By Dr. John Huang
(CINCINNATI, Oh.) – The Bengals are ON THE CLOCK! After securing the worst record in the league under first-year coach Zac Taylor, Cincinnati now receives the dubious honor of picking first in the upcoming 2020 NFL draft.
A 33-23 victory over the Cleveland Browns (6-10) mercifully put to end a forgettable season sabotaged by key injuries to star players, a mid-season quarterback experiment gone awry, and general pathetic play. With the win, I’m quickly reminded that it’s the first Bengal triumph over a divisional rival since September 9, 2018. After ten straight defeats, that 34-23 victory in Baltimore at the beginning of last season seemed like eons ago.
This 2-14 campaign now ties the 52-year franchise record of two measly wins set back in 2002. It’s also the first time since 1993 that the Bengals have failed to win a road game…And that’s the good news.
The Bengals have now had four straight losing seasons and haven’t won a playoff game in 29 years. That’s the fifth-longest streak of postseason futility in NFL history. Since 1990, Cincinnati has only had seven winning seasons total.
This rain-soaked afternoon saw running back Joe Mixon rush 26 times for 162 yards and 2 touchdowns. Quarterback Andy Dalton was 16-of-28 passing for 190 yards and 1 touchdown. The nine-year pro also rushed for another score in what might be his last Battle of Ohio. Always the diplomat, this afternoon’s performance—his 133rd start of his career—was likely Dalton’s last stand.
“It’s not the end of my career,” said Dalton—who has one year left on his contract. “Obviously a lot of our lives have been here in Cincinnati. And again, we don’t know what’s going to happen. We’re going to have to wait until after the season for all that to get handled.”
“This city has been great to us,” Dalton answered, in what appeared to sound like a parting statement in his postgame press conference. “There’s been a lot of support that we’ve received here in this city. We’ve made this city our home since we got drafted here. I’m thankful for all the people that we’ve met. There have been a lot of good people in Cincinnati—and a lot of people who have pushed me, my wife, and my family to be better people. We’re very grateful for that.”
So where to from here? The big question is who the Bengals should take with the No. 1 pick. Make no mistake, the team needs help at virtually every position. Zac Taylor’s offense had trouble scoring touchdowns, the offensive line was a total disaster, and the running game seemed perplexingly underutilized. Although the defense showed improvement in the second half of the season, they never could be counted on for that crucial stop or game-changing turnover.
Will the Bengals choose pass-rusher Chase Young out of Ohio State and let Dalton play out his final year? Perhaps they’ll go for quantity and trade that top pick for a linebacker, cornerback, and pass rusher in a three-for-one deal.
With Dalton headed out the door, however, you’d have to think the obvious replacement choice is LSU quarterback Joe Burrow—especially after his 29-of-39, 493-yard, 7-touchdown performance in the Peach Bowl. The Heisman Trophy winner seems like the perfect fit for a Zac Taylor designed offense. He’s accurate, precise, and mobile. He’s shown that he can learn to read defenses and make decisions on the fly. He’s disciplined and poised in the pocket. Although he doesn’t have elite arm talent, he’s shown he can throw the deep ball accurately. Burrow would thrive in a spread offense sprinkled with plenty of play-action and pre-snap motions allowing him to read coverages downfield. On the surface, it seems like a match made in football heaven.
“Any time there’s a game on Saturday, I peek if I’m sitting around,” Taylor said, when asked if he saw Burrow’s performance. “But I took my son to the Harlem Globetrotters game yesterday, so that was my focus there in the short term. Then we came back and had meetings.”
In addition to improving their chances for on-the-field success, Burrow would also instill some much-needed excitement within the Bengals’ long-suffering fan base. Attendance this year has been dismal—averaging under 47,000 per game—the lowest since Paul Brown Stadium opened in 2000. Fans desperately need a pick-me-up—someone at the ultimate skill position to recapture the glory days.
Bengals’ fans remember the last time the team had a Heisman Trophy winning quarterback as their No. 1 pick. That was Carson Palmer in 2003…and we all know how that worked out. Here’s hoping history repeats itself. Surely Cincinnati won’t mess it up.
“It’s unacceptable to go 2-14 in the NFL season,” Taylor said. “We’re all very clear on that.”