TGIF: Misery Loves Company
With about a month left until training camp starts, it’s a good time to review the Marvin Lewis era in Cincinnati. First up, the five worst games — one from each year — of his tenure. We’ll look at the five best games, plus some other stuff, in upcoming installments.
2003: In Lewis’ first year, the Bengals got off to a terrible start, dropping their first three games, including a heartbreaking 3-point loss in Oakland in week 2. But the team recovered, winning three of the following four games and coming into a week 9 contest at Arizona with the chance to pull back to .500. Instead, the Bengals would hand the Cardinals one of just 4 victories they would see all season. Cardinals RB Marcel Shipp gashed the Bengals “defense” for 141 yards on 29 carries, while former Bengals QB Jeff Blake tossed a pair of TDs in a 17-14 Cardinals victory. On the Cincy side of the ball, Rudi Johnson would rush just 8 times for 43 yards, while Jon Kitna put on one of his patented more-INTs-than-TDs performances. The Bengals’ offense was a pathetic 3 for 10 on 3rd downs, and lost TOP 35 minutes to 25 minutes.
2004: After evening their record to 6-6 with back-to-back wins over division rivals Cleveland and Baltimore, Cincinnati headed north up the East Coast to the lair of the eventual Super Bowl champions, the New England Patriots. The game quickly turned into a scoring slugfest — 63 total points would eventually be put on the board — as Carson Palmer and Tom Brady dueled for the win. But with 3:18 left in the third quarter, Palmer would go down for the day and, as it turned out, the rest of the year with a sprained knee. He would finish 18/24, with 202 yards, 2 TDs and a pick, to Brady’s 18/26, 260 yards, and 2 TDs. Kitna, coming in in relief, tossed a hope-killing interception in the end zone on his first drive. The Bengals went down to defeat, and their slim playoff hopes were snuffed out the following Sunday when they lost to the Bills at PBS.
2005: Fuck you, Kimo von Oelhoffen. Need I say more?
2006: With Palmer making an amazing recovery (though clearly still not 100%) the Bengals went 3-1 to start the season, and came off their bye headed to sunny Florida to play the struggling Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The game was far from one of the team’s best, but the Bengals had a 13-7 lead, and with just under three minutes to play, DE Justin Smith made one of the few big plays of his Cincinnati career, sacking Bucs QB Bruce Gradkowski, and forcing a fumble to seal the win. Then referee Mike Carey threw his infamous flag, citing Smith for roughing the passer, a bullshit penalty that after the season was declared the worst call of 2006. That allowed Tampa to continue the drive and eventually score the winning TD.
2007: Coming off an opening weekend battle royale against Baltimore, in which they were victorious, the Bengals traveled to Cleveland for the first of two division tilts with the Browns. Best-known as the game that made Derek Anderson an NFL QB, it was a humiliation for the Bengals’ defense. Anderson would throw for 328 yards and 5 TDs, while RB Jamal Lewis romped and stomped for 216 more yards and another touchdown. Meanwhile, Palmer would record 6 TDs, but also throw 2 picks, while Rudi would commit a rare (and lost) fumble. The loss began a first-half slide — the Bengals would win just once, against the lowly Jets — in the next six weeks.