When the Bengals drafted Carson Palmer with the NFL’s first overall pick in 2003, Boomer Esiason handed him a helmet and said, “Welcome to our dysfunctional family.”
This past September, the former Bengals quarterback used the line again.
“I’m going to remind everybody exactly what I said on the ‘NFL Today’ at the start of the season,” said Esiason. “I welcomed (likely 2012 top pick) Andrew Luck to the dysfunctional family and the season hadn’t even started. That’s how wrong I was.”
Boomer was obviously not alone in underestimating the Bengals this season. It was widely assumed that a team with a rookie starting quarterback and a new offensive coordinator was bound to struggle — especially considering the limited practice time coming out of the lockout.
“All I can do is go back to when I was a rookie,” said Esiason. “If Bengals fans remember those days – boy, I’ll tell you what – they were probably wondering what the heck the Bengals were thinking when they drafted me. I was clearly in over my head mentally. Physically I knew I could do it, but mentally, I was nowhere to be found. I remember Cris Collinsworth saying to somebody, ‘Are they kidding me with this guy?’ That’s not what they are saying about Andy.
“If it weren’t for Cam Newton he would be the Offensive Rookie of the Year. I can’t say enough good things about him, and I can’t say enough good things about what Jay Gruden has done for him. I can’t think of anybody at the beginning of the season – me included – that thought that the Bengals would be where they are today and they’re being led by a rookie quarterback which is even more astounding. And if Andy Dalton and Cam Newton weren’t playing, than A.J. Green has to be the Offensive Rookie of the Year. What that tells me is that the immediate future for the Cincinnati Bengals and their fan base looks to be extremely bright.”
With a win over Baltimore on Sunday, the Bengals would earn a playoff berth for the third time in the last seven years. There are only 10 teams that have made more playoff trips in that span (11 if the Cowboys beat the Giants on Sunday).
“I think this is the opportunity of a lifetime,” said Esiason. “This is one of those opportunity games that don’t come along for young players very often, and I know that Andy and A.J. and the rest of them are going to take it very seriously, and they shouldn’t expect anything other than to go out there and win. It shouldn’t be, ‘Hey, it’s great to be here and nobody expected us to be here.’ They should be saying, ‘Hey wait a minute. We can win this game, and possibly go on the road and play Houston with their rookie quarterback, and maybe get to the second round of the playoffs.’ Those are the things that I would be talking about in that locker room.”
Win or lose on Sunday, the Bengals have no shot at drafting Andrew Luck and Esiason is happy to have been so wrong.
“I think we should all sit back and take a breath and applaud what these kids have done – especially with very little training camp and no OTAs in the off-season. For them to step on the field and do this for a franchise that has been downtrodden and has gone through the Carson Palmer stuff, the T.O. stuff, the Ochocinco stuff, the Chris Henry death and everything that has happened there over the last 10 years and you see how they have come out of it. I tell you what, there’s a lot to be happy about and thankful for, and we have something to really look forward to.”
Boomer joined Dave Lapham and me on “Bengals Gameplan” on Wednesday. Click here to listen to the entire interview. Boomer’s segment begins at the 23 minute mark.
We were also joined on Wednesday’s show by Sam Monson, one of the top analysts for the website ProFootballFocus.com where the staff grades every NFL player on every play.
According to their research, one of this year’s biggest Pro Bowl snubs was Bengals defensive tackle Geno Atkins.
“Geno Atkins, at the moment, is our top-rated defensive tackle on the season and by far and away, he’s our top-rated pass rushing defensive tackle,” said Monson. “Only Justin Smith, who plays end but then kicks inside to tackle, generates anything like the amount of pressure that Geno Atkins generates from the inside. It’s just ludicrous that he hasn’t been picked as a Pro Bowl defensive tackle this season.”
According to ProFootballFocus.com, Geno’s statistics compare favorably to the numbers Ndamukong Suh posted last year when he was named the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year.
“At this time last year, Suh had 10 sacks, 6 knockdowns of the quarterback, and 24 more pressures,” said Monson. “Atkins is a little behind on the sacks, but he has significantly more knockdowns – he has 14 of those – and he has more pressure overall. The only difference is that the hype train ran away with Suh early and he was always deemed as this superstar defensive tackle, whereas Atkins has had to do it the hard way. This season he is flying under the radar and people just haven’t noticed, but his numbers are as good if not better than Suh’s were last year. And Atkins has been playing the run pretty well this season which I actually thought he might struggle with, but he’s been doing well and is actually pretty highly-rated as a run defender as well. Suh is still a liability against certain run plays and trap blocks and that kind of thing.”
I told Atkins on Thursday that a website had him rated as the top defensive tackle in the NFL.
“I don’t know what to say,” Geno told me. “I just don’t believe that, but if they say so…I guess it’s better than being called the worst defensive lineman in the NFL.”
I’ll be heading to Memphis for the Liberty Bowl on Friday, but I hope you’ll join Artrell Hawkins and Wayne “Box” Miller for “Bengals Pep Rally” from 3 to 6 at the Firehouse Grill in Blue Ash.
I’d love to hear from you at Dan.Hoard@bengals.nfl.net
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