Whenever I meet a Bengals fan from Ohio and tell them that I am a Bengals fan from North Carolina, they ask, “fucking ... why?” This gives me the opportunity to tell them a long story. My mom used to travel a lot and collect sports equipment for me, because she knew I was into it. One day, she came home with a Bengals’ pennant. I fell in love with the orange and black helmet. What a great colorway. What’s the worst than can happen?
My parents weren’t diehard fans of any team in particular. My dad didn’t try to install his pro sports fandoms in me. Growing up we rooted for Duke Basketball, Ghana soccer and Tiger Woods. That pennant was enough to give me a favorite NFL team.
So it’s just me and the Bengals and ... good lord what a roller coaster. At this point I stopped writing and picked up some red wine to just get through the rest of this post. Let’s get to it.
The Bengals are the NFL version of Sisyphus. Whenever you start to believe that hey, maybe this time will be different, that rock will always roll back down the hill. Everything that looks remotely like a breakthrough eventually turns into yet another breaking point that you didn’t even know that you had.
A year after getting that pennant from my mom, I sat down to watch Carson Palmer and the Bengals against the Steelers in the 2006 Wild Card game. Except not, because Carson Palmer only threw one pass because he endured one of the most heartbreaking injuries I’ve ever seen in my life. There was nothing more debilitating than seeing Chris Henry catch a perfect pass from Palmer and have the camera pan to #9 lying on the ground writhing in pain on his FIRST PASS ATTEMPT. Watching on TV you could sense the air coming out of the stadium.
And of all teams for that to happen against, it’s the fucking Steelers.
I’m skipping the 2010 Wild Card game against the Jets, because I don’t even remember that one. Remember the 2010-2011 season when we had Ocho Cinco and a 37-year old Terrell Owens and went 4-12? Even AFTER THE POPCORN READY REMIX. I HAD THIS SONG ON MY IPOD.
In a draft class that gave us A.J. Green we also grabbed Andy Dalton. Dalton went one pick before Colin Kaepernick. I think about that one often. Not as a regret thing either way, but just wondering if things would actually be different.
To be fair, the Andy Dalton Bengals were pretty good! Dalton was 70-61-2 and if you take away the shitty post-2016 seasons he was 50-26-1! That’s dope? What’s wrong with that? Well, the records don’t tell the whole story.
For some inexplicable reason, whenever the lights shone brightest this team would lose in the most surprising way possible. This happened so many times that even the element of surprise vanished. Welcome to the Primetime/Playoff Bengals.
2012 Wild Card Game: The Texans
In the first playoff game against the Texans in 2012, Andy Dalton throws three interceptions, but he’s a rookie in his first playoff game ever. That’s a pretty good excuse. Also, the Bengals actually had a lead at some point in this game. That’s hope. Next year will be better, right? Sisyphus is getting his rock up the hill!
2012 Bengals Season
For some godforsaken reason, we’re given THREE night games on the schedule and we lose two of them. The only night game that we win is against an Eagles team that finished 4-12 and played a rookie named Nick Foles.
2013 Wild Card game: The Texans, except it’s somehow worse
In the first half, the Bengals muster up 53 yards in 4 drives. The Bengals had -6 PASSING YARDS IN THE FIRST HALF. HOW IS THAT EVEN POSSIBLE?
The worst part about all of this is that even after playing historically bad football in the first half, the Bengals still had chances to win. Every time Andy Dalton overthrew a receiver the endorphins of hope would radiate up and down brain. It’s like Sisyphus was tired of slowly pushing the rock up the hill, said “Fuck it” and tried to speedrun it numerous times. Did that work? It did not.
Watching J.J. Watt flex on us for two years in a row wasn’t pleasant either.
2014 Wild Card game: The Chargers at home.
We have home field advantage in the playoffs, it’s Andy Dalton’s first home playoff game. Coming into this game the Bengals were 8-0 at home. YUP. YOU READ THAT RIGHT THE BENGALS WENT UNDEFEATED AT HOME. AND THEN LOST BY 17 TO THE CHARGERS. The Bernard fumble just forever changed the momentum of the game. Andy Dalton then fumbled on a QB dive or whatever in a bizarre play I’ve never seen since. The Bengals give up 20 unanswered points at home.
2015 Wild Card game: The Colts.
This one wasn’t even really close. A.J. Green was out with a concussion, Andrew Luck was surgical and I really don’t remember this game that much because it’s the next game that takes up most of the space in my memory.
2016 Wild Card game: Steelers
This long into the Wild Card losing streak, I felt more confident that we could win this game without Andy Dalton than with him. Dalton fractured his thumb in week 14 to the Pittsburgh Steelers and A.J. McCarron lead us to two wins and an overtime loss to round out the season. That confidence was... misplaced.
To recap, A.J. McCarron underthrows a receiver by five whole yards because it’s raining and he’s throwing without a glove. Cool. Then Martavis Bryant makes one of the best catches I have ever seen to put the Steelers up 15-0.
Cool. Fine. Put us down easy. Make this a blowout. But no. This is when shit gets fucking crazy.
Burfict injures Big Ben to a point where he is carted off the field and is replaced by LANDRY JONES. The Bengals somehow muster up two drives in the rain and then pick off Landry Jones. The Bengals defense, like they haven’t lost four Wild Card games in a row run ALL THE WAY INTO THE TUNNEL WAVING GOODBYE. The game is over right? Like all that suffering and torture in just the FIRST ROUND OF THE PLAYOFFS is over right? All Jeremy Hill has to do is not fumble and we’re all good. I don’t ask for much. I’m not asking for a Super Bowl win, or even a Super Bowl appearance. I’m asking for ONE FUCKING PLAYOFF WIN. THAT’S IT.
People probably forget this, but the Burfict interception and the Jeremy Hill fumble happened on BACK-to-BACK plays. Sisyphus’ rock was so damn close to the top of the hill that he stopped to admire all the pain, suffering and work he has put in to push that boulder up the hill. But then Jeremy Hill gets stripped, and just like that Sisyphus’ rock rolled right on back down the hill. Watching the ball slip from Jeremy Hill’s fingers in slow motion made me realize that we had no chance of winning this game.
The Steelers sub Big Ben back into the game. Keep in mind that Ben can barely even THROW right now. Big Ben was throwing screens and soft lobs all the way down the field and this Bengals team just wasn’t ready for it.
We even look like we can stabilize even after the ball goes through Antonio Brown’s fingers. Then it happens.
If you type in Vontaze Burfict’s name on Youtube this is the first thing that shows up. This is a season-defining moment in a game that was FULL of them. We forget the Jeremy Hill fumble all because of this shit. But this was not a surprise to any Bengals fan. We knew that we had the most aggressive defense that was 9th in the league in penalties.
Every week, Bengals fans witnessed an unnecessary defensive penalty that would raise our blood pressure. The only shock this time is that there is no shock. Sisyphus just stares at the rock in bewilderment. The rock always goes down the hill, but this time it rolled down differently. Not only did Burfict get a penalty, but then Adam Jones gets one too?!
THE DRIVE STARTED ON THE STEELERS 9 YARD LINE. FUCK.
If this article seems scatterbrained, it’s because that’s what being a Bengals fan does to you. It mushes your mind. It warps your brain like no other.
I don’t think one measly playoff win is asking for too much. People always laugh at the Jets or Falcons, but at least they won a game and made a run. The Bengals haven’t won a playoff game in 30 years. I’m 25 years old.
Those are just the playoff games too! I could mention the fact that every NFL tie seems to involve the Bengals somehow.
I could talk about the fact that every Bengals-Ravens game would end in a reality that doesn’t bear much resemblance to our own. The best Bengals play of this decade is when Jerome Simpson flipped into the endzone.
Even in video games, I can’t enjoy myself. In ESPN NFL 2K5, when you play in those classic historic NFL moments, you don’t play as the Bengals, you play as the other team. Brutal.
Every primetime game I would see twitter rail on Andy Dalton. which hurt because those same people never saw how good he could be in games that start at 1:00 pm EST against (insert team here).
Andy Dalton's QBR in primetime games is among the worst in the NFL since his rookie season pic.twitter.com/fqh2JNiqXU— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) September 14, 2017
But now it’s better right? We have Joe Burrow now. And Tee Higgins! And a new coach! There’s hope!
That hope is the most brutal part of being a Bengals fan. Hope is what gets us to push the rock up the hill again and again. It was a relief going 2-14 in 2019, because I got a chance to reset and prepare for that next hill push. This is where I’m at now. We’re rationing out the hope.
For Bengals fans, nothing surprises us anymore. Even this season we managed to lose to the Browns in such a heartbreaking fashion that Carlos Dunlap tried to sell his house on twitter and got traded the same week.
Maybe it gets better. Maybe it doesn’t, but one thing is true. Being a Bengals fan sure as shit ain’t easy.