Last week in this space I wrote about how the Bengals had no excuses heading into their first game of the season. The argument was that they had no legitimate reason to lose to the Broncos, and after a generally successful offseason, they simply couldn’t afford to. Playing at home, almost completely healthy and facing a seemingly inferior opponent, defeat would be seen as nothing short of a failure of colossal proportions. Put plainly, losing this game would be inexcusable.
Yet, they did.
After 59 minutes of play they found themselves scoreless and down by six. Not exactly an auspicious start. Then in the first thirty seconds of the final minute they managed to play like playoff teams do; the teams that win even on those days when they leave their “A” game in the locker room. Their late game heroics, with their backs against the wall, were the what matures a team, strengthens it, and shows them that they have the mettle to be champions. A 91-yard drive, capped by a bulldozing touchdown run by Cedric Benson emphatically seemed to stamp their arrival as an elite team, and cap a dream ending.
In the last thirty seconds the dream turned into a nightmare. With one unexpected bounce, they proved once again that the football gods hate stripes.
Unbelievable. Unbearable. Unfair.
I can still see the image of Brandon Stokely tight-roping the endzone in celebration. I can still hear Gus Johnson’s breathless call. I can still feel the numbing disbelief. If there ever was a loss that is impossible to forget, it’s got to be this one. Removed of every conceivable excuse for another failed season, the Bengals simply found an inconceivable one. A losing season is now expected by most. After all, not many franchises could overcome that game and still be successful; certainly not this one. When I wrote that the team had no excuses for losing, I obviously overlooked the old completely-surreal-and-absurd-one-in-a-million play factor.
My bad. I suppose there are excuses after all.
Sunday the Bengals bring their striped helmets and damaged psyches to Green Bay to play a confident Packer team fresh off a dramatic division win. If there are football gods, Lambeau Field is their Mount Olympus. It could be seen as a fitting stage for the second act in an ironic tragedy. Or, it could be the prophetic setting for an unbelievable turnaround, and for the exorcism of the past.
Let’s hope for the second option. Maybe to be on the safe side, they should wear plaid.