No awards show this year. Can't have trophies and plaques and red carpets when you go 4-12.
This is more like a last-period school assembly in the gym with certificates of participation. But if these underclassmen keep playing the way they broke in and get an '11 letter jacket, this deal will be back in the auditorium next year.
MVP: Left tackle Andrew Whitworth
As much for his leadership as anything else. But the numbers are solid. According to Bengals offensive line coach Paul Alexander, Whitworth allowed two sacks this year and they were on the last series of games the Bengals trailed against Pro Bowlers John Abraham and Dwight Freeney. The Bengals give Whitworth help next-to-never and to give up just two sacks in a year Carson Palmer threw a franchise-record 586 passes is remarkable against a sked he faced six players with at least 7.5 sacks.
OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Wide receiver Terrell Owens
Owens was as advertised. A hired gun that didn't do much for team chemistry but gave some sizzle to the vertical passing game. He scored 25 percent of the team's 36 touchdowns with a team-high 72 catches and 983 yards even though he missed the last two games with a knee injury. We don't expect he'll be by to pick up his certificate and we're not sure he left a forwarding address.
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Cornerback Leon Hall
Solid. Reliable. Consistent. Hall finished with four interceptions and didn't have one after Oct. 24, but he kept a decimated secondary together. He rarely got run by, led the team in interceptions, passes defensed and forced fumbles, and finished in the top 10 in tackles. Plus, he was the only secondary starter that didn't miss a game because of injury.
SPECIAL TEAMS PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Linebacker Dan Skuta
Skuta, a free agent out of Grand Valley State, picked up where he left off his rookie year when finished fifth in special-teams tackles despite playing just eight games. In his second season he played all 16 and finished with the special teams title with a healthy margin over rookie middle linebacker Roddrick Muckelroy. Literally a hard-nosed performer, Skuta had to change his helmet last year because it left the bridge of his nose a bloody mess. This year it's a case of cauliflower ear. Look for another re-fit because he's apparently not going to stop hitting.
LINEMAN OF THE YEAR: Defensive tackle Domata Peko
The Bengals didn't have a very good year against the run, but the linebackers and safeties also had a big say in that. And Peko doesn't have the great numbers. He finished with the 13th-most tackles among NFL DTs, but the Bengals believe he's a top player with all the intangibles as well as strength and push. He's also a superb locker room guy.
OFFENSIVE ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: Tight end Jermaine Gresham
With an honorable mention to wide receiver Jordan Shipley. Pick up your blue ribbon after the assembly. Both led all AFC rookies with 52 catches, but Gresham started 10 games and played more snaps than Shipley. The guy was a no-brainer from the day he was drafted out of Oklahoma with the 21st pick. Not only did he flash some red-zone instincts with four touchdowns, but he also showed a willingness and talent to block. Gresham finished sixth in receiving among AFC tight ends, just three behind the Jets' Dustin Keller.
Typical rookie. Gresham wasn't always in the right place, but his reach-around-the-defender three-yard TD catch against San Diego shows what's on the way. His nine catches for 85 yards in the fourth quarter in Indianapolis is one of the NFL's underrated moments in 2010. His fumble in the final two minutes inside the 30 up there in a 23-17 game when he tried to drag people was a live and learn moment but showed how much he wants to win.
DEFENSIVE ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: LE Carlos Dunlap
Dunlap, the second-rounder from Florida, had only about 200 snaps out of the 1,000 the defense took. But his 9.5 sacks were .5 off the NFL rookie lead and the third-most by a Bengal in the last 19 seasons. At 6-6, 285 pounds, his body doesn't turn 22 until next month and the Bengals are thinking they've got a guy that can line up anywhere on the line and create havoc for years to come.
SPECIAL TEAMS ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: Linebacker Roddrick Muckelroy
Another blue ribbon runnerup award to safety Jeromy Miles. Muckelroy, a fourth-rounder from Texas, was second in tackles and hits to Skuta and, like Skuta, he played on all four special teams. Miles, a free agent from Massachusetts, didn't get off the practice squad until the last six games of the season. But as a gunner he helped the Bengals punt coverage team finish first in the NFL.
COMEBACK PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Cornerback Adam Jones
He may get it next year, too, because he suffered a season-ending herniated neck disc and played just five games. After coming off the NFL's Most Wanted poster in May, he did nothing but impress the Bengals with hard and smart work, his athleticism that was still top 10 worthy, and his diligence off the field.
After not playing at all in 2009, Jones had a hellacious preseason and continued to play well as the third corner. He had one of four interceptions against Joe Flacco in the win over Baltimore. His 27-yard punt return set up points against Tampa Bay and was the Bengals' longest return of the season. And his strip-and-score 59-yard fumble recovery gave the Bengals a third-quarter lead in Atlanta. He reports he's getting his neck brace off in two weeks and should be able to hit when training camp starts.
PERFORMANCE OF THE YEAR: Quarterback Carson Palmer
As the Bengals knocked the Chargers out of the playoffs with a 34-20 win at Paul Brown Stadium the day after Christmas, Palmer sifted the NFL's top-ranked defense with a career-high and near perfect passer rating of 157.2 on four touchdown passes and 269 yards. Owens' 222 yards in Cleveland was the second-best receiving day in Bengals history, but they lost.
QUOTE OF THE YEAR: Wide receiver Jerome Simpson
"I never stopped believing I could do it. I knew what I could do all the time. This is for all the people that support me and didn't support me. I knew I could do this from day one."
Simpson said it all after those six catches for 124 yards and two touchdowns against the Chargers. Until a week before, he had caught one ball for one yard in his three seasons. It might not be a bad motto for the Bengals 2011 season.