In God We Trust
The day after Christmas saw the strangest of sights in Cincinnati. Terrell Owens—done for the season. Chad Ochocinco—inactive. Jerome Simpson — two touchdowns.
Mother was in from Dayton and posed the most basic of questions: "Maybe without Chad and Terrell Owens, the Bengals are better...?" It could be, though it also could be because playing loose with nothing to lose is exactly why the Bengals won in 2009.
Returning to form was never so bittersweet ... and yet, every Bengals fan now knows that there is more to the Bengals than Carson Palmer, Cedric Benson, Chad Ochocinco, and Terrell Owens. Nothing like a charge up courtesy of the couch-bound Chargers to bring back a little bit of, "What if..."
No, that was not Bart Simpson in another video game remake of the famed television cartoon but the absent second round draft pick from 2008 finally showed up and replaced both TO and Ocho in a 2 touchdown, 6 reception, 124 yard performance. In a breakout game, Jerome caught his second touchdown with the defense napping on a 59-yard strike to seal the game with 6:34 left in the fourth quarter.
Bernard Scott tacked on a 10-yard touchdown late—with 3:59 to go—to bring on the misery and make his season ending place even sweeter. Scott's modest 50 yards on 11 carries (4.5 yards per carry), came with a touchdown late. Bengals' management may have been convinced.
...because Cedric managed to fumble for the fifth time this season. The prior four seasons combined, Benson lost two fumbles combined (he dropped seven but recovered five). Benson would have 24 attempts and 52 yards with a 2.2 yards per carry average—less than half of Bernard Scott. It may be too little, too late for Ced as his career is decidedly in the twilight stage at this point.
Palmer certainly did not look like the quarterback that cannot call his own timeouts (courtesy of his answer post-game against the Saints). Carson had modest yardage but completed 16 of 21 for 269 yards including his signature 59 yard caught-the-defense-sleeping-strike to Jerome Simpson to achieve a 157.2 quarterback rating. A 76.2 percent completion percentage certainly has something behind.
Chad wore the forgetful grey sideline gear which is a mix between a Masonic lodge symbol and camouflage from the first Iraq invasion. It may have been the outfit he needed to wear all season as the Bengals' offense was ignited with Batman and Robin out for Week 16.
Rey Maualuga delivers a knock out 47-yard interception return to end the third quarter. Making his case to be the middle linebacker (versatility is needed in deciding how and who to cover), Rey delivered the momentum-swinging moment to put Phillip Rivers and the Chargers on their heels.
With the signature tight end on the sidelines—Antonio Gates of the Chargers—the tight end of the future in Jermaine Gresham delivered a Gates performance catching four passes for 56 yards and a touchdown. Gresham showed his versatility on a broken play where Benson was the intended player to receive a hand-off but had to be quickly turned away in favor of a solid eight yard gain for Jermaine.
The Bengals' sideline was alive for the first time in many moons as the Bengals plowed over an opponent that needed a win to go to the playoffs. Like every prior losing season under Marvin Lewis, the Bengals made the common fan wonder "What if".
Carson looked like the old hand we wanted to have this season. Without his usual cast of characters, Palmer delivered in a form that made any fan believe that like Bob Bratkowski was not calling this game.
Marvin Lewis delivered a signature victory with a team he could control. No personalities, no TV shows, and no ego. Could the best thing that could have happened been that—like the Washington Redskins—the most polarizing personalities on the team were on the pine: as in pine bench on the sideline.
Give over control of the franchise to Marvin and the team will make it, Mike Brown!