The Bengals left their Super Bowl headquarters on the outskirts of Hollywood like so many would-be stars who see their dreams crushed by big, bad Tinseltown.
In a Super Bowl opened by Mickey Guyton singing the National Anthem, spiced by Eminem and Mary J. Blige at halftime and attended by "The Rock," Chris Rock and the rock of the Dodgers, Clayton Kershaw, the Bengals came back to Cincinnati to revise their Lombardi Trophy script.
The Rocky Bengals, coming so close to becoming the first team to win a Super Bowl after finishing in last place the previous three seasons. The Field of Dream Bengals, who played a ghostly Super Bowl in which they came within 85 seconds of winning Super Bowl LVI by the same score they lost their last Super Bowl 33 years ago, 20-16. The Hoosiers Bengals, who got to the Super Bowl winning their last two games with buzzer-beaters and another one when their defense staged a picket fence in front of the end zone with 12 seconds left.
But as they go in for the revisions, this is probably going to be The Longest Yard offseason. After beginning and ending the Super Bowl unable to convert third-and-one and fourth-and-one, short yardage no doubt heads up the list of priorities that begin to take shape this week.
After the first February game in Bengals history, the cast and crew is on a tight schedule with Wednesday serving as both the unofficial end of the 2021 season and the start of 2022.
In the morning, head coach Zac Taylor zooms with the media in what promises to be a wide-ranging session covering the 23-20 Super Bowl loss to the Rams as well as the club's offseason plans for defending the AFC title.
Later in the day, Taylor, his coordinators and ownership plan to attend a 5 p.m. free rally at Washington Park staged by 3CDC and Fifth Third Bank as Cincinnati mayor Aftab Pureval and city council honors the Bengals' third Super Bowl team. Also expected to be on hand is Ohio First Lady Fran DeWine.
With the Bengals arriving Monday evening, Tuesday wasn't the normal clean-out day at Paul Brown Stadium. Physicals had been completed in Los Angeles and the players had no more obligations, but some straggled in during the day. The practice squad players signed their 2022 contracts. Some picked up their luggage. Some worked out. Some, like quarterback Joe Burrow, did both.
Burrow, about 36 hours removed from limping off the field early in the fourth quarter before coming back, isn't expected to have his offseason altered after his right knee got twisted underneath him. He spent some time in the weight room, packed up his chess set and carried out the black-and-white suit striped like the Bengals helmet that he wore to the Super Bowl while continuing his good-natured banter with Bengals equipment honcho Sam Staley.
Now it's time for the Bengals front office to play chess. The first move is in two weeks at the March 1-7 NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis Two weeks after that, on March 16, free agency begins. In 62 days, the players return for offseason workouts. Then the draft is April 28-30.
Welcome to an NFL offseason, filled with givens and questions. Burrow is the main piece on the board, a given. A few feet away is a question, injured defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi. Ogunjobi signed a one-year, $6 million deal last year and was exactly what they needed at the three technique with seven sacks and a huge fumble recovery in the Wild Card before hurting his foot.
The interest figures to be very mutual. But the only thing certain Tuesday was Ogunjobi doesn't smoke and as he grabbed stuff from his locker he offered up two fat wrapped cigars from the AFC North and AFC championship celebrations.
So the script doesn't need much change. They have the characters. There is winning choreography and production. The plot is solid. They just need to work on some lines (re-signing big contributors such as Ogunjobi, free safety Jessie Bates III, tight end C.J. Uzomah, defensive tackle B.J. Hill) and punch up the ending.
The Bengals leaders who spoke from the media podiums Sunday night already set the tone heading into the May practices.
"We don't celebrate moral victories, but we're glad we're out here," said nose tackle D.J. Reader. "There are a bunch of guys on this team who have won championships and want to win. I think it just gives us fuel to come back next year and get back to the drawing board. The team will be different, guys will be different, but it will be the same goal."
They figure to make a big move to re-sign Bates and he sounded as if he'd like to keep starring in the movie.
"This group is a special group. We know it," Bates said. "It's tough that every year there's a new team. This group was special but next year it's going to look different but our standard is our standard is our standard. I think we set a standard here in Cincinnati. It's going to continue for a long time and even the guys that aren't going to be here, that's a standard that they can take to another team, go be a dad, whatever it is in life. That standard that we built this year was something special."
Which is the first line of the script.