No red carpet. No black tie. No cocktail hours, or after parties, or A-listers, or 5-star reservations.
In bowing to a locker room consensus that vowed this season would only be a success with a deep run in the playoffs, the Bengals.com postseason superlatives are getting sent by registered mail with no trophy-fest. But the best season under head coach Marvin Lewis, including top 10 NFL rankings in all three phases and an undefeated regular season at home, shouldn't be vaporized from the archives.
HIGHLIGHT OF THE YEAR: RB
Take your pick.
Or, his 41-yard-catch-run against the Vikings on Dec. 22 in a 42-14 victory at Paul Brown Stadium.
As a safety valve out of the backfield, Bernard caught a ball in the right flat from scrambling quarterback
If Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer becomes the head coach in Minnesota, we can assume that one is going to be viewed in one of the first meetings.
LOWLIGHT OF THE YEAR: A tie between the snapshots of two-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle
The loss of Atkins began to take its toll as the season wore on. Without Atkins, regarded as the best inside pass rusher in the league, the Bengals front four had good pressure but not the same amount. Example? The Bengals had one sack in their wild card loss to the Chargers. A week later the Broncos, 17th in the NFL in generating sacks per pass, dumped Philip Rivers twice on the first series.
GAME OF THE YEAR: This one set the tone for the Paul Brown Stadium season; a wild, 34-30 fourth-quarter victory over the Packers on Sept. 22 that got the Bengals turned the right way at 2-1. But Dalton didn't get the comeback victory, not after the defense had to rescue the offense from four turnovers.
After head coach Marvin Lewis won a challenge that turned a Packers first down into a fourth-and-one, Bengals right end
The defense then stopped Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers on the Bengals 25 for the win. Rodgers, who came in with 10 100-plus passer rating road games in the past three seasons, ended up at 65.5.
STAT OF THE YEAR: 56.7.
The combined passer rating of Super Bowl-winning QBs Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger, Tom Brady and Joe Flacco at PBS while holding them to just three touchdown passes. If Zimmer gets a head coaching job, he leaves with a Picasso.
MVP: WILL linebacker Vontaze Burfict.
It has to be a defensive player with stats like that. The defense's one Pro Bowl player.
Or, stats like this:
The same deal went down in the playoff game. After four turnovers, the Chargers got three field goals even though they got the ball on the Bengals 3 and Bengals 46.
Or, stats like this:
The defense scored six TDs at PBS.
Burfict scored one of them, a 13-yard fumble return after one of his league-leading 204 tackles, a hellacious shot on Browns running Chris Ogbonnaya on the checkdown pass from hell. It was a microcosm of the unbridled passion Burfict brings to the game and has shot through the rest of the defense. He relays the signals from the bench. He sets the huddle. His teammates say his take-no-prisoners attitude is contagious. His position coach estimates he played more than 93 percent of the snaps. The only time he comes off the field is when he's hurt.
And not even then. Burfict sprained his ankle right before the trip to San Diego, flew cross country in a boot, convinced Lewis to take him off the inactive list a few hours before the game, and ended up making 13 tackles.
"I've got to beg him to get off the field if he's hurt," says linebackers coach Paul Guenther, who is in the press box. "Against Minnesota we had a pretty good lead late and he wouldn't come out. I told him, 'Don't make me come down there and pull you out of there,' and he finally got out. But that's the kind of relationship we have."
Burfict was fined more than $50,000 this season for some enthusiastic hits and while the Bengals would like him to take it down a notch at times, Lewis almost always defends him publicly and vehemently. In the end, Burfict gives the Bengals what this defense has lacked, it seems, forever: a never-back-down swagger. A must in the AFC North.
OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: WR
It could be quarterback Andy Dalton with his club-record 33 TD passes. It could be
But it has to be Green. For one thing, he's the offense's only Pro Bowler. For another, he set club records with five straight 100-yard games and six overall in a season. And finally, he came within 17 yards of Chad Johnson's single-season receiving yards record while racking up the second-most yards of anyone in NFL history in their first three seasons.
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: Bernard
He's already attacking the record book and being mentioned in the same breath as Corey Dillon and James Brooks, the top two rushers in Bengals history. Bernard racked up 1,209 scrimmage yards, most by a Bengals rookie since Dillon and caught 56 balls, breaking Brooks's record for a back. His 4.1-yards per carry average on 170 carries (10 carries per game) looks like it is going to translate into a bigger workload for Bernard under new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson. In 2011 when Jackson was the head coach of the Raiders, his top two rushers, Michael Bush and Darren McFadden, each averaged 16 carries per game.
After an injury-plagued rookie season in 2012 in which he had 18 catches for 201 yards and a touchdown in 11 games, Jones went off in his sophomore year and became one of the most dynamic receivers in the NFL. He not only became the first NFL player to score four touchdowns in a game in six years when he caught four of them against the Jets, he teamed up with Green to form the first Bengals tandem in history to each catch at least 10 TDs. His 10 TDs on 51 catches went along with a playoff-record 130 yards against the Chargers, breaking Cris Collinsworth's 30-year-old record.
For all the talk about red-zone targets (Green, tight ends
SPECIAL TEAMS PLAYER OF THE YEAR: P
A nod here to returner
But it's hard to ignore what Huber did before he was lost for the season in that Pittsburgh game on Dec. 15 with a broken jaw after what may have been his worst punt in a very solid season. Even before he was named AFC Special Teams Player of the Week in San Diego on Dec. 1 with a 55.5-yard net, he was a huge factor with three straight late kicks that won games, starting with his 57-yard bomb into a monsoon against New England. The next week in Buffalo he pinned the Bills on their 7-yard line to set up the winning field goal and the week after that he dropped one on the 6 with 1:52 left to set up another winning field goal at the gun. And he had just four touchbacks all season.
ASSISTANT COACH OF THE YEAR: Linebackers coach Paul Guenther
Not only did Burfict come off the free-agent rolls to the Pro Bowl, but Guenther saw four players suffer season-ending injuries, two before the season began. One of them, fourth-rounder
When Lamur (shoulder) went down in the preseason finale, Guenther requested
"My thing with our guys is that I'd tell them why they were doing something," Guenther said. "I didn't want to just say, 'Do this because I told you so.' I think it helps them learn it if you tell them why and give them reasons."
Guenther, a close confidant of Zimmer, may end up replacing him if Zimmer gets a head coaching job. Or, as has been speculated, he could follow Zimmer.
HONORABLE MENTION: Defensive line coach Jay Hayes
Hayes also had to adapt to injuries. Not only did he lose his best player in Atkins, but he also lost his most experienced and versatile when
HONORABLE MENTION: Special teams coach Darrin Simmons
Simmons took the brunt of the trickle-down-effect from the injuries at backer because they are his biggest cover guys and blockers. Last year, Lamur and Mays were his fourth- and sixth-leading tacklers, respectively. Plus, he lost his top two tacklers from last season, linebacker Dan Skuta to free agency, and safety Jeromy Miles to a roster crunch after the opener. Then when Mays got hurt, he had to juggle Rey's snaps after he was special teams' third-leading tackler in 2012.
And, of course, the injury to Huber the week before the Bengals closed the season against the two best punt return teams in the NFL.
But they did more than survive. No, the Bengals special teams didn't defend their 2012 title when they led the NFL in a compilation of the 10 major special teams categories. And, yes, they blew the game in Pittsburgh with a terrible 13 minutes.
But they also put up top 10 numbers, won two games on the road with field goals at the gun made possible by punts, had the longest winning kick in club history on
BEST HUE JACKSON STATS FOR 2014
21-3: The record for Dalton and Bengals when they rush at least 30 times in a game.
0: Playoff games Bengals have rushed at least 30 times with Dalton.