The Cincinnati Bengals started the season with the same hopes as 31 other teams. The mission was to get through the year with a small number of injuries and reach the Promised Land. Super Bowl L was the objective, and it seemed possible. The Bengals came out of the gates winning eight straight games. The fans were going insane. But then the unthinkable happened. They lost two games. Is it fair to demand perfection from any team? To be fair, going undefeated is seriously overrated.
The average Bengals fan was probably thinking the same thing at the start of the new campaign. If the Bengals could go 10-6 and get to the playoffs, the year wouldn’t be a bust. Winning a game in the postseason would be something to engrave on your tombstone. But the Bengals were alive with promise. Players were back from season-ending injuries, and Andy Dalton was looking sharper than ever.
With the eight-game winning streak, fans started thinking about an undefeated season. Signs and memes began popping up with “16-0” as the main theme. It was the topic of almost every discussion. The Bengals were getting comparisons to the Patriots season of 2007.
Going undefeated is truly an accomplishment. But it’s also blown out of proportion. The Miami Dolphins magical season of 1972 is the Holy Grail of most NFL head coaches. It was gutsy and gritty. There were times when the Phins looked like they were going to choke. Yet they pulled it off and now rank as the team to kick off the throne.
There’s a mystical feeling that goes with being undefeated. The fans know it, and the players feel it. But the reality is that nothing is gained from being undefeated. Bengals Head Coach Marvin Lewis is well aware of this. Having no losses is great. Getting to the Big Dance is better. Lewis spoke about it in his post game interview via the Cincinnati Bengals website. The Bengals had just defeated Cleveland.
“We’re halfway through the season. We’ve got a lot of work to do. We don’t get anything for this.”
That quote has been lost on many fans who are comparing the Bengals to New England and the surprising Carolina Panthers. Winning every game in the regular season would be fantastic. But it’s not the postseason, and it’s not the Super Bowl. After the Patriots lost the championship game to the Giants, the perfect season didn’t matter.
“It’s disappointing. We came so close to being special,” Patriots defensive lineman Richard Seymour explained, per the New York Times. “We’re second-class.”
That Phins team of 1972 was special. But what about the other teams that rank among the greatest? The San Francisco 49ers have won five Super Bowls and never went undefeated. The Steelers are seeking the stairway to seven. The Steel City has six. Neither team has gone undefeated.
The Bengals have actually achieved something better. They’ve eliminated the pressure of perfection and can concentrate on getting better. That means focusing on the playoffs instead of other teams and their records. Football purists will understand the plight of the undefeated team that gets no love. The Cleveland Browns were perfect too.
In 1948, the Browns went 15-0 and won the league championship. Where are the comparisons? There have been two other teams that have gone through a regular season perfect since the NFL adopted a division format in 1933. The 1934 and 1942 Chicago Bears were 13-0 and 11-0, respectively. But both of those clubs lost in the league championship game, ruining their chances at complete perfection. All of them are forgotten.
The Bengals losing two games is not cause for running into the bomb shelter. Fair weather fans will ultimately leave. The goal is to hoist the Lombardi, not goose eggs during the regular season.
Tom Coughlin said it best after ruining the Patriots perfect campaign.
“Every team is beatable, you never know. The right moment, the right time, every team is beatable.”
On any given game day, anything is possible.
[Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images]