Many teams in the NFL have plenty to be thankful for this season. The Cincinnati Bengals are not counted among this group. They will enter their Thanksgiving evening affair against the New York Jets with one more loss on their record in 2010 as was seen through all of last season's regular season campaign.
The reigning AFC North champions have struggled through a 2-8 start. As coaching great Bill Parcells so famously stated, "You are what you record is."
A running joke among those who cover the NFL was seeing the mind-numbing number of less-than-law-abiding malcontents, castoffs, and locker room cancers greedily acquired by the Bengals as if the stripes on the team's uniforms or the orange coloring dictated the type of personalities required to play football in Cincinnati.
Their current roster includes three early examples of Commissioner Roger Goddell's personal conduct policies, a linebacker with alcoholism issues, a top 10 draft pick too lazy not to balloon up to 380 pounds in the off season, and an uneasy alliance of T.O.choCinqo.
Despite the perceptions these players are not the primary factors regarding the team's issues crumbling foundation and closing window of opportunity. It starts at the top. And the trickle down effect seen from the owner, down to his head coach and then on the field through the quarterback would make Calvin Coolidge proud.
Owner Mike Brown continually lives in the shadow his legendary father, Paul Brown. Unfortunately for Bengal fans, genetics did not play too much of a factor when it comes to football in the Brown family. Paul helped start the Browns and the Bengals, leading them to stretches of very good to great football. He was a revolutionary figure in the sport. Whereas the only record Mike holds is being the owner to reach 200 losses faster than any other in NFL history.
The younger Brown's track record within his own franchise screams of frugality, ill informed decisions and stubbornness. It starts with his determination to call the shots as owner and de facto general manager. He asks for little help fielding one of the smallest scouting departments in the league.
His coaching decisions have been less than inspiring including Dave Shula, Bruce Coslet, Dick LeBeau and now Marvin Lewis.
Lewis appeared to have the team heading in the right direction as recently as last season. He is within the final year of his latest contract extension and may be best served to move to greener pastures. Now in his eighth season at the helm, the defensive-minded coach has treaded water with his fair share of ups and downs. His overall record still hovers around .500, a miracle some may say in Cincinnati, but never fully living up to expectations. Eventually, it is time to move on particularly when the voice of the man in charge is no longer being heard and has yet to receive a vote of confidence from his owner.
While the dysfunction seems to come from the previously mentioned levels of mediocrity, the quarterback position seems to be the least criticized, but Carson Palmer deserves his fair share of blame among this terrible triumvirate.
"If you don't have a productive quarterback, you won't go anywhere," Mike Brown stated more than 10 years ago. "That's the way it works in this league."
Palmer simply has not been the same since the Steelers Kimo Von Oehlhoffen rolled into his left knee almost four years ago during the playoffs. The ligaments in the knee were mangled, and it was feared for a short amount of time that the quarterback may not return to the game.
He came back in 2007 and registered the highest passing yardage total of his career to date, but his interceptions also increased incrementally.
Most important, the team regressed on the field. 2008 was marred by injuries for Palmer. His numbers have continued to dip in 2009 and into this season. His average yards per completion has dropped almost every year. Palmer may throw the prettiest football in the game, but his confidence has never bounced back from that pivotal moment in his career with everything appeared at his feet.
Now the team is coming off an absolutely devastating loss to a team once deemed the worst in the league, the Buffalo Bills. Cincinnati led by 21 points late in the second quarter. The Bengals then traded a field goal to Buffalo's second touchdown of the day. Inexplicably, the Bills scored five unanswered touchdowns in the second half for the win.
Terrell Owens may actually be the lone voice of reason within the organization. At the very least he understands the current situation.
"We're terrible," he bluntly stated after the loss.
On a short week facing the AFC leading Jets, Cincinnati has to put all of this behind them or continue to spiral out of control. If not then they could and should enter the sweepstakes for the No. 1 overall selection in the 2011 draft to acquire the highly touted quarterback prospect Andrew Luck.
Ghosts of David Klinger, Curtis Enis, Kijana Carter, Akili Smith, etc. may have Bengal fans hoping otherwise.