Bengals revert to form
Thursday, November 4, 2010

Only an idiot would have predicted the Cincinnati Bengals to repeat as AFC North champions.

I'm an idiot.

I should have listened to the people who ridiculed me, who pelted me with rocks and garbage, who told me it was insane to think the Bengals would build on their success of 2009. This franchise treats success the way Randy Moss treats caterers ("I wouldn't feed this to my dog," Moss reportedly said Friday, as workers served his soon-to-be-former Minnesota Vikings teammates).

The Bengals have not made the playoffs in back-to-back years since 1982. They have not won a playoff game since Jan. 6, 1991, nine months before another forlorn sports franchise your Pittsburgh Pirates most recently recorded a postseason victory.

I should have listened to Hines Ward and LaMarr Woodley in training camp, when I asked them if adding Terrell Owens to a Bengal mix that already included the likes of Chad Ochocinco, Pac Man Jones, Tank Johnson and Antonio Bryant (before he was cut) could possibly work.

"We'll see," Ward said then. "If they have success, it'll work good. But what if they're not having success?"

Yeah, like what if they're 2-5 after seven games and challenging the Cowboys and Vikings for the title of NFL's Biggest Bust?

Woodley had a point, too, when I asked about the T.O. factor and whether it might push the Bungles over the top (as opposed to over the edge).

"You've been seeing T.O. on a few teams," Woodley said then, "and what difference did that make?"

Here's why I thought the Bengals would go 10-6 and win the division: I spotted a different breed of cat a better breed at Heinz Field last season and didn't see a good reason why that should change. It looked as if the Bengals had finally taken a hint from all those Steeler-perpetrated beat downs: Be more like them.

Cincinnati won an 18-12 battle of attrition that day, proving it could out-slug the neighborhood bully. That was a tough, patient team last season. It relied on a power-running game featuring Cedric Benson and a stout defense under fiery coordinator Mike Zimmer.

All of the defensive starters returned, as did injured players such as safety Roy Williams and since-suspended pass rusher Antwan Odom. What's more, the Bengals' weak passing game figured to be much better with quarterback Carson Palmer returning to form and a bunch of new pass catchers led by T.O.

Seven games in, it's hard to pin the Bengals' demise on T.O., who has put up nice numbers. But you also have to wonder if his addition has come to personify a team-wide personality change, from bulldogs to divas.

Just the other night, on the hideous but somehow riveting "T.Ocho Show," Ochocinco seemed to call out Palmer, reminding everyone, "I'm on the field. I'm available. There's nothing I can do but make myself available."

I asked Palmer, on a conference call Wednesday, if he happened to catch the show.

"I didn't," he said. "What'd I miss?"

Informed of Ochocinco's comments, Palmer said, "I"m not taking that as him calling me out. But I hear him."

Bengals coach Marvin Lewis got a laugh during his conference call with reporters when he was asked about Moss' availability. Lewis has enough to worry about these days, including the fact he is in the final year of his contract. Perhaps idiots like me should have seen that situation as the biggest clue as to why the Bengals could not sustain their Steelers' imitation from last season.

See, the Steelers historically have made certain that everyone, especially the guys in the locker room, know the coach is boss and is backed by those above him. They do this by extending his contract with multiple years remaining, even if he is coming off a bad season.

It's as if Steelers management is telling the world, "We believe in our coach because we believe in ourselves."

In Cincinnati, they failed to re-up Lewis after a division-winning season. There is a very real chance he will be gone after this, his eighth year, which raises a question: What would he do next year?

Maybe he could manage the Pirates.