This was originally published in The Athletic.
The quintessential Bengals fan experience doesn’t involve watching complete, one-sided blowouts, or never even believing they’ll win. It instead involves being teased, and at times even being mildly surprised when they aren’t totally inept – sometimes to the point where you start to allow yourself to think that, wait, they might actually not lose. Maybe this will be the week!
Then, of course, the bottom falls out. There is almost always a series of comical decisions and puzzling mistakes that make you angry at yourself for even considering the possibility the outcome would be favorable.
Sunday’s loss to the Chargers in Los Angeles was a three-hour summary of the quintessential Bengals fan experience. It was the kind of defeat the Bengals have seemingly authored hundreds of times in my lifetime, many with the current head coach overseeing the whole thing.
In a game no one thought they’d win, much less be competitive in, the Bengals did their best to prove everyone – including the oddsmakers – wrong. The effort was there, and frankly, after Los Angeles went ahead 14-3, I half-expected Marvin Lewis’ team to mail it in the rest of the afternoon. They instead pieced together some good things offensively, finally featuring Joe Mixon, who had 31 touches for 138 yards, while getting a credible performance from backup quarterback Jeff Driskel.
And the defense actually came to life. After being roasted for TDs on L.A.’s first two possessions, an offense led by a future hall-of-famer never again found the end zone. Carlos Dunlap was fantastic, and so was William Jackson, whom for some reason, Philip Rivers repeatedly decided to test. Maybe this wasn’t the D we imagined the Bengals would have back in August, but it was better than anything we’ve watched since September. And as they kept the team in the game, you could be forgiven if you started to think that maybe, somehow, a logic-defying upset was in the offing.
Of course, it was not. It never is.
To read more, go to The Athletic.
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