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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.

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.

Coach Bobblehead—By John Huang

Before we begin a Sports Alert for you:
John Huang will be the guest host of Morning Tip Off WKJK1080 (also on iheart) at 8 am this Wednesday, August 1. Leading off for The Leach Report and Kentucky Sports Radio.

Stoops Bobblehead – Photo submitted by John Huang

(LEXINGTON, Ky.) – The term “make or break” is far too often used to describe a season poised on the slippery slope of either astounding success or demoralizing failure. Once again this year, a tortured Kentucky football fan base is perched precariously on such a slope—with emotions running high and patience running low. Whether he likes it or not, head coach Mark Stoops finds himself in that proverbial make or break year entering his sixth season at the Wildcat helm. A 26-36 (12-28 SEC) won-loss record and back-to-back bowl appearances is nothing to scoff at, but neither is it something that will put talk of buyouts and hot seats to permanent rest. This is the year to poop or get off the pot, fish or cut bait, win big or strike out. Continue reading Coach Bobblehead—By John Huang

As Perfect as It Can Get—By John Huang

Chip McDaniels – Photo by Brendon Miller

(NICHOLASVILLE, Ky.) – Billy Horschel, who after two rounds stands at thirteen under par and in second place atop the leaderboard, had some timely advice for Chip McDaniel prior to the start of this year’s Barbasol Championship. The former Florida Gator standout told the former Kentucky Wildcat star that one doesn’t have to be perfect to be successful in professional golf. “I think when I came out on tour I knew that,” said the 2014 FedEx Cup Champion and five-time PGA TOUR winner. “But in the back of my head, I just felt like I had to be perfect in every aspect of my game every week.” McDaniel, the hometown hero from Clay County, hasn’t been perfect this week in his professional golfing debut, but he’s already proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that he has what it takes to successfully compete with the big boys on the professional circuit. Continue reading As Perfect as It Can Get—By John Huang

McDaniel “Chips” in at Barbasol Debut—By John Huang

 

Chip McDaniel – Photo by Brendon Milller

(NICHOLASVILLE, Ky.) – Competing with a major championship across the pond is no small feat. You would think that with the British Open being played simultaneously at Carnoustie’s Championship Course in Scotland, the Barbasol Championship — played in little old Nicholasville, Kentucky — would be struggling to attract big name talent. That certainly has not been the case.
Continue reading McDaniel “Chips” in at Barbasol Debut—By John Huang

PGA Golf Returns to Kentucky—By John Huang

 

Chip McDaniel from Clay County Kentucky – Photo by Brendon Miller

Eastern Kentucky will have their eyes on local sensation Chip McDaniel of Clay County

(NICHOLASVILLE, Ky) – Anyone who has ever tried to play the game of golf knows that it really is a good walk spoiled. Unless you’re the Golden Bear, or the Great White Shark, or the Big Easy, or the Walrus, or the King, you’ve undoubtedly been repeatedly traumatized by the ever-lurking water hazards, sand traps, and narrow fairways lining the links. Just like you, I’ve been there and done that. What I haven’t done yet is to cover a professional golf tournament—and all that’s about to change as the fourth annual Barbasol Championship rolls into Keene Trace Golf Club. It’ll be the first PGA TOUR tournament (excluding majors) to be held in Kentucky since the Kentucky Derby Open was played in Louisville from 1957-59. For those keeping score, that’s a long time ago—over a decade and a half before Tiger Woods was even born. Continue reading PGA Golf Returns to Kentucky—By John Huang

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It’s Miller Time by John Huang

 

Brendon Miller – Union College

(JACKSON, Ky.) – In the annals of UK Sports history, Adolph Rupp sits indisputably at the kingdom throne of the Big Blue Nation. The Baron of the Bluegrass, with his recognizable balding pate and heralded nasal twang, was instrumental in the coronation of the Kentucky program as the greatest tradition in the history of college basketball. Life-long Wildcat fans, together with future die-hard generations to come, owe much of their current and ensuing glory to the basketball genius of the man in the brown suit.

 

Continue reading It’s Miller Time by John Huang