Remember the good old days (well if you're a young Bengals fan) when there was a new young rivalry brewing in the AFC North? Ben Roethlisberger and Carson Palmer – drafted one year apart – were to be the next generation’s Tom Brady and Peyton Manning; A guy who could put up a lot of stats against a guy who is on a team that wins a lot.
This was evident in just their second seasons as starters. Stemming from the rivalry between these two young quarterbacks was a larger one brewing between the two’s respective teams which had a legitimate dislike for one another. With Palmer at the helm the Bengals knew they could hang with the Steelers for years and these two teams would be the two strongest in the AFC North for years to come. While that didn’t exactly come to fruition, the Bengals have been a quality team.
You might be asking “how can the Bengals be a quality team since then when they have gone 46-50-1 entering this season under the Marvin Lewis regime?”
Well when analyzing that question one just has to realize that it all starts with that guy Marvin Lewis. Just like it is with every NFL franchise it all starts with your head coach. As alluded to earlier, Bengals’ head coach Marvin Lewis made all the correct moves to start his career; the first of which was drafting Carson Palmer with the first overall pick in the 2003 NFL Draft. His Bengals would immediately go on to have two consecutive 8-8 seasons. However, Lewis would have his best success in 2005.
In 2005 the aforementioned rivalry came to it’s apex when the Bengals managed to win the AFC North Division with an 11-5 record over the Pittsburgh Steelers who held an 11-5 record as well. However, the face of the franchise – Palmer – went down on the first play from scrimmage during the post-season game and the Steelers would go on to win their remaining game on the way to a Super Bowl.
Unfortunately the Bengals never quite experienced that success again as they proceeded to return to the mediocrity of 8-8 and 7-9 seasons following their first post-season bid in 15 years in 2005.
Last year Carson Palmer went down with an elbow injury that required him to miss the majority of the season and it seemed as if the Bengals slipped back to their pre-Marvin Lewis ways going 4-11-1. Almost as if to slight their talent – as well as a very productive draft back in April – many media pundits had this team winning less games with Carson Palmer at the helm this year than they did without him playing last year. How or why they arrived at that conclusion I will never know!
Flashforward five weeks into the 2009 NFL season and all of a sudden the nation is hopping on the Cincinnati Bengals bandwagon after they have started 3-0 in the AFC North and 4-1 overall. One could argue that if not for a miracle catch from Brandon Stokley they could be 5-0 with a 2 game lead over the Steelers and Ravens. “But how is all of his possible” you may be asking?
Well it is quite simple actually. It all started with keeping Marvin Lewis this off-season. Over the off-season there were quite a few Bengals fans – as well as NFL fans in general – calling for the resignation of owner Mike Brown and head coach Marvin Lewis because “they will never allow this team to win.”
Now I may be a pit premature but I’m pretty sure that this team is winning right now. Can they withstand the test of time? Who knows? But for right now they’re a top of the division and it’s no fluke. In fact, it’s due to Marvin Lewis.
Let’s ignore that Carson Palmer has been involved in five drives this season that have given the Bengals the lead or the win with less than two minutes on the clock in the fourth quarter or overtime. Let’s ignore that it was’ Lewis’ idea to draft Carson Palmer. Let us just focus on one thing; those wins themselves.
You may recall that earlier in the season I alluded to the fact that Super Bowl caliber teams are just that because they are tested during the regular season and win the close games. Well if this old axiom is true than the Bengals are indeed a Super Bowl caliber team having won three close games. However, no amount of natural talent is going to win you tight-knit games without proper coaching and that is where Marvin Lewis comes into play.
Palmer may be making the clutch throws but it is Lewis’ gameplan and playcalls that are keeping the Bengals in these games through the first 58 minutes. It was Lewis’ that reached out to Cedric Benson last year and allowed Chris Henry to return to the Bengals. It was Marvin Lewis who said “no” to trading Chad Ocho Cinco. It was Marvin Lewis who had a hand in bringing in Mike Zimmer. Lewis has made it clear that this is his team and that is a major reason as to why they’re sitting pretty right now.
In a time in which a head coach is usually fired for failing to capture a post-season victory over a six year span, the Bengals took a page from the notebook of the Titans, Eagles and Steelers franchises and it has paid off.
It would have been simple to forget all the positives that Lewis brought to this team that are listed in the first half of this article.
It would’ve been even easier to forget that just prior to those achievements the team had been 55-137 over the previous 14 years.
Heck it would have been extremely easy to simply say that, despite the fact that Lewis has essentially built this team filled with talent, he isn’t getting it done with this talent and brought someone else in to do the dirty work a la Gruden in Tampa Bay. I know for fact some Bengals’ fans felt that way.
Despite how easy all of that would have been the organization stuck with Marvin and the move is brilliant thus far. As it stands Marvin Lewis may not be doing as well as Josh McDaniels in the coach of the year polling due to the controversy out there in Denver this off-season, but Marvin is easily in second place at this point and I felt some respect had to be paid, especially since today’s win resulted in Lewis being .500 during the regular season in his seven year head coaching career.