That was the sound heard ‘round Cincinnati Sunday evening, as the 2009 Bengals bandwagon dropped off a few thousand patrons following a 20-17 turnover-filled loss to the Oakland Raiders in week 11.
In a week that saw the queen of conservative politics blaze through Cincinnati on her cross-country book tour, the apprehensive attitude seemed to rub off on the Bengals’ play calling.
Cincinnati offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski made good on a promise to focus on the run game despite the loss of running back Cedric Benson, distributing 36 carries between Bernard Scott, Brian Leonard, and Larry Johnson—complimented by a few scampers by Carson Palmer.
As the reliance on the run became evident in the second half, Oakland was able to creep their safeties closer to the line of scrimmage, frequently putting eight men in the box against a Bengals team determined to sit on a lead. With cornerbacks Nnamdi Asomugha and Chris Johnson handling Chad Ochocinco and Laveranues Coles in single coverage on the outside, Oakland could afford to challenge the Bengals to run the ball.
When untimely fumbles by Jeremi Johnson, Palmer, and Andre Caldwell and a missed chip shot by Shayne Graham soured the Cincinnati strategy, the Bengals proved to have been their own worst enemy. In a game where they controlled the ball for over 38 minutes, draining the clock on long, laborious drives, the Bengals were left with only 15 seconds to attempt a game-winning drive.
Meanwhile, the Raider offense was gaining much-needed momentum in the second half thanks to a similarly laid-back Bengal defensive game-plan from defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer.
Zimmer frequently settled into soft man coverage with a cover two over the top, allowing for fewer blitzing opportunities with linebackers often occupied in coverage against tight ends and running backs.
Facing only four or five rushers, the Raiders offensive line was able to give inexperienced quarterback Bruce Gradkowski time to progress through his reads and pick up momentum-gaining first downs.
With the Bengals controlling their own destiny in the AFC North, and simply attempting to survive and advance to week 12, a conservative approach carried a great deal of pragmatism before kickoff, but ultimately came back to bite the Bengals.
Still, with the 11th best rushing offense and the second best run defense in the NFL, the Bengals seem to only have hit a bump in the road.
Don’t try to tell that to the folks that fell off the wagon, though.