Think about how we were feeling about the Bengals five years ago tonight. A national TV audience watched the Bengals beat Johnny Manziel and the Cleveland Browns 31-10 on Thursday night football to move to 8-0 on the season.
Andy Dalton, firmly in the MVP conversation on that time, completed 21 of 27 passes and three TD's to Tyler Eifert that night. The Bengals were the talk of the NFL. National reporters converged on PBS for pregame features. Thoughts and visions of the Super Bowl danced in our heads.
Man, a lot sure has changed. The Bengals have won just 27 of 80 games since (27-51-2). What happened? Why did it happen? How did it happen?
The bad break: One month after the Cleveland win, Dalton broke his thumb when he reached out to tackle Pittsburgh's Stephon Truitt following an interception. Dalton was sitting on 25 TD/7 interception and a 66.1-percent completion rate at that point. His 74.4 Total QBR entering the game was the third-highest in the league.
Lasting impact of the playoff meltdown vs Pittsburgh: From 8-0, the Bengals went 4-4 without Dalton down the stretch and then lost a soul crusher to the Steelers in the playoffs.
The Whit Whiff: The Bengals opted not to value a then 36-year old Andrew Whitworth, allowing him to walk in free agency. Five years later, he's still getting it done for the Rams.
Draft swings and misses: The draft miscalculations on the likes of John Ross (9th overall), Billy Price (21st overall) and Cedric Ogbuehi (21st overall) have been devastating and will continue to impact this franchise for years to come. Don't forget low to no impact picks like Darqueze Dennard (1st round '14), Jake Fisher (2nd round '15), P.J. Dawson (3rd round '15), Tyler Kroft (3rd round '15), Will Clarke (3rd round '14), Margus Hunt (2nd round '13), Brandon Thompson (3rd round '12), Dontay Moch (3rd round '11), Nick Vigil (3rd round '16), Mark Walton (4th round '18), Jordan Willis (3rd round '17).
What could have been: Following a 13 TD season in 2015, Eifert injured his ankle in the Pro Bowl. He went on to suffer an assortment of injuries and played just 30 of 64 games, 9 starts following that 2016 playoff loss. In that 2015 season, AJ Green caught 86 passes for 1,297 yards (15.1) and 10 TD. He's played in just 42 of 80 games since, missing all of 2019.
Brain Drain: Think of the coaching talent that left Marvin's staff going back to end of 2013...including Mike Zimmer, Hue Jackson, Jay Gruden and Vance Joseph. The departures left Lewis exposed. Handing the offensive keys to OC Ken Zampese was a debacle. DC Terryl Austin was a disaster. From a lack of discipline, penalties, suspensions, poor clock management and lack of adjustments, Lewis never recovered the team he lost after the playoff loss. His message had grown old and stale. His shelf life expired. But he would coach three more season going 19-28-1.
I've long maintained the window slammed shut on the Bengals following that Pittsburgh playoff loss. The franchise has not been the same since.
8-0 seems like a lifetime ago.
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