Everyone knows all about the Bengals terrible play this season. Everyone loves to poke fun at them and talk down to them like they are an inferior team. And while it seems to be common knowledge that they've been down, nobody really seems to care why.
It's time to clear the air.
While some blame always needs to go to the coaches, that's not where things have gone wrong. Marvin Lewis should not be blamed for their troubles. The Bengals had a long playoff drought and he brought them back to the postseason.
Leave Lewis alone.
It's not talent either. This team has plenty of players, both rookies and veterans, who have all of the necessary skills. This team has some great young players and proven starters.
That's not the problem.
In all honesty, there are two things this team needs:
Confidence and leadership.
For the last few years, the Bengals' record has gotten worse every season. They are convinced that each season will only bring fewer wins and more disappointment. They have been robbed of their faith in the team.
When all of these Cincinnati players started getting arrested a few years ago, no attempt was made to fix these problems. Players were not held accountable for their actions, so they had no reason to be responsible. That one's on the coaches.
Slowly, this team started to get a bad reputation. Cincinnati became the jailbird team of the NFL and rather than rise to the challenge and prove the naysayers wrong, the Bengals seemed to just lose focus and accept these catcalls as the truth.
That is because of the other reason—leadership.
For many years now, the Bengals have not had a vocal leader on the team. Take Tom Brady, for example. He doesn't just sit on the bench and sulk when things don't go right. He finds out what went wrong, fixes any problems with his teammates, and gets everyone pumped up to win the game.
Can anyone give me a Cincinnati player who has been that kind of a leader? Not in recent memory. Carson Palmer was the voice in his first few years, but I think he has lost some swagger ever since that knee injury against the Steelers a few years back.
This leader can't just be someone who yells and screams for his team. This leader has to be someone who goes out and backs up his leadership by making plays. This leader needs to get the job done when it's crunch time. The Bengals need to have someone to hold them together.
Chad Johnson might have been that player. As recently as two years ago, he was one of the most feared receivers in the league. His touchdown celebrations would pump up the crowd and his teammates, and he was making plays all over the field.
But it got to his head.
He became Chad Ocho Cinco the superstar, instead of Chad Johnson the teammate. He lost sight of what was most important: the team. He demanded to be traded somewhere, and when Marvin Lewis refused, everyone said he made the wrong move. Ocho Cinco had to go.
When this season started, Johnson had lost all of his swagger as well. He no longer made the big plays to get the team back in the game. He didn't really seem to have his heart in it and that will never help a team.
All the talent in the world won't help if you don't have the people to tie it together. Someone is going to have to step forward and make this team prove that they are a force. The Bengals will never become a working team without a strong leader to follow.
Marv Lewis has no business in this. He isn't to blame for it and he shouldn't be fired, but he can't force one of his players to lead this team. Someone has to decide to do that. Some player has to have the heart to bring them together.
A jigsaw puzzle has all of its pieces meshed together like a full unit. Every piece has its own job as a part of a whole, but you can't complete the puzzle without that piece right in the middle. That piece knows where everything goes and uses itself as a stepping stone.
I ask the Bengals now:
Who will be your stepping stone?