Here’s what it was like Sunday around a Cincinnati Bengals team that fell to 0-9 with a numbing 49-13 loss to the Baltimore Ravens at Paul Brown Stadium:
• It tells you how bad things are when one of your most famed players ever – running back Ickey Woods of the “Ickey Shuffle” fame – goes on the pregame radio show and says some current players are only going through the motions to cash their paychecks as they wait for the end of the season.
He also believes some players are choosing not to play by saying they are “hurt.” He stressed there’s a difference between being “injured” and “hurt” and said when you’re hurting you can still play.
• It tells you how bad things are when Zac Taylor, your rookie head coach, spends a chunk of his postgame media session talking about how “electrifying” the quarterback was.
He was talking about Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson, not his new quarterback, rookie Ryan Finley.
Then again Jackson was super-charged.
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He threw for three touchdowns, while completing 15 of 17 passes for 223 yards. And one of his incompletions simply was him spiking the ball to stop the clock. He ended up with a perfect 158.3 passing rating.
Even more impressive was when he ran the football, especially on a 47-yard touchdown jaunt in the third quarter where he looked like some kind of juking, spinning, sprinting super hero while he turned the Bengals defenders into a bunch of helmeted Homer Simpsons.
His TD run began with a feint that caught Bengals defensive end Carlos Dunlap flat-footed. Soon after he did a 360-degree spin move that left linebacker Nick Vigil stumbling and falling down and safety Shaun Williams grabbing air. In all, he made five Bengals tacklers miss him and outran the rest.
As Ravens head coach John Harbaugh put it afterward: “I said to the offensive coaches on the phones, ‘They’ll be watching that run for decades and decades. That’s one that everyone in the country is going to see by tomorrow afternoon. That’s rare. That was special.”
• It tells you how bad things are when the Paul Brown Stadium crowd begins chanting “MVP!…MVP!…MVP!” Not for a Bengals player, but for Jackson.
Of course that was mostly by Baltimore fans who were prevalent in the stadium all day and nearly outnumbered the Bengals faithful by game’s end.
When the Cincinnati fans were in full throat, they had just one unifying chant:
Welcome to the world of the only winless team in the NFL this season. The Bengals aren’t just 0-9, they’re riding an 11-game losing streak that goes back into December of last season. They are just one loss away from the worst start in club history.
And that’s saying something because there have been a lot of lousy teams here in the past three decades.
But when the Bengals started 0-8 in 2008, they used the second half of the season to build the foundation for the coming year’s success. They regrouped, went 4-3-1 and in 2009 they finished 10-6, swept the AFC North and made the playoffs.
Don’t look for that kind of miracle this time.
Were it not for a 39-yard field goal with 2:34 left Sunday, Cincinnati would have suffered the worst defeat in its 52-year history.
When the team went 0-8 this year, Taylor replaced veteran starting quarterback Andy Dalton with the untested Finely, a fourth-round draft pick out of N.C. State.
Although there was a bye week to prepare, Finley was facing a Ravens defense that makes a biker gang wielding clubs and chains look like the Welcome Wagon.
And the Ravens worked him over pretty good.
Near the end of the first half, when he fixated on receiver Tyler Eifert who was deep in the red zone, Ravens cornerback Marcus Peters read his eyes, jumped the route and picked off the pass which he ran back 89 yards for a touchdown.
To add insult, as Finley chased after Peters, Ravens linebacker L.J. Fort came barreling into him at an angle, hitting him with such force that he went airborne before crumbling to the ground.
Late in the third quarter Finley was sacked by 300-pound lineman and fullback Patrick Ricard. He fumbled and linebacker Tyus Bowser picked up the ball and returned it 33 yards for another defensive touchdown.
Finley did throw his first NFL touchdown pass – a smooth, 6-yard completion to Eifert in the second quarter – but it was one of his only highlights.
It was tough for him because his Ravens counterpart was putting on a show for the ages.
“It’s ridiculous,” Ravens veteran guard Marshal Yanda said of Jackson. “He’s obviously changing the game in every way. The kid is coming into his own and playing on another level. It’s awesome to see.”
Unless you were a Bengals fan.
One game cannot provide proper assessment — especially when top receivers like A.J. Green and John Ross were out again with injuries, as has been left tackle Cordy Glenn all season with a concussion — but my gut feeling is that Finley isn’t the answer at quarterback.
And Zac Taylor – with his overly positive assessments after each loss – may not be as the coach either.
This team is looking worse and worse as the season goes on.
One exception is running back Joe Mixon, who put on a herculean performance Sunday, running 30 times for 114 yards.
“I’m not here to roll over for nobody,” he said as he stood at his dressing stall afterward. “It burns to be in this situation. I’ve never been 0-9 in my life. I’ve always been on winning team. I’ve never lost over three games (in a season).
“I’m going to keep picking up the team and keep moving forward. I want to win for us and for the community.”
He said the appreciated the fans coming to the game and was “sad” they had to watch what they did: “In the fourth quarter some walked out and I understand. They’re upset and frustrated, We are, too.”
Contrary to Woods’ pregame inference, Williams said “No one is quitting and, at the end of the day, we fought the whole 60 minutes of the football game.”
Taylor was asked if he was losing the team.
“It’s fair to speculate when you’re 0-9 that they would be heading in that direction,” he said. “But I see no signs of that.”
He was asked at what point — when you’re now 0-9 — “do you or the front office focus on rebuilding for next year?… Is there a point where you just turn the page?”
“No, we need momentum,” he said. “And that starts with a win and then another win. We’re just searching for that first one.”
Meanwhile, back in the locker room, Shaun Williams was looking ahead, too. Not at the next game, but at that remembered sight of Jackson, who had run right past him on that touchdown run.
Asked what he thought of those MVP chants, he said he agreed with them:
“He has my vote. He’s definitely the best we’ve faced this year. Hats off to them and what they are doing over there.”
Too bad he couldn’t say that about his own team.
But things are bad – and getting worse – with the Cincinnati Bengals.
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