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Bengals Football – Oh No, Not Again—By Dr. John Huang

Mixon ties game for Bengals – Photo by Brendon Miller for BSN

(CINCINNATI, Oh.) – For the Cincinnati Bengals, playing the Pittsburgh Steelers has been likened to a recurring nightmare. To say that the series has been one-sided is probably a bit of an understatement. When you lose the last 7 in a row, 10 out of the last 11, or 15 of the last 18—and when your head coach is 8-25, including 2-16 at Paul Brown Stadium with a pair of embarrassingly freakish playoff losses—the word domination seems much more appropriate.

On a misty, dreary Sunday afternoon, the horrific dreams continued as Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger connected with Antonio Brown on a 31-yard TD pass with ten seconds left in the game for another unfathomable 28-21 Steeler victory. Whether heart-stopping or heart-breaking, the loss drops the Bengals season record to 4-2, and leaves their legion of long-suffering fans wondering what they did to deserve such prolonged misery.

“It’s frustrating to lose games at home, particularly division games,” Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis said when asked about any personal frustration he feels losing time and time again to their hated rivals. “We lost this one today. We just got to rebound back. We don’t get a chance to whine about it or whatever. We gotta get ready to go…It’s unfortunate we lost the game today, but we got another one in Kansas City come Sunday night.”

There were no 24-point fourth-quarter comebacks needed in this one as Cincinnati clawed its way back from only a six-point deficit late in the game. When Joe Mixon plowed into the endzone from four yards out with a mere 1:18 left on the clock, visions of a streak-busting celebration appeared briefly on the fog-shrouded horizon. According to the well-known script, however, we all knew it wasn’t to be. Big Ben, when left with too much time to throw and too much time on the clock, will ultimately deliver the dagger that pops all your party balloons.

For the afternoon, Andy Dalton completed 26/42 passes for 229 yards and 2 TDs. Tyler Boyd continued his breakout season with 7 receptions for 62 yards and 2 TDs. Joe Mixon led the team in rushing with 64 yards on 11 carries and a touchdown. The Cincinnati defense, which won the game against Miami last week, gave up 481 total yards and couldn’t make the crucial stop when it needed to.

In sports—even on the professional level—the mental aspects of the game frequently play a huge role. A smart opponent will try to get into your head, looking for the possibility of gaining any slight advantage. I daresay the Steelers, for the past decade, had successfully burrowed into the Bengals’ brains—leaving them gasping game after game as if hexed, cursed, and jinxed by the terrible towel waving hordes from Steeler Nation.

How else could you explain the Monday Night meltdown from last year, when the Bengals blew a 17-0 lead? Or what about in 2015, when the Bengals were poised to post their first post-season victory in twenty-five years, only to fumble and bumble their way to an embarrassing 18-16 loss? Rewind another decade, and thoughts of Kimo von Oelhoffen’s season-ending hit on Carson Palmer only adds to the harrowing narrative of anybody old enough to remember.

My hope was that the ignorance of youth would be the key to the success of this year’s Bengals—that they’d be too young for historical scars to affect their psyches. After all, thirty-five of the players on this year’s fifty-three-man Bengals roster are younger than 25. Nineteen of them are in their first or second season. Thus far this campaign, some of the biggest plays have been from the Bengals’ kiddie corps, especially on defense. Clayton Fejedelem, Sam Hubbard, Jessie Bates, Nick Vigil, Carl Lawson, and Jordan Willis have all contributed one way or another to the Bengals’ wins. Unfortunately, they may now just be another generation of players who continue to lose to Pittsburgh—a footnote in the record books for consecutive losses and decades of pain.

“We’re better than them,” Bengals cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick said afterwards, when asked about another loss to the Steelers. “They ain’t better than us. Period. They ain’t better than us; we’re better than them. I’m gonna be a team player…they went out there and they fought. They got the win; we got the loss.”

And so it goes.

Dr. John Huang covers the Cincinnati Bengals for Bluegrass Sports Nation. He’s currently working with former LEX18 sportscaster Alan Cutler on his new book. If you enjoy his writing, you can read more at www.huangswhinings.com or follow him on Twitter @KYHuangs.

Pro Football – Bengals Defense Pounds the Dolphins in the Second Half to Win 27-17

October 7, 2018 – Cincinnati, Ohio – CASEY ALLEN – Bluegrass Sports Nation

It wasn’t easy by any stretch of the imagination, in fact, the Dolphins controlled the game for two and a half quarters.  That’s why they play four quarters.  That’s why you play until the final whistle. With 9:25 left in the 3rd quarter, the Miami Dolphins were up 17-0, but the Bengals stormed back to take the win, 27-17. Continue reading Pro Football – Bengals Defense Pounds the Dolphins in the Second Half to Win 27-17

Pro Football – Flashback to Glory – By Dr. John Huang

Bengals roll to 2-0 with win over Ravens – Photo by Brendon Miller – BSN

(CINCINNATI, Oh.) – Cincinnati’s 2018 home opener against the Baltimore Ravens went much better than planned. Not only did the Bengals defeat their AFC North divisional rivals to go 2-0, but they did it in impressive fashion in front of a Thursday night national television audience on a special occasion honoring their 1988 Super Bowl team. The 34-23 victory before the 50,018 fans in attendance sparked memories of yesteryear and rekindled hopes for the remaining season to come.

The 1988 Super Bowl team—coached by Sam Wyche and led by quarterback Boomer Esiason—was the last one to make even a ripple in the postseason during the past three decades. Since that time, the Bengals have gone through a lot—not much of it good. They haven’t won a playoff game since the 1990 season, the sixth-longest streak of postseason futility in the history of the NFL. Marvin Lewis is 0-7 in the postseason in his fifteen years as head coach.

It was the best of times—1988 that is. “Do I think about that? All the time,” said owner Mike Brown. “That’s what’s in my mind. I know the feeling you’re talking about, and I want us to somehow come back and grab onto that again. It’s the best of times, and some of that is what keeps me plugging along here.”

For a franchise steeped in mediocrity, the Bengals appear to be making noticeable efforts to capture past glory. Everyone agrees their offensive line was horrendous last year, as the team finished last in the league in yards gained. By drafting center Billy Price from Ohio State with their first-round pick, acquiring left tackle Cordy Glenn in a trade from Buffalo, and signing right tackle Bobby Hart, the Bengals front office shows that they’re serious about moving back toward the preeminent days of Anthony Munoz and Max Montoya.

Against the Ravens this evening, the 2018 Bengals offensive line provided outstanding, sack-free protection for quarterback Andy Dalton. The second-round draft pick from TCU, entering his eighth year as a pro, was on fire, completing 24-42 passes for 265 yards and four touchdowns. His three quick touchdown tosses to A.J. Green by the thirteen-minute mark of the second quarter brought back memories of Boomer Esiason connecting with Eddie Brown. Remember that Esiason passed for 3,572 yards and 28 touchdowns in 1988—numbers that Dalton could easily surpass with games such as this.

The offensive line also blocked well for running back Joe Mixon. The second rounder from Oklahoma had 21 carries for 84 yards in what he hopes will be a breakout second season. Can Mixon surpass 1988 running backs James Brooks and Ickey Woods, who together accounted for over 2000 yards and 29 touchdowns rushing and receiving during that magical season? He and backfield cohort Giovani Bernard have a ways to go this year before matching those lofty numbers.

On the defensive side of the ball, it’s out with the old and in with the new—well sort of. Cornerback Adam “Pac-man” Jones and linebacker Kevin Minter are gone, replaced by linebacker Preston Brown, safety Jessie Bates, and defensive end Sam Hubbard. Still anchoring this defensive unit, however, are stalwart defensive end Carlos Dunlap and defensive tackle Geno Atkins, both of whom signed multi-year contract extensions right before the start of the season. The duo should provide a solid foundation for Teryl Austin’s defensive unit looking to make its mark in the year ahead.

For the game, the defense did just enough to win. Safety Jessie Bates intercepted Joe Flacco on the Ravens’ second series, setting the stage for the Bengals’ first touchdown and an eventual 21-0 lead. Behind Flacco’s arm (32/55, 376 yards, 2 TDs), Baltimore battled back, cutting the deficit to 28-23 with 9:35 left in the game. Leading by eight with less than three minutes to go, a Shawn Williams forced fumble on a scrambling Joe Flacco effectively ended Baltimore’s chances. Although forcing two interceptions, Cincinnati gave up 425 total yards on the evening. Perhaps All-Pro nose tackle Tim Krumrie from the 1988 team could shed thirty years to return and help out.

Whether or not the 2018 Bengals can channel the greats of thirty years past remains to be seen. “We knew they (the 1988 Super Bowl team) were going to be coming back,” Dalton said after the game. “Obviously to play in Super Bowls is something that you dream about doing. It’s what you work so hard for. Yeah, that’s the goal, is to win the Super Bowl and come back and be honored for it.”

Undefeated out of the gate, the Bengals already find themselves atop their division. They’ll hope to continue their winning streak with upcoming road games at Carolina and Atlanta in the next couple of weeks before returning home to face the Miami Dolphins on October 7.

For long-suffering Bengals fans, a win over the Ravens is always sweet, but the Super Bowl still seems decades away.  

Dr. John Huang is a columnist for Bluegrass Sports Nation, Sports View America, and Nolan Group Media. He’s currently working with former LEX18 sportscaster Alan Cutler on his new book. If you enjoy his writing, you can read more at www.huangswhinings.com. Be sure to follow him on Twitter @KYHuangs.

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Cincinnati Bengals – Wake Me When It’s Over—By John Huang

Bengals took on visiting Colts 8-30-18 – Photo by Brendon Miller – BSN

(Cincinnati, Oh.) – Missed it by that much! With their last minute 27-26 loss to the Indianapolis Colts at Paul Brown Stadium, the Cincinnati Bengals finished the 2018 preseason at 3-1. A 28-yard pass from Phillip Walker to Cobi Hamilton with just over a minute to go ruined the chance at a perfect preseason. What does a 3-1 record actually mean? Probably nothing, as preseason performance has never been a reliable indicator of regular season success.

There’s seldom anything in sports more meaningless for fans of an NFL team than the fourth preseason game. By this time, the excitement of seeing new faces in training camp has long worn off, and everyone can’t wait for the real season to begin. The starters never play in this pointless exhibition, wisely unwilling to risk injury in games that don’t count. Subdued fans in a half empty stadium end up watching a bunch of players they’ve never heard of grind it out on the field. In other words, it’s boring. Even NFL commissioner Roger Goodell admitted these games “don’t rise to NFL standards.”

So why am I here? Why is anybody here? According to Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis, the preseason is always about evaluating talent. It’s about getting talented, young athletes—vying for their livelihood—out onto the field to see what they can do. “It’s what it’s all about,” Marvin said, when I asked him earlier if, after fifteen years, he still enjoyed the preseason games. “It’s fun. It’s great to see our young guys go out and play.” Marvin then continued in detail about the gameday exploits of Joe Mixon, John Ross, Mark Walton, C.J. Uzomah, and Carl Lawson. What’s more, he talked about them with excitement, enthusiasm, and a smile on his face—so opposite to the curt and stoic responses we’ve all grown accustomed to. At least he seemed to be having fun.

Conditioning also plays into these preseason games. Players routinely use these contests to get into shape, testing their stamina in game type situations. Supposedly, the Bengals are implementing new offensive and defensive schemes this year, so they’re utilizing these games for added benefit. They also have a lot of new personnel on their roster—a roster that needs to be trimmed to fifty-three in the next few days. On the surface, there appear to be plenty of good reasons to play preseason games.

Who are we kidding? The real reason these games are played is because of the M-O-N-E-Y. With the in-game attendance and television contracts, these games remain as big-time revenue producers. In a sport where teams only play eight games in their billion-dollar stadiums, I guess it helps to have two more preseason games that don’t count on the schedule. It’s always puzzling to me how the league harps so much on player safety while adding 240 extra minutes of meaningless football each preseason in which the players could get hurt.

Alan Cutler, who hosted the pregame, postgame, and halftime shows on the Bengals Radio Network for the past fifteen years was a bit more direct. “One of the biggest jokes in our American sports society is preseason football,” he said. “The NFL teams rip off fans by selling the preseason and regular season games together as a package. No one would pay full dollars for these preseason games.”

Besides ticket packages, television revenue for sixty-five additional preseason games isn’t chump change either. When questioned about that aspect of the NFL cash cow, Cutler was even more outspoken. “Although TV ratings are lower for preseason games, just having the games on television allows the networks to make tons of money when selling it to their advertisers,” he said. “It’s a money scam at the expense of the fans. It’s also not healthy for the players.”

It’s easy to rant at a substandard commodity, but what’s the fix? “Add a couple of players to the roster each year,” Cutler expounded. “It would give more players fewer snaps per game which could help injuries and improve the product. There has already been a lot of talk about expanding the regular season to eighteen games. With the health of the players being a HUGE issue—and it should be—starting the season a week earlier in order to give teams a second bye makes perfect sense. But the NFL doesn’t want to start the season on Labor Day weekend because not as many will be watching on TV.”

On a Thursday night in August, 39,520 fans (the announced attendance) were watching in Paul Brown Stadium. I tallied an additional 79 journalists and media types covering the game on press row. Unfortunately, I also counted nine players who went down during the game with injuries—including Bengals second string quarterback Matt Barkley who left the game in the first quarter with a left knee injury. That alone is reason enough to stop this insanity. It’s time to shorten the preseason. I wouldn’t mind if it were abolished altogether.

Next week, it’ll be the Cincinnati Bengals versus the Indianapolis Colts once again. This time, at least, it’ll be for REAL.

John Huang is a columnist for Bluegrass Sports Nation, Sports View America, and Nolan Media Group. If you enjoy his writing, you can read more at www.huangswhinings.com or follow him on Twitter @KYHuangs.

New Boss Same as Old Boss—By John Huang

Bengals Head Coach Marvin Lewis – Photo by Ron Hamblin

(CINCINNATI, OH) – When Roger Daltrey of the British rock band The Who, belted out those iconic words “Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss,” he may have been referring to Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis. Likewise, when Bill Murray, the lead character in the hit movie Groundhog Day, woke up to the exact same routine day after day, he was probably channeling Bengals owner Mike Brown. Lewis and Brown have now been dancing together for the past 15 years. For die-hard Bengals fans, if the definition of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results,” then Brown keeping Lewis on board after another disappointing campaign is sure to drive many in the Queen City absolutely crazy.

For the 2018 NFL football season, Marvin Lewis returns once again as the head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals. But that’s not all. Linebacker Vontaze Burfict will be yet again serving a four-game suspension, and tight end Tyler Eifert remains forever questionable as he recovers from offseason back surgery. As far as the Bengals are concerned, it seems as though the more things change, the more they stay the same.

In the team’s pre-camp luncheon last month, Brown was asked about bringing Lewis back after two consecutive losing seasons (6-9-1 in 2016 and 7-9 in 2017). “It’s a very sturdy relationship,” he said. “We know each other. We’re comfortable with each other. I think he can right our ship this year and go forward the way we want.”

That sounds exactly like an owner comfortable with mediocrity. Lewis hasn’t been horrible in his 15-year stint. A 125-112-3 record and seven playoff appearances, including five straight from 2011-2015, isn’t something long-suffering fans should ever take for granted. But neither is it something Super Bowl dreams are made of. Lewis told me last year that his goal every year is the Super Bowl. For a coach who has never won a playoff game, he’s got some ground to make up before he makes a believer out of me.

It’s hard to glean much from your first pre-season game, but if the Bengals 30-27 victory over the Chicago Bears in Paul Brown Stadium tonight is any indication, perhaps there is hope after all. A 33-yd touchdown pass from Jeff Driskel to Auden Tate with 2:04 to go in the game capped an exciting Cincinnati comeback.

Offensively, the starters looked smooth and efficient. Andy Dalton was 6 for 8 passing, for 103 yards and 2 touchdowns. This team should be able to score. Remember, last year the Bengals offense finished last in the NFL in total offense and 26th in points per game. Let’s hope the first half tonight is a harbinger of good things to come, as offensive coordinator Bill Lazor’s machine finally cranks into high gear. Running back Joe Mixon moved up everybody’s fantasy draft board, while the speedy wide receiver duo of A.J. Green and John Ross are sure to cause headaches for many in the opponent’s secondary.

On the other side of the ball, Paul Guenther seems like a distant memory. Under his leadership last year, the Bengals ranked 18th in yards allowed. Worse yet, they were next to last in takeaways with a measly 14. New defensive coordinator, Teryl Austin, swoops in from Detroit for the timely rescue. Last year, the Lions were 9th in the league in total defense and had 32—more than double—the number of takeaways.

“We flew around pretty well,” said Bengals defensive end Carlos Dunlap. “Things happen in the regular season that can set you back, but it’s how you respond and reset that determines whether or not you’ll be able to do what you want to do. This was a good preseason test.”

A nice preseason opening night crowd of 35,633 went home happy and entertained—if not with Super Bowl visions dancing in their heads, at least with the hopes of changes for the better coming from the top down throughout the organization. Perhaps this is wishful thinking on my part, but I sensed a definite desire for creativity amongst the entire Bengals coaching staff. If the talent is there, sometimes you just have to shake up the schemes to maximize your chances of success.

“We’re doing a lot of things differently,” Mike Brown elaborated. “I don’t think the public understands that. We have put in a whole new offensive system. We’ve put in a whole new defensive system. When you do that in pro football, that’s big. But that goes under the radar because it isn’t the head coach.”

The head coach is still Marvin Lewis. Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss. How much things change from here on out remains to be seen.   

 John Huang is a columnist for Bluegrass Sports Nation, Sports View America, and Nolan Media Group. If you enjoy his writing, you can read more at www.huangswhinings.com or follow him on Twitter @KYHuangs.