Ramsey is wearing the realization that this is what his season is, that teams like the Lions, the team that beat his, will spend the next month or so vying for the playoffs while he, at best, can maybe sift out a silver lining. The Jaguars have sustained sucker punch after sucker punch, and Ramsey only just doubled over this past Sunday.
That’s a level of hurt several magnitudes worse than what the average fan has felt about his or her crappy team this season (and they’re all crappy in some way). This is the time of the year where we should begin to mourn the greatness buried in sad franchises. Players are the one thing that can always be appreciated — if people have any love for management, it’s because of the individuals they’ve assembled as a team. Ramsey has been talking shit and backing it up on a weekly basis, and deserves better than to feel bad on a bench on a terrible day in Detroit.
So do Aaron Rodgers, David Johnson, and most especially Green, a man who is about as talented an athlete as has ever come through the NFL, who has been so singularly great to watch, and has only quietly suffered through quiet cruelties before absorbing the biggest sucker punch of his career — and notice we’re done talking about the Bengals. It sucks for everyone that A.J. Green won’t be finishing this season.
Appreciate your stars most of all, because as much as this hurts, it will never mean as much to you as it does to them. At least they’ll come through for you. Only when they can’t should you finally double over on this season. (I am so sorry, Cincinnati).