July 26, 2014

Baby Steps

The unholy stinkfest played by the Bengals’ offense in Houston on Saturday has turned Bengals fans into a far less endearing version of Bob Wiley from one of my favorite comedies, What About Bob: neurotic and intensely needy.

Yes, the performance by Gruden’s crew was about as appetizing as a persimmon-flavored sucker chased by a stick of the dirt-flavored gum you passed off on one of your friends when you were 9 years old. This team clearly isn’t where it needs to be yet on offense, and questions aplenty to address as we consider free agency and the draft.

But balance is a healthy thing. Perhaps this is a bit early, but as that 17th roll of antacids finally calms your stomach, remind yourself that this team did see some baby steps in growth in 2012. It might not have been quite as much growth as we hoped for, but growth is still movement in the right direction.

Double digit wins. Four months ago, most of the football brain trust expected the Bengals to take a step backward and was picking the Bengals to go 7-9 or 8-8 this year. Instead, they turned in their third double-digit win season in the past 8 years. This was made possible largely by a defense that became one of the stingiest in the league over the second half of the season.

Dominating defense. It is fair to wonder if the return of Pat Sims didn’t spark this unit’s turn-around. Once they got going, they implemented a scorched earth policy that would have made General Sherman proud. Keeping the group together will begin costing money this year, but it ought to be money that the front office is glad to spend.

Youth. Most of the playmakers on this team are still in their rookie contracts. The problem of paying the difference-makers and letting the good-but-replaceable guys walk is far preferable to the problem of overpaying an aging roster while trying to retain young talent, such as is facing the Steelers again this year.

Resilience. This team didn’t give up on themselves when we were ready to fold the tents on the season at the end of October. Bengals teams in years past would have imploded upon reaching the 3-5 mark. More than a couple of teams this year did. That this team could fight its way back and make the playoffs at all is a huge departure from the past.

All of these are baby steps forward for a franchise that is steadily moving away from the Lost Decade.

Again, there is plenty to dissect over what went wrong this season, and I (along with everyone else) will have plenty to say about it in the coming months. The team is not at all there yet, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t making progress. We need to recognize the good as well as the bad.