OK, maybe we were wrong.
Last December, as both the Bengals and Bearcats were riding high via uncommonly strong seasons, Danny Cross and I wrote cover-story essays about why each team's success wouldn't be just a one-year anomaly. I took the Bengals, he took the ’Cats.
forward 11 months: The Bengals have lost six straight games to fall
to 2-7, and the Bearcats are coming off a 37-10 shellacking at West
Virginia that dropped their record to 3-6, making a bowl game
So what happened?
In my argument for the Bengals continued success I touted Mike Zimmer's defense, which is anchored by a number of young players (most notably cornerbacks Leon Hall and Jonathan Joseph), as the main source of optimism. While the defense's pass rush has fallen off a cliff, producing but nine sacks in nine games (31st out of 32 teams), it's currently in the middle of the pack overall (15th).
Offensively, though the running game has been less productive (ranking 25th largely because they've rarely had second-half leads), the Bengals are also in the middle of the pack (14th). Hell, before yesterday's five-turnover debacle they were even plus-four in that ever-important category.
So, again, what gives?
The blame seems to lie within a mix of bad luck, lack of concentration (fumbles at inopportune times and seemingly rampant miscommunication between Carson Palmer and his self-involved wideouts), a tougher schedule (only two of their nine opponents don't currently have winning record) and laziness (see T.O. walking instead of running back to the line of scrimmage at the end of yesterday's loss).
Lots of questions, too few answers. It's painful to watch them find a way to lose each week. The season-opening loss to the Patriots was really the only game they weren't in to the end. They've lost the last six games by a total of 33 points — 5.5 points per loss. A play or two going the other way each week could have the Bengals above .500 right now.
Which brings us to the burning question: Is it time for the Bengals and Marvin Lewis to part ways?
And the Bearcats? I've admittedly watched just one entire game (the close early loss to Oklahoma), but given the amount of returning talent on offense and what looked to be an improved defense I don't think anyone foresaw them missing a bowl game for the first time since 2005.
Which brings us to the Brian Kelly factor. Did he really make that much of a difference? Well, his Fighting Irish haven't been much better (albeit against tougher competition). In fact, in the wake of Notre Dame's slow start and, more devastatingly, the accidental death of a student who fell from a 50-foot platform while videotaping practice in windy conditions, there's already talk that Kelly should be fired.
Welcome to the continuing soap opera that is the life of a Cincinnati football fan.