Marvin Lewis, Andy Dalton, And The Forever Cursed Bengals

Marvin Lewis, Andy Dalton, And The Forever Cursed Bengals

How 2016 is setting up to be a pivotal year in the their stories
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While we now acknowledge the Browns as the perennial laughingstock of the NFL, fourteen years ago that title belonged to another team across the state. Back in 2002, the Bengals had just put their finishing touches on a crash and burn 2-14 season. They had just fired their Head Coach, the decorated defensive mastermind Dick LeBeau, and hadn’t made the playoffs since 1990. Again, think Browns level bad. Across the state, the Browns were a team on the upswing, having just finished 9-7 after entering the league in 1999 with a young superstar quarterback in the making in Tim Couch, not that unlike the Raiders or the Jaguars today.

Enter Marvin Lewis. Lewis was a hotshot young coordinator coming from the Ravens, the same Ravens who had boasted an all time defense in 2000 that led them all the way to the Super Bowl. Lewis was young and unheralded, but brought with him the hope of resurrection of this wayward franchise.

Now, it’s important to understand that the Bengals have a different power structure than any other team in the league. They don’t have a general manager, or anyone that is clearly in charge of personnel. They can best be described as a family business, headlined by owner Mike Brown, who bought the team over twenty years ago. Brown maintains full control over the 53 man roster. His brother, Pete Brown, is the Executive Vice President of Player Personnel. Because of this, the head coach has a larger say in the decision making than anywhere else in the league. More than anywhere else, the responsibility was going to lie on the shoulders of Marvin Lewis to turn things around.

And slowly but surely, things started to turn around under Lewis. In his first year, Lewis drafted an all-world college prospect out of USC in Carson Palmer. People tend to forget it because of the muddy mildy of his career, but coming out of college Palmer was the type of prospect that begged comparisons to the Peyton Mannings, Andrew Lucks, and John Elways as prospects. Paired with a young, elite receiver in Chad Johnson, as well as a high-end bruising running back in Rudi Johnson, the team suddenly had one of the most exciting offensive nucleuses in the league.

History doesn’t give the Carson Palmer the credit he deserved. Nowadays, Andrew Luck, Cam Newton, and Russell Wilson are talked about as the three young superstar quarterbacks in the league. Back then, it was Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, and Carson Palmer. After what was essentially a redshirt rookie year, Palmer was dynamite for the Bengals. After a Pro Bowl season in 2005, Palmer lead the team to an 11-5 finish and their first playoff berth since 1990. He led the league in touchdowns and completion percentage. For once, things were headed in the right direction in Cincinnati.

“You see, Carson Palmer was once a Chosen One,” wrote Ty Schatler of Bleacher Report. “He was a Heisman Trophy winner and a No. 1 overall pick.Palmer was a franchise quarterback, a blue-chip prospect who put up better numbers faster than Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck or nearly anyone else in NFL history.”

In the Wild Card round of the playoffs, the Bengals were set to face their rival Steelers. The Steelers were everything that the Bengals weren’t and wanted to be. They were one of the most storied franchises in the NFL, with a collection of 4 Super Bowl titles from their 1970’s dynasty. They were riding high that year on the arm of rookie signal caller Ben Roethlisberger, who was only beginning to show flashes of the player he’d become today. On the first play of the game, Palmer threw a 66 yard touchdown pass to Chris Henry. As he let the ball go, Steelers defensive tackle Kimo von Oelhoffen wrapped up Palmers leg and violently brought him to the ground. Palmer lingered, visibly in pain. He would not return to the game. He had tears in major ligaments in his knee, as well as cartilage damage. At the time, it was seen as career threatening. Palmer, the young golden boy from California, the savior of the franchise, would never be the same player again.

The next years for the team were marred with inconsistency. After an encouraging 2006 campaign, Palmers next years in Cincinnati were derailed by injuries, leading to spotty performance from the once promising franchise quarterback. In 2007, he led the league in interceptions after a serious elbow injury. Chad Johnson became the legend of Ochocinco and then left for apparently greener pastures. Rudi Johnson fell off a cliff after the 2006 season. ALthough the team did make it back to the playoffs in 2009, they failed to find sustainable success. The center pieces of the teams once explosive offense fell apart through those years, leaving the team a shell of its former self and much like it was before Lewis had taken over. Those few years of encouragement were proven to be just a tease for the other downtrodden franchise in Ohio.

NFL Owners are impatient. They need wins, and they need it now. New coaches are typically given a three year window to build a winner, and if they don’t, they are out of town. The 49ers have fired two coaches in the past two years. The Browns have had six different head coaches since 2008. Right or wrong, coaches aren’t given patience when it comes to building their team.

The Bengals aren’t like that, though; they’re run differently than every other team in the league. Despite the stumbles of the Palmer era, hope remained in Lewis, even after losing ten straight games in 2010. Sure, they hadn’t won a playoff game in his first eight years as coach, but they were no longer the laughingstock they were before he came. They decided to give him more time to see his vision through properly.

"We are close to being the kind of team we can be," Brown said after that rocky 2010 campaign. "I think continuity will give us the best shot at becoming that team. We have a good relationship, Marvin and I. We work well together. It isn't an easy relationship, but it's a good one."

Hope sprang anney for the team in the 2011 NFL Draft, a record breaking draft class littered with future All-Pro talents. With the fourth pick in the draft, the Bengals replaced Ochocinco with a dynamic talent at receiver in A.J. Green. On day two, the team made the difficult decision to bring in another quarterback, presumably Palmer’s successor, in Andy Dalton. Dalton was a highly accurate quarterback out of TCU who, despite below average arm talent, presented an option that could start Week One.

The team entered training camp with a three way quarterback battle between Palmer, Dalton, and Bruce Gradkowski. Palmer became vocally frustrated, demanding a trade out of Cincinnati, or else he would retire. The team honored his request, sending him to Oakland for a first round pick, as well as a conditional second round pick. Dalton became the team's de facto starter.

Lewis’ crew immediately took steps back in the right direction with Dalton, making the playoffs in his first year under center. Lewis built a winning roster around Dalton, boasting what many had described as the strongest roster in the league.

“I’ll tell you, I do believe it is the most talented team in the league,” Harbaugh said. “We have great respect for them, for their coaches [and] the way they play. Obviously, it starts with A.J. Green, but the whole cast of characters there on offense is very talented and gifted – tight ends, running backs, quarterback. The whole group is very good, and they have a heck of an offensive line. I’d say they’re the complete package, talent-wise.”

Still, skepticism remained around the young signal caller in Dalton.

Dalton was an extremely streaky passer from his first day in the league. He would follow encouraging streaks of quality starts with blistering cold streaks that would hold the entire team hostage. In his first four years in the league, he showed little signs of improvement, with QBR’s of 44.5, 48.6, 56.8, and 53.9; four years in he was the same frustrating player that he was when he entered the league. Dalton also had a knack for cracking under pressure for critical games. In his first nine primetime games, Dalton had 56% completion percentage with 6 touchdowns, 11 interceptions, and a 2-7 record. Notably enough, Dalton lost his first four playoff games with the team, all on Wild Card weekend. He performed dreadfully in each of these games. Even though he was a Pro Bowl player, Dalton was holding a Super Bowl ready roster hostage with his mediocre play.

“Dalton's 2014 season shows how he perfectly straddles the middle tier of NFL quarterbacks,” wrote NFL Media’s Gregg Rosenthal. “ He's had a few disastrous moments: the shutout in Indy, the "TNF" meltdown against the Browns and the three-pick first half against the Bucs. But he's mixed in a few excellent showings and stayed out of the way more often than not.”

After that 2014 season, in which the Bengals predictable ended with a Wild Card round loss to the surging Colts, fans had had enough with Dalton. The clock was quickly ticking out of time for not only Dalton, but Marvin Lewis as well, who was now 0-7 in the playoffs. The ownership could only have so much patience before they were forced to make changes.

The ensuing summer, Dalton partook in the Celebrity Softball Game in his hometown of Cincinnati before a Reds game. As he took the field, Dalton was greeted with a sea of “Boos” from local fans. Their patience was up with Dalton. They were done waiting for him to make the leap. The crowd was letting him know exactly what they thought of him after four straight one and done trips in January.

After the game, Dalton shrugged off the fans reactions. “I’m not worried about it,” he said. “Everybody has got an opinion. It doesn’t really matter. It comes with it. Everybody has their opinion here. There’s a lot of support and that’s all that matters.”

Regardless of what he said than, it did matter to him, so much so that it sparked a change in the way Dalton approached the game.

“I’m not going to tell you it didn’t bother him,” said his offensive coordinator, Hue Jackson, to Peter King. “It did. When you have the success he has had—four seasons in the league, four times in the playoffs—getting booed in your own city, that has to hurt a bit. But he was able to hit one over the fence for a home run. And he flipped the bat. His message was sort of, You might not like me now, but you’re going to love me later. I truly believe that was a turning point for Andy.”

It was. Dalton returned for the 2015 season as a different player than he was the year before. He set the football world on fire over the first two months of the season, leading the team to an 8-0 record. In his second year in Hue Jackson’s offense, Dalton was a more confident player than he’d ever been before, taking selective shots down field to his numerous playmakers with more success than ever before. He proved doubters wrong with late game victories against quality opponents like the Ravens, Seahawks, and Steelers. Dalton even avoided the icy cold streaks of past years and for once looked like a franchise quarterbacks. Without their quarterback holding the team back anymore, the Bengals became instant Super Bowl contenders. For a split second, it looked like the Bengals were finally on track to find that elusive first playoff game.

Then, inevitabley, disaster struck as it always seems to in Cincinnati. In a Week 14 matchup against those most hated Steelers, Dalton injured his thumb on his throwing hand attempting to make a tackle after he threw an interception midway through the game. The Bengals went on to lose the game, and Dalton wouldn’t return the rest of the season.

From there, the once promising season began to unravel for Marvin Lewis. Although backup A.J. McCarron played as well as he could have been expected to in Dalton’s absence, the team lost to the eventual Super Bowl Champion Broncos in overtime, keeping the team from a first round bye in the playoffs and some much needed time to recover from injury. As fate would have it, they were set to play a surging and explosive Steelers team in a quest for that first playoff win.

Predictably, the game was a slugfest from the first kickoff. The rain partially neutralized the Steelers high-powered passing game, turning the game into a defensive battle between the two AFC North heavyweights. Without much juice on offense, the Bengals fell behind 16-0 heading into the fourth quarter. When it seemed as if the Steelers were going to run away yet again, violent linebacker Vontaze Burfict aggressively speared Ben Roethlisberger to the ground, taking him out of the game. Without their star quarterback, the Steelers offense struggled to move the ball, giving the Bengals a chance to take a 18-16 lead late in the fourth quarter. The victory was nearly sealed when Steelers backup quarterback Landry Jones threw an unforgivable interception with two minutes left. But as fans have come to know by now, this was a cursed franchise that couldn’t have nice things. We all know what happens next. Jeremy Hill fumbles deep in Pittsburgh territory, Big Ben comes back onto the field, and Burfict’s late hit puts the Steelers in position to kick a game ending field goal. In perhaps the cruelest ways of all, the Bengals were sent home again in January, with Lewis and Dalton left still winless in the playoffs.

With the inexcusable violence by some of his players, fans and writers took to the internet to call for Lewis’ job. They had every reason to be fed up at this point. Thirteen years into his tenure, longer than any coach save for Belichick have been in one position, Lewis was still winless in January. This was the tipping point. After the most encouraging of seasons, they were put down miserably to their most hated enemy once again on Wild Card Weekend, with plenty of fingers to point at Lewis for the lack of discipline on his part that potentially cost the team the game.

"I'm a former Bengal. I'm embarrassed by the way that this game ended and by the way these guys carried themselves on the football field today,"said Boomer Esiason after the game. "I feel bad for Marvin Lewis. I'll tell you one thing, if Lewis can't control his players, then maybe Marvin Lewis shouldn't be on the sideline coaching that drek."

The patience of the Brown family, however, lived on for yet another year. If Lewis is to finally win a playoff game, he will have to do it this year without notable key pieces from last year's squad. Hue Jackson, perhaps the person most responsible for Dalton’s growth in year five, left to coach the Browns. Two of the teams better receivers, Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu, were lured away in free agency. The team will start inexperienced Cedric Ogbuehi at right tackle. For a little while, 2015 looked like a perfect storm for the Bengals. It won’t be nearly as easy next year.

The fates of Marvin Lewis and Andy Dalton are forever intertwined at this point. Both are heavily maligned now, perhaps unfairly, and the patience of both the fanbase as well as the front office has to have run out by now. Their leash has to end somewhere. The narrative on these two is all but written, the two teases who toyed with the hearts of the Bengals fan base for years. The 2016 season offers one last chance to rewrite this story, to make it one of the coach who saved the lost franchise and brought the team back from the dead, or of the young quarterback who led his team to the playoffs every year before they struck big rather than a punchline. The stage is set, and it is up to these two men to follow through in what looks like a career defining year for that other team in Ohio.

Cover Image Credit: ABC News

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To The Girl Struggling With Her Body Image

It's not about the size of your jeans, but the size of your heart, soul, and spirit.

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To the girl struggling with her body image,

You are more than the number on the scale. You are more than the number on your jeans and dresses. You are way more than the number of pounds you've gained or lost in whatever amount of time.

Weight is defined as the quantity of matter contained by a body or object. Weight does not define your self-worth, ambition or potential.

So many girls strive for validation through the various numbers associated with body image and it's really so sad seeing such beautiful, incredible women become discouraged over a few numbers that don't measure anything of true significance.

Yes, it is important to live a healthy lifestyle. Yes, it is important to take care of yourself. However, taking care of yourself includes your mental health as well. Neglecting either your mental or physical health will inflict problems on the other. It's very easy to get caught up in the idea that you're too heavy or too thin, which results in you possibly mistreating your body in some way.

Your body is your special, beautiful temple. It harbors all of your thoughts, feelings, characteristics, and ideas. Without it, you wouldn't be you. If you so wish to change it in a healthy way, then, by all means, go ahead. With that being said, don't make changes to impress or please someone else. You are the only person who is in charge of your body. No one else has the right to tell you whether or not your body is good enough. If you don't satisfy their standards, then you don't need that sort of negative influence in your life. That sort of manipulation and control is extremely unhealthy in its own regard.

Do not hold back on things you love or want to do because of how you interpret your body. You are enough. You are more than enough. You are more than your exterior. You are your inner being, your spirit. A smile and confidence are the most beautiful things you can wear.

It's not about the size of your jeans. It's about the size of your mind and heart. Embrace your body, observe and adore every curve, bone and stretch mark. Wear what makes you feel happy and comfortable in your own skin. Do your hair and makeup (or don't do either) to your heart's desire. Wear the crop top you've been eyeing up in that store window. Want a bikini body? Put a bikini on your body, simple.

So, as hard as it may seem sometimes, understand that the number on the scale doesn't measure the amount or significance of your contributions to this world. Just because that dress doesn't fit you like you had hoped doesn't mean that you're any less of a person.

Love your body, and your body will love you right back.

Cover Image Credit: Lauren Margliotti

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5 Tasks The Detroit Pistons Must Do To Change The 8th-Seed Stigma

After speaking with my lawyer, blackmailing Tom Gores into selling the team is off the table.

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The Detroit Pistons returned to the NBA playoffs following a three-year hiatus. Unfortunately, the newest acquisitions to the coaching staff and roster weren't enough to change the narrative of Detroit Pistons basketball and first-round playoff sweeps. Milwaukee dominated the Pistons into a third-consecutive first-round playoff exit since 2009. What can the new titleholders of the NBA consecutive playoff game loss record do to revitalize their early 2000s reign as tenacious contenders within NBA's Eastern Conference?

1. Don't trade Andre Drummond

With the 9th pick in the first round of the 2012 NBA Draft, the Detroit Pistons selected Andre Drummond from the University of Connecticut. Throughout Drummond's six years in the NBA, he continues to adapt, learn, and overcome the adversity surrounding his athleticism and play-style.

The 2018-2019 NBA season was arguably best offensive and defensive season for the 25-year-old center. Trading the three-time NBA total rebound champion that led the league in defensive win shares the past two years is not the answer to our problems.

2. DEFINITELY (and I can't stress that enough) trade Jon Leuer

Jon Leuer received a four year, 24 million dollar contract in 2016 under the management of Stan Van Gundy. As Pistons fans suffering slowly comes to an end, we still have an opportunity to trade Leuer to acquire a player or draft picks that are basically guaranteed to prove more beneficial than Leuer's inconsistent run as a backup power forward.

The Detroit Pistons trading for Thon Maker mid-season was the nail in the coffin for Leuer's run as a Piston, finishing the season averaging 3.8 points, 2.4 rebounds throughout 41 games. We're already paying Josh Smith $5.3 million to sit at home and watch us get swept in the playoffs, we don't Jon Leuer sitting on the bench doing the same thing.

3. Acquire size, strength and defense on the wings

Whether it's in the NBA Draft, a trade (hopefully involving Jon Leuer) or even a free agency signing this off-season, the Pistons desperately need to establish depth of wing players. Currently, the Pistons don't have a single small forward on the team.

The Pistons current depth chart (considering we do not re-sign any expiring contracts) is made up of a single point guard, five shooting guards, three power forwards and one center. A wise man once advised the Pistons to use their size and strength to "form a fuckin' wall." Without small forwards, forming a wall isn't an option and mismatches will be an easy exploit for larger teams.

4. Weigh every option with the 15th draft pick

Due to our past drafting history, it's crucial for the front office and coaching staff to weigh every option before we use our 15th overall draft pick. It's common knowledge Detroit has struggled when it's come to the NBA Draft. The narrative began after skipping over talents like Carmelo Anthony, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh in 2003 and most recently with Donovan Mitchell, Devin Booker, and Giannis Antetokounmpo in recent drafts.

Trading the pick away, trading down in the draft, even trading up in the draft must all be considered. Shopping the draft pick should rank above using it specifically based on our shameful lack of cap space. The Pistons' picks in the 2019 NBA Draft are the only elusive assets Detroit has left until 2020.

5. Find a legal way to force Tom Gores to sell

Since blackmail is illegal, how about brainwash? Tom Gores bought the struggling team in 2011 for $325 million since then not much has changed. He's proved he isn't capable of responsibly owning the team after allowing Stan Van Gundy to take over as head coach and president of basketball operations on top of approving ridiculously priced contracts for players. I'm grateful he gave the Pistons a shot to prove themselves when rumors of relocation circled like vultures but it's time to move on.

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