22 Points to Cheer Up Bengals Fans
I'd Do 23 But That Was the Chiefs' Score
In my inevitable post-AFC Championship depression after a sad Cincinnati Bengals loss, I thought of a bunch of things. Some might make you feel better, some might make you feel worse. I’m calling it as fairly as I can, which is more than we can say for those NFL refs. Hey, Now! If any of my points does pour salt in the wounds, let’s try to find a way to improve. I know it sucks. And I know sometimes this can feel like we’re deluding ourselves. But overall, my intent is to cheer us all up, so if something resonates with you, hang onto it like a Ja’Marr Chase catch. Here goes…
Yes, you can’t replace a Super Bowl victory. But this is entertainment. And we’ve lost three Super Bowls by 5 points, 4 points, and 3 points. Four NFL teams haven’t even been to the Super Bowl. The 2023 AFC Championship loss was crushing, but at least we always make it super exciting. I actually heard someone say after last year’s SB loss, “I’d rather we’d have gotten blown out than lose a close one like that.” Well, you’re a moron. A blowout loss means you’re laughed at and then forgotten. An epic matchup earns you respect and enshrines you adjacent to greatness. Greatness is still better, but obscurity is much worse.
In (500) Days of Summer, as Tom’s little sister, Rachel, consoles him about his breakup, she hits him with a line I’ll probably remember forever:
"Look, I know you think she was the one… but I don't. Now, I think you're just remembering the good stuff. Next time you look back, I, uh, I really think you should look again."
The worst kind of sporting loss is a game that gets stolen from you. Take a look at the Atlanta Falcons’ collapse against the New England Patriots in 2017. This isn’t what happened to us. If you go back and watch the whole game (maybe a little obsessive) or even the highlights, put on an imaginary Kansas City Chiefs hat. Whose game was it? It was the Chiefs’ game to lose. We never led. It was reminiscent of the World Cup Final from last month: it was Argentina’s match. Yes, France kept tying it up and it appeared they’d never go away. But Argentina prevailed and it would’ve just felt wrong had they not. Had the Bengals walked out with a W, you know, deep in your heart, it would’ve been because we stole victory from the jaws of defeat. Look at the QB stat line:
- Joe Burrow: 26/41. 270 Yards. 1 TD. 2 INT.
- Patrick Mahomes: 29/43. 326 Yards. 2 TD. 0 INT.
I love Joe Burrow. He’s my dude. But Patrick Mahomes is heralded as the current greatest because he is. No shame in losing to the best. And remember we had ZERO total yards through the first quarter. We got beaten. Straight up.
To beat a better team, you have to play nearly perfectly AND hope they screw up. I should know. When I got married, I outpunted my coverage. I ran a great game and lucked out when my wife made the mistake of her life, let her guard down, and decided to be with me.
Our Offensive Line did us in again. We did what we could over the last offseason, but somehow, the O-Line Storyline was forgotten over the course of the last week. Part of the reason it held up so well at Orchard Park was because of the snow: the Buffalo Bills couldn’t pass-rush as much because it’s much easier to stay in one place (O-line) than move (D-line).
Also, I have no evidence to support this, but I do think we softened up the Bills and their fans by treating Damar Hamlin as kindly as we did. By the time the Bengals marched out onto the field in Buffalo, it was hard to hate us. Mike Hilton solved that problem by calling Arrowhead “Burrowhead.”
Recall my biggest fear was simply the statistical probability of it all. It’s tough to beat a crappy team four times in a row, let alone a great one. KC was due — and they delivered. In the last year or so, we’re still up 3-1 on the Chiefs. If this is the same matchup next year, I like our chances.
Asians made progress in America as Kansas City Chiefs' Tight End Travis Kelce called Cincinnati Mayor Aftab Pureval a "Jabroni.” At least it wasn’t a racial slur.
Travis Kelce hails from Ohio and went to my alma mater, the University of Cincinnati. I can’t totally hate him.
The Chiefs are good guys. Kansas City and Cincinnati have a lot of shared values. Though here’s a pushback against each team:
Bengals: I’m not so sure I’m down with the whole “Bengals as Villains” theme. Eli Apple & Co. seem to want to embrace that label, but it’s not truly in keeping with our midwestern roots.
Chiefs: That tomahawk chop has got to go. Out of curiosity, when do we start the campaign to cancel the Chiefs like we did the Washington Redskins or the Cleveland Indians? (Asks the fan whose team member, Jackson Carman, also attended his alma mater of the Fairfield Indians.)
All that aside, The Chiefs aren’t a garbage team with garbage fans. In about two weeks, they’re gonna lose to a team with garbage fans but that’s a separate point...
Some people have division or conference loyalty. I don’t. And there’s something to be said for losing to the champion. But I’m stunned the line so far in Super Bowl LVII is the Philadelphia Eagles -2. I think the Eagles are gonna destroy the Chiefs by at least 15 points. Yes, the San Francisco 49ers lost quarterback Brock Purdy early, but that doesn’t explain how Philly ran up 31 points against the supposedly AMAZING 49ers D. And the birds stopped at 31 because they didn’t need more. I wouldn’t have been surprised, had SF scored more, if Philly would’ve topped 40. And if the Eagles win as easily as I think they will, then though the transitive property of mathematics doesn’t always apply in sports (If A>B and B>C, then A>C), we can assume that we’d’ve probably gotten our asses kicked, too. If I’m wrong, then well, let’s move on.
I love that Burrow said that the trash talk is all love.
I don’t know: there is karma, after all. (And the Hindus said it first.) As Mayor Pureval acknowledged: “Yeah. Deserved that.”
Confidence comes from security. Arrogance comes from insecurity. I expressed concern over this level of taunting. Hey, in the supposed words of Emperor Hirohito after America entered World War II upon the bombing of Pearl Harbor: “I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.” You can’t really make a better team feel like underdogs in the loudest stadium in the league and not pay a price.
Like a bad Luke Perry movie, there were eight seconds left in the game and the Chiefs had a first down. And not to lay blame, but it doesn’t belong with Bengals defensive end Joseph Ossai; it lies with our special teams that punted the ball down the middle and allowed the Chiefs their longest punt return (nearly 30 yards!) of the season.
Had Ossai not drawn a 15-yard penalty, did the Chiefs have time to run one more play to get closer to the field goal? I think so. Mahomes could’ve thrown near the sideline and probably have gotten five yards closer. It would’ve been dangerous, but there’s no guarantee the kick would’ve needed to be 60 yards. It might’ve been closer to 55, which was very makeable for Chiefs’ kicker Harrison Butker.
Butker isn’t even a real name. It should be Butler. Butker? Get real. (Writes “Rajiv Satyal.”)
Ya gotta put this in perspective: the last time the Bengals won a playoff game before last season’s incredible run was 1990. And in the last two years, we’ve won five. FIVE IN TWO YEARS VS. ZERO IN 30+ YEARS. This is a great time to be a Cincinnati fan.
Most runner-up teams from the previous season fall into the Super Bowl Hangover. The LA Rams might’ve beaten us last year (well, they did; I was there), but they have the dubious distinction of being the earliest eliminated Super Bowl champion team ever. Ouch. At least we got another memorable season out of it.
Yes, Bengals Linebacker Germaine Pratt (understandably) let ’er rip in the heat of the moment, screaming at Ossai. But he apologized and it appears ALL of the players are there to support Ossai. Even most of the comments I read from KC fans were empathetic. He’ll be alright. And he’ll live to fight another day.
The players you watched are all millionaires or on their way. They’re gonna be fine. Don’t take it harder than the players, for Pete’s sake. In the words of Tom Petty, “Even the losers get lucky sometimes.” And here, even the losers are more like the winners than you and I. We still gotta get up tomorrow and go to work in an office. Well, I don’t. But you probably do.
General Theory of Officiating: The officiating isn’t why we lost. It can be argued — and is being argued (#NFLRIGGED) — that the referees gave the game to the Chiefs. There were questionable calls and no-calls. Overall, the NFL isn’t rigged. To believe it is, you must not believe in capitalism. Yes, the NFL exists to make money, but American culture greatly rewards whistleblowers. If someone had evidence and stepped forward, the book deal alone would be worth tens of millions of dollars. Every single American is incentivized by the free market to tattletale and get rich quick. There’s simply no way hundreds of people throughout history could keep a secret like this. Then the argument goes: “It doesn’t need to be a handshake behind closed doors. They’re hiding in plain sight.” I call bullshit. The Super Bowl already gets very high ratings. If anything, the networks would like to see an overtime AFC Championship game and make more money NOW. Finally, if you really do feel it’s rigged, and that we’ll always get the short end of the stick, then why watch? Perhaps to tell the league that we’re watching and you shouldn’t do that to us. Fair. There’s something to be said for advocacy and protest. In that case, let’s keep letting them know that we’re here.
Special Theory of Officiating: In this specific case, let’s be honest. Ossai’s shove was a late hit. And what was the #1 storyline all week? Mahomes’ health. Every avid fan, and certainly every player, knows the league goes out of its way to protect quarterbacks. You’re gonna shove the homefield darling and expect to get away with it? I don’t entirely blame Ossai: some of that was forward motion and all of it was passion. But there was a way to touch him and put your hands up and not lean into him full tilt. Yes, these players have force, but they also have agility. A few plays earlier, was there a late hit on Burrow? Possibly. But if you watch the two plays side-by-side, without your Bengals hat on, you can see the difference. Moreover, there were calls against Kansas City in the final minutes. Many of us are engaging in selective memory loss. Finally, I’d never seen a down replayed the way it was. But I’ve been watching professional sports for 30 years and things happen all the time that I’ve never seen. There are a lot of obscure rules but they’re still rules.
Yes, I’m hard on the Bengals. I’m hard on myself. It’s only when we take responsibility that we have power. If we blame everyone else, we take away our own agency. Leadership is ownership. And the reason we lost SB LVI is because we went scoreless in our last five drives. The reason we lost on Sunday was because we couldn’t even kick a field goal despite getting the ball back in the last ten minutes. Hell, we threw an interception. (Well, I didn’t. But “We.” Because… ownership.) And we STILL had another shot.
IMO, the strategy should’ve been to keep moving the ball forward incrementally. Yes, big games CAN be won on big plays, but don’t fall for that platitude. Slow and steady, peeling time off the clock, capped with a FG, would’ve won that game.
We were TIED, not down. The second greatest crime you can commit is not getting a field goal attempt off. The greatest crime is to give the ball back to your opponent.
All Major League Baseball teams ask is to bring the tying run to the plate in the bottom of the ninth. Well, we had the equivalent of that — actually, the winning run. And we didn’t execute. Let’s be accountable and be better next year.
The Bengals should be very proud of how far we got under adverse circumstances. I am not saying the NFL didn’t have it in for us. (Which still doesn’t prove the officiating is rigged.) I don’t agree the Bengals/Bills game should’ve been played at a neutral site. Buffalo was 13-3 and we were 12-4. Yes, we played one more road game and that could’ve been the difference. But what really messed us up was having to play our starters in our last seasonal game: we lost offensive guard Alex Cappa when we had to put up against the Baltimore Ravens. And this really did harm us down the stretch. Still, even with a battered O-line, we almost earned another trip to the Super Bowl. We should be beaming.
Larger than victory is the relationships we build and maintain with each other. And these last couple of years have seen so many of my old friendships rekindled as we share messages, texts, and calls with our fellow Cincinnatians. That southwest corner of the Buckeye State is a special place. And it might sound weird, but sometimes we don’t need each other as much after a victory. After a loss, we all band together and cry on each other’s shoulders. And when we do finally win it all, this is all gonna make it taste that much sweeter. Like cinnamon in our chili.
I had to end with #22. I would've gone #23 to match Michael Jordan but the winning score was 23 and it's too soon. If you watched The Last Dance, you learned that Jordan took no days off after losing to the LA Lakers in 1990. He got in the gym the NEXT DAY. And if you listen to how the Bengals are ALREADY talking about next year, then this is an amazingly good sign.
I truly hope we can bring a lot of the guys back again. There are reasons to think we can’t (Burrow and Chase on rookie contracts but will negotiate for much more scrilla, making staying under the salary cap hard) but there are also reasons to think we can. Burrow is a franchise QB, and since the front office is planning to keep him… well, talent attracts talent, which means a lot of the other dudes might well stay. September 2023, Let’s F Gooooooo!
OK, fine. Thought of one more… not to make this racial/political, but it IS kind of dope that we finally have two Black quarterbacks playing each other in the Super Bowl during Black History Month.