It was a win so easy for Pittsburgh that it might have slept with us in high school.
Sure, the Bengals had their moment of glory, jumping out to a 7-0 first-quarter lead on a TD pass from the legendary tandem of Ryan Fitzpatrick to Glenn Holt – who now has two receptions on the year.
After that, it was your ordinary beat down by the Steelers, who scored 20 straight points in the second and third quarters and dominated in every statistical category imaginable. Along the way, Pittsburgh re-asserted its place high above the Bengals in the AFC North, not to mention in the natural order of the pigskin universe. (The Bengals and Steelers have been division rivals since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970; Cincy has won six division titles over that period, Pittsburgh has won 18.)
We know the Bengals are bad. But as we watched this debacle unfold in all its gory Technicolor glory – the Bengals playing with a quarterback out of Harvard and their star receiver Chad Johnson benched following, according to some reports, a verbal altercation with their dead-man-walking of a head coach – one question kept running through our minds:
Is this Cincinnati's worst team ever?
Since Paul Brown left the sidelines after the 1975 season, the Bengals have fielded one clunker of a club after another. But after suffering through last night's performance, it seems likely that the 2008 version of the Bungles is the worst of the bunch.
Here are two key pieces of evidence:
THE 2008 BENGALS CAN'T SCORE – The Bengals average just 13.5 PPG this year – no small feat in a league that does everything in its power to make it impossible to play defense.
Only two teams in franchise history scored fewer points. The 1993 Benglas scored 11.7 PPG, while the 2000 Bengals (a joint Bruce Coslet-Dick LeBeau production) averaged just 11.6 PPG. But at least those teams won three and four games, respectively. (Both were better defensively, too. The 2008 Bengals surrender 25.1 PPG, compared with 19.9 in 1993 and 22.4 in 2000.)
Plus, that 2000 team was at something of a historical disadvantage: they played four games against two of the best defenses in modern NFL history, the 2000 Ravens (who went on to win the Super Bowl) and the 2000 Titans – both division rivals in the old AFC Central. The Bengals mustered just 24 points in those four games against two of the best defenses of the Live Ball Era
The 2008 Bengals face no such historical disadvantage. They just suck.
Sure, you can point to the loss of Carson Palmer after Week 3 as a reason for Cincy's offensive demise. But you can also look to the fact that the Bengals couldn't score with Palmer in the line-up, either: 40 points in three games, or an average of 13.3 PPG that's slightly worse than their scoring average since.
THE 2008 BENGALS CAN'T WIN – The Bengals are 1-9-1 and their next three games are against Baltimore, Indy and Washington, teams better than Cincy in almost every way and fighting desperately for playoff position. So a record of 1-12-1 looks inevitable.
Cincy heads to Cleveland after that. The Browns are a beatable team, but a team that bested the Bengals 20-12 earlier this year in Cincinnati. The last, best hope of victory comes in the season finale at home against Kansas City, in a game that will determine the worst team of 2008 (and mark the ends of the careers of Herm Edwards and Marvin Lewis).
In other words, there's a very good chance that the Bengals will finish the season 1-14-1, while 2-13-1 will be cause for celebration.
In the long, inglorious history of the Bengals, every team but one has won at least three games. The 2002 Bengals are the lone exception. They went 2-14, costing Dick LeBeau his job and launching the Marv Lewis Era.
And we see how well that's gone.