Maualuga Hits The Big Screen

Posted by Dan Hoard on May 22, 2014 – 11:25 am

In early February, I went to see the movie American Hustle and was stunned when Rey Maualuga appeared in the preview for a baseball flick.

“Everyone was like, ‘I think I saw you in a trailer. Did you do a movie?’” said Maualuga with a laugh.

Trailer – Million Dollar Arm on Disney Video

In Million Dollar Arm, actor Jon Hamm of Mad Men fame plays a real-life sports agent named J.B. Bernstein who goes to India in search of baseball talent after losing the chance to represent a high-profile football star.

The script called for a football player of Samoan descent, so the casting agents reached out to NFL teams and encouraged candidates to try out.

Rey and Domata (440x440)

“Domata Peko and I did an audition video,” Maualuga told me. “He did his own and I did my own. I don’t think it was a competition between the two of us – we just figured, ‘Why not give it a try and see what happens?’”

Maualuga got a member of the Bengals video department to shoot his audition and asked a fellow linebacker for some coaching.

“He asked me for some tips and we rehearsed some of the lines together,” said Vinny Rey. “I was a theater minor at Duke so I had a tiny bit of experience. When I heard that he got the role I was ecstatic.”

“I did it right here in the player’s lounge – it took about a half hour,” said Maualuga. “They e-mailed me the script. Vinny helped me stay comfortable and got me saying my lines the way the director wanted.”

“I told Rey that the most important thing is to just go for it,” Vinny told me. “Don’t be nervous, don’t be ashamed – just go for it and act like it’s real. Just play the character. I’ve been telling him that I should be getting 3% like his agent.”

Maualuga’s scenes were shot last off-season in Atlanta.

Rey in movie (440x415)

“It was a great experience,” he said. “It’s something I’ve never done before and something I never thought that people would be calling me and asking me to do. When I heard I got the part, I was happy and excited to get that crossed off of my bucket list.

“I didn’t know how it actually happens with the different camera angles and all the takes that you have to do. I got to see a behind-the-scenes look at how everything gets done. It was fun.”

While his character rejects the agent played by Hamm in the movie, the two of them hit if off on the set.

“He’s a great guy and obviously an awesome actor,” said Maulauga. “We just talked about being comfortable. It’s just like me being on a football field. Practice makes perfect. If you mess up, you mess up and obviously you try to correct your mistakes by doing what is necessary. He told me to calm down and said that he messes up a bunch.”

The film was released nationally last weekend and Maualuga watched it with teammates and Bengals fans.

“On Friday, Domata’s wife rented out a whole movie theater,” said Maualuga.

“Me and my wife noticed that Rey couldn’t go to the premier because we had practice and he couldn’t make it out to Hollywood, so we just wanted to have a little private screening for him in the Cincinnati area,” Peko told me. “We rented out a movie theater, invited our teammates and their families, and then we invited 50 people on Twitter and Instagram to come with us.”

Million Dollar Arm has received generally favorable reviews from movie critics, and Maualuga’s acting debut got high marks from his teammates.

“He looked really natural – I was surprised,” said Marshall Newhouse. “He’s spent enough time in California that I’m sure he has the whole Hollywood thing down. He did a good job.”

“I think he has a future in Hollywood,” said Peko. “All the fans that came to the screening said that he did a great job.”

Still, Maualuga’s movie role is sure to result in some good-natured abuse in the Bengals’ locker room.

“His character’s name was Popo so we’ll see how that goes,” said Newhouse. “We’ll see if that sticks or not.”

“We’ve been joking around and calling him Rey Travolta,” said Peko.

Several NFL players have gone on to have successful acting careers after their playing days including Fred Dryer, Ed Marinaro, and Carl Weathers. Might that be in the cards for Maualuga?

“I’m going to try to play football for as long as I can, but if they come calling I’m not going to turn it down,” he said.

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Bengals trade up to get center in fourth

Posted by hobsonschoice1 on May 10, 2014 – 1:24 pm

For just the third time in their history the Bengals traded up in the draft Saturday and they selected a center some believe can be a decade-long starter in the NFL when they tapped North Carolina’s Russell Bodine.

The Bengals gave their first of two six-rounders to Seattle to move from No. 123 to No. 111 and grabbed the 6-3, 310-pound Bodine, a two-year starter that declared for the draft as a junior.

Bodine has a take-charge reputation as a locker-room leader as well as a mauler persona on the field. He comes out of the same quick-paced shotgun offense that produced Bengals running back Giovani Bernard, but has snapped to the quarterback in goal-line situations.

The Bengals cut long-time starter Kyle Cook earlier in the offseason and have been seeking a more physical presence in the middle. They also re-signed Mike Pollak, in part, to replace Cook, but Pollak, a natural center in college, has only played guard in the NFL.

“A physical player who enjoys playing the game,” according to Ourlads Scouting Services. “Not a finesse player. Players with attitude and effort…Plays with head on the swivel. Square in pass protection. Will get push in the running game.”

The last time the Bengals traded up in the draft was in the 2002 third round, when they traded with Detroit to go up from No. 73 to No. 67 for Texas Christian tight end Matt Schobel. That came seven years after they went up from No. 5 to No. 1 in a trade with Carolina that gave them Penn State running back Ki-Jana Carter.


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Combine Record-Breaker Returns To Bengals

Posted by Dan Hoard on May 6, 2014 – 2:26 pm

With two days left to obsess over “measureables” leading up the draft, it is worth pointing out that the defensive end who clocked the fastest 40-yard dash time for that position in NFL Scouting Combine history will be in training camp with the Bengals this year.

And it’s not Jadeveon Clowney.


Dontay Moch, who ran a 4.4 at the combine before being drafted by the Bengals in the third round in 2011, is back in Cincinnati after being claimed off of waivers from Arizona in mid-March.

“Coach Lewis called me and said, ‘Hey, are you ready to be back?’” said Moch. “I was like, ‘What are you talking about?’ I thought he was pulling my leg. But once I got that phone call and they told me I was going to be back here and sent me on that flight it felt good.

“I’ve always had good vibes here and I love the atmosphere and energy. It’s a great place to be and I’m honored to be back and eager to get working.”

The 25-year-old only played in one regular season game in his first two seasons in Cincinnati due to chronic migraines. After finding an effective way to treat them prior to last season, Moch led the Bengals with three preseason sacks but wound up being one of their final cuts at the end of training camp.

“He’s been through a lot – both personally and professionally,” said head coach Marvin Lewis. “He’s a young guy that we drafted and brought in here and it has not gone the way that we expected, but a lot has happened in his life.”

Cincinnati tried to keep Dontay on the practice squad last year, but the former University of Nevada star elected to sign with Arizona instead.

“That’s my hometown and you can’t go wrong playing on your home field,” said Moch. “It was definitely something that I was glad I could do, but at the same time, it’s good to be back where I started.”

“He had an opportunity to stay here last year and he chose to go to another team,” said Coach Lewis. “It helped him grow.”

Moch Cardinals (308x440)

Moch was on Arizona’s active roster for the final 13 games and registered his first NFL sack vs. Tampa Bay. The Cardinals worked him at linebacker and as a rush end, but that is not the plan in Cincinnati.

“We tried him some at linebacker and we realized that the best thing that he does in pass rush,” said defensive coordinator Paul Guenther. “So we’re going to have him concentrate on defensive end and hopefully he’ll give us an added burst off the edge.

“It’s hard for a guy that played defensive end to try to learn linebacker at the highest level. It takes some time to do that. But after thinking about it, the best thing for him is to be a rusher. Just put his hand on the ground and go forward most of the time.”

With the loss of Michael Johnson to free agency, Moch will be a candidate to be part of the rotation at defensive end.

“In previous years I was always his back-up,” said Moch. “The fact that he isn’t here – he is a great guy and a great athlete and I’m glad that he got the deal that he did – it does open up a few doors for me and lets them see where I can fit in.”

“I’m excited to have him back because he knows the system and should fit right in,” said Domata Peko. “I can’t wait to see what he can do. In previous years he had a couple of guys in front of him and it was hard for him to get playing time. Now he might get his chance to shine.”

With Moch’s freakish size/speed ratio, the Bengals are hoping he can make an impact as a pass rusher and on special teams.

“He’s got a couple of things that he has to work on as far as the bull-rush and all that, but I don’t think there’s a player that can match his speed coming off the edge,” said Adam Jones. “If he stays healthy I think he’ll be a good addition to the team.”

“It’s really make it or break it for him,” said Coach Lewis. “I’m excited for him. He knows what his role is going to be. I thought he did a much better job for us last year in special teams in the preseason and hopefully he can continue with that and have a chance to be one of the guys to stay.”

Moch says it feels like he was never gone.

“It’s amazing how I just came back, moved one locker away, and added a few more digits to the number I had previously,” Dontay told me. “I’m #92 instead of #52. I am a defensive end and I’m going to be a heat-seeking missile out there.”

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Black Is Happy To Be Back

Posted by Dan Hoard on May 4, 2014 – 10:02 pm

Imagine your worst nightmare being nationally televised.

Imagine you’re Larry Black.


Last July, the rookie defensive tackle out of Wyoming High School and Indiana University suffered a fractured leg and dislocated ankle in the sixth practice of training camp. The injury and Black’s devastated reaction – including the phone call where he broke the news to his parents – were all captured last year on the first episode of Hard Knocks.

“At the time I didn’t know what was going to happen – it just sucked,” Larry told me. “I saw stuff flash before me that I never would have thought.”

His teammates have differing opinions on whether Black’s anguish should have been included on the NFL’s ultimate reality TV show.

“It’s tough on any player to have a major injury like that and for it to be shown the way that it was – that’s one of the things that you would like to keep in the locker room,” said Clint Boling. “But that was just part of the experience of Hard Knocks.”

“I think it’s good for everybody watching to see how this world works and how fragile it can be,” said Margus Hunt.

Nine months after having his personal trauma televised, Black says it all worked out for the best.

“It is part of the game and it actually turned out great for me,” said Black. “I have a lot of supporters and I got a lot of feedback from people. I realized out how much they actually cared. Things have a way of working out and somehow it worked out to my benefit.”

Larry Black (305x440)

After spending last season on injured reserve, Black was given a clean bill of health in mid-February. He’s been able to fully participate in the team’s offseason workout program which began two weeks ago.

“Oh man, it feels great just to be part of the team,” Larry told me. “When you’re on IR, you’re part of the team but you feel distant because you’re not working the same hours. You come in for rehab and you watch a little film, but you’re still not putting in the same amount of time. It just feels good to be back around the guys again doing the same stuff at the same level.”

“He’s back with us and he looks great,” said Wallace Gilberry. “I’m excited and I think everybody else is too to see him get in here and get in the rotation and see how he can contribute.”

Black was an undrafted free agent last year and faces stiff competition in trying to make the team as a defensive lineman. But in addition to showing his injury, Hard Knocks also allowed us to hear the coaching staff complimenting his play and saying that he had a legitimate shot at an NFL career.

“I thought that I was playing good ball when I got hurt and I need to pick up where I left off,” said Black. “My ankle is 100% and it’s a blessing that I recovered the way that I did after that injury. I’m just looking forward to getting better and better as a player each and every day.”

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Bengals Move On Without Johnson and Zimmer

Posted by Dan Hoard on April 28, 2014 – 12:40 pm

Last year the Bengals knew that they would probably lose Michael Johnson to free agency at the end of the season. For several years, they’ve known there was a decent chance that Mike Zimmer would leave for a head coaching opportunity.

Johnson and Zimmer (356x269)

But when the players returned to Paul Brown Stadium last week to begin offseason workouts, they faced the stark reality that Johnson and Zimmer are gone.

“It was pretty sad,” said Carlos Dunlap. “Mike (Johnson) was my guy. We had a great thing going, but he got a great opportunity down in Tampa and couldn’t pass it up. It’s part of the business.

“And losing Zim is most definitely going to be different. It’s probably going to be quieter.  Obviously Zim got a head coaching job which he’s worked hard for and was well-deserving of, but now (Coach Guenther) gets a great opportunity to step up and try to fill the role of the guy he coached with.”

In Johnson, Cincinnati is losing a defensive end who was productive and durable. ranked him 4th among NFL defense ends in 4-3 schemes last year. Fortunately, the loss comes at a position group where the Bengals have Wallace Gilberry, Margus Hunt, Devon Still, and Brandon Thompson waiting in the wings and Geno Atkins and Robert Geathers returning from injury.

“We’re going to miss Mike a lot, but it is part of the business,” said Geathers. “We figured it was probably going to happen after he got the (franchise) tag. We attack it by committee anyway. We have a good group of guys and really good depth so I’m pretty sure there’s going to be even more competition.”

“Geno Atkins is the best defensive lineman in the league and to get him back healthy will make our rotation second to none,” said Dunlap.

In Zimmer, Cincinnati is losing a coordinator that guided the Bengals’ defense to top 10 finishes in yards and points allowed in four of the past five seasons. But the players say they’re confident that former linebackers coach Paul Guenther is ready to take over.

“It’s definitely going to be weird,” said Still. “Zim was our defense and taught us basically everything that we know. But Paul studied under Zim and he’s a helluva coach himself. I’m looking forward to seeing what it’s like to be coached by him this year.”

“Experience is the only difference,” said Dunlap. “I feel like Paulie G. has been with Zim for so long that he knows his X’s and O’s. He just hasn’t been a defensive coordinator and being ‘the guy’ is different from being one of the guys.”

“He’s very confident and knows what he’s talking about,” said Gilberry. “They definitely passed the torch to the right guy.”

The changes in personnel haven’t changed the bottom line: To get back to the playoffs and finally get over the hump in the postseason.

“It’s a new year and you have to do it all over again,” said Geathers. “It doesn’t matter what we did last year or how it ended. It’s a new season and nobody cares what we did last season. Nobody cares that we were undefeated at home or none of that stuff. We have to start all over and get back to where we want go.”

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Defending Dalton

Posted by Dan Hoard on April 23, 2014 – 3:08 pm

I feel the need to defend Andy Dalton.

Dalton black uniform (440x330)

Not for his play. I think most reasonably-minded fans agree that he’s been good in the regular season and bad in his three playoff games. As a result, I understand why many people question the Bengals’ stated desire to extend Dalton’s contract now instead of allowing him to play out the final year of his deal like the Ravens did with Joe Flacco before he led them to a Super Bowl title.

But I’m bothered by the reaction to Andy’s comments on Monday when discussing his contract status with a group of about seven reporters (myself included).

For example, Dalton saying, “I do” when asked if he considers himself to be the face of the franchise.

On the surface, it might sound arrogant. What about A.J. Green or Geno Atkins or Marvin Lewis?

Here’s the backstory. The Enquirer’s Paul Dehner Jr. asked Andy if he ever gets wowed by the amount of money that NFL quarterbacks make.

“It’s a quarterback-driven league, so quarterbacks get rewarded a lot of money,” Dalton responded. “If you’re the quarterback of the team, you’re the face of the franchise. These teams obviously believe in their guy so they’re going to pay him that way.”

At that point, ESPN’s Coley Harvey asked the natural follow-up: “Do you feel you’re the face of this franchise?”

“I do,” Dalton said. “And I feel like everything that Marvin’s said and Hue’s said and everybody here has told me that.”

Is that arrogant? Or obvious?

Dalton is basically saying he believes he’s a franchise quarterback and the coaching staff has given him every indication that they agree.

A few minutes later, I brought up Flacco’s defiant attitude during his walk year in Baltimore. More specifically, how the Ravens’ QB publically referred to himself as an elite quarterback and basically said “screw you” to anybody that disagreed. I then asked Andy if he ever felt like saying the same thing to his critics.

“I’m very confident in what I’ve done,” Dalton answered. “The critics look at all the negative – they don’t look at all of the stuff that I’ve accomplished. They don’t look at the fact that I’m one of three quarterbacks in the history of the NFL to do certain things. They don’t look at that kind of stuff. They want to find ways to tear me down. I’m not worried about any of that. They can say anything they want. All that matters is what everybody believes in this organization and what I believe in myself.”

If you only read his answer, it might come off as whiny, but Andy was specifically responding to how he deals with criticism.

Paul Daugherty wrote a story today in the Enquirer making the case that Dalton needs to be a better leader by taking more blame when things don’t go well. It’s a case that Doc has made a few times since the Bengals’ playoff loss to San Diego.

One of the reasons why Paul is a great columnist is that he has strong opinions and expresses them well. In this case, I think Andy has already realized that he needs to change.

In another interview session on Monday with local TV reporters (you can watch it here), Dalton was asked about last year’s playoff failure and said, “I didn’t play my best and the team as a whole didn’t play its best.” Later he added, “I could have played better.”

Perhaps that’s not the “This one’s on me” tone that Doc is looking for, but I think it’s a step in the right direction.

After listening to Andy’s press conferences for three years, it’s clear that he’s been well-trained to avoid providing bulletin board material (Bill Belichick would approve). He keeps things pretty generic and generally talks about the team instead of himself. But I don’t ever recall hearing Andy throw a teammate under the bus. Has he ever complained about a bad game by the offensive line? About a dropped pass or a poorly run route? While it would probably play well in the locker room if he accepted the lion’s share of the blame after playing poorly in a loss, I am not under the impression that his comments have caused locker room friction. At least not yet.

Let’s face it, what Andy Dalton needs to do is lead the Bengals to postseason success. Period. Everything else – including his comments on Monday – is just talk.

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Cobi Hamilton Says He’s On The Right Track

Posted by Dan Hoard on April 22, 2014 – 1:25 pm

It’s not unusual for NFL players to work out at their former colleges in the offseason, but in Cobi Hamilton’s case, there’s a bit of a twist. When the wide receiver returned to Arkansas after his first year with the Bengals, he worked out with the Razorbacks’ track team, not the football team.

Hamilton vs Dallas (440x315)

“With the new football coaches at Arkansas, I guess I’m more comfortable with the track coaches because I ran track for two years and those coaches are still there,” said Hamilton. “I drop in on the football coaches every now and then, but there are a lot of new faces so it’s kind of weird. So I work out and lift weights with the track team because there’s a comfort level.

“Some of the same guys that I ran with my freshman and sophomore years are seniors now, or may be going into the pros. Two or three of those guys are really fast, so I work out with them and it benefits me a lot. It’s not the same as football conditioning, but it keeps your legs in shape.”

Hamilton was listed at 6’2”, 205 pounds last year and says that he’s probably dropped some weight as a result of the track workouts.

“I stay in contact with the fellas during the offseason, so I knew what his plan was,” said wide receivers coach James Urban. “We talked about how important this offseason was going to be for him.

“He had to get himself in a little better shape which he’s done. He looks great now and really embraced it in the offseason.”

The Bengals drafted Hamilton in the sixth round last year after a prolific senior season at Arkansas in which Cobi finished with 90 catches for 1,335 yards. After making seven receptions in the preseason last year including a 4-yard TD catch against Dallas (watch it here), Hamilton spent the regular season on Cincinnati’s practice squad

“Cobi made as big of strides from the beginning of training camp to the end of the season as anyone I’ve ever been around,” said Urban. “It was learning the system…learning how to practice…learning how to compete daily…just learning how to be a pro. There are some guys that come ready-made for it and some guys that take a little while. We’re excited about him.”

“It took a lot of reps, but things started coming a little bit easier for me towards the end of the season and I started to make more plays,” said Hamilton.

Hamilton in rain (440x297)

With the loss of Andrew Hawkins to Cleveland in free agency, Hamilton will be looking to break into the wide receiver rotation this season under new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson.

“Hue pulled me aside last year when he was the running backs coach and encouraged me to get better,” said Hamilton. “He was always whispering in my ear, ‘Do you know how good you can be?’”

Cobi received similar encouragement from his position coach.

“He just wasn’t quite making the plays that I saw him make at Arkansas during training camp and the early part of the year,” said Urban. “So I kept saying, ‘What do we have to do to get you to make the plays that I know you can make. I know you can make them.’”

Now the former 200-meter runner at Arkansas says that he’s on the right track to contribute at wide receiver in Cincinnati.

“Now I know what it takes to be an NFL player,” Cobi told me. “I’m excited for this season and I’m ready to get going.”

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Bernard Making Childhood Dream Come True

Posted by Dan Hoard on April 21, 2014 – 2:03 pm

When the Bengals returned to town on Monday to begin off-season workouts, one of the first players that I wanted to talk to was running back Giovani Bernard.

Not about his outstanding rookie year.

Not about new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson.

And not about his hopes and expectations for the upcoming season.

The number one topic was this hilarious drawing he made as a 7-year-old that was recently posted on Instagram by the NFL Network’s Aditi Kinkhabwala.

Bernard 7 year old drawing (440x440)

“They came over to my home in South Florida,” said Bernard. “I haven’t even seen that thing in years, but they were able to find it in a locked-up place.

“My family saved it and tried to embarrass me, but it was cool to see it.”

Kinkhabwala and an NFL Network crew recently accompanied Bernard on a trip to Haiti where Gio’s family is helping to build a school in honor of his late mother Josette.

Despite finishing with 1,209 combined rushing/receiving yards and scoring eight touchdowns as a rookie, Giovani is still anonymous in his parents’ homeland.

Green Bay Packers v Cincinnati Bengals

“They don’t know anything about American football there,” said Bernard. “If I was a soccer player they would probably know me, but since I’m an American football player they don’t. It was good to go somewhere where nobody really knows you and just experience it. It was good to give back to the community and the school.”

The trip was part of a feature story on Bernard’s inspiring journey to the NFL. It you haven’t watched it already, here’s the link.

Now that Gio is back in Cincinnati to begin his second NFL season, there is strong speculation that he will be the featured running back under Hue Jackson. Last year, Bernard finished with 226 “touches” (170 carries and 56 receptions) while BenJarvus Green-Ellis had 224.

“I’m not going to expect more touches or less,” said Bernard. “For me, it’s whatever the situation dictates and Hue will decide. You just go from there. I’m real close to BenJarvus and I really admire what he does on the field. We’re both good players and can be on the field at any time, so it’s Hue’s call.”

That’s a unselfish attitude. It didn’t make his list as a 7-year-old, but it’s another thing that makes Giovani Bernard special.

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A Lesson From Lefty?

Posted by Dan Hoard on January 7, 2014 – 2:11 am

Phil Mickelson visited the wrong locker room.

Mickelson at game (440x247)

The San Diego native was at Paul Brown Stadium on Sunday and saw his beloved Chargers stun the Bengals 27-10.  Gregg Doyel of tweeted the above photo of Lefty outside the visitor’s locker room after the game.

But Mickelson would have been the perfect person to address the Bengals after their third straight one-and-done trip to the postseason.

Remember when he was golf’s Marvin Lewis – the guy who could win PGA tournaments but always came up short in major championships?

Or remember when he was golf’s Andy Dalton – the guy who made crucial mistakes in the biggest events because he took unnecessary risks and didn’t execute under pressure?

Mickelson was 0-for-46 in the majors with eight second-place or third-place finishes before finally winning The Masters in 2004.  This past year, he suffered a devastating loss in the US Open only to bounce back a month later to win the Open Championship (British Open).

The choke artist who supposedly didn’t have what it takes to win golf’s biggest events, now has five major championships.

Dalton on run (440x298)

I obviously don’t know if there will be a similarly happy ending for Andy Dalton.  Frankly, it’s impossible not to have doubts after seeing the three turnovers he was responsible for on Sunday.

But I do know that he’s led the Bengals to 30 wins in three seasons, gone to the playoffs every year, and showed considerable improvement this season – particularly in throwing the deep ball.  Like Mickelson, he needs to cut down on crucial mistakes that make it impossible to win.  I disagree with the notion that at the age of 26 Dalton is as good as he’ll ever be.  With a year left on his contract, Andy will get at least one more shot to prove that he can deliver under a white-hot spotlight.

Marvin playoff loss (440x304)

As for Marvin Lewis, he put it best on the Wednesday before the game when he said, “Every time you don’t get what you want, it makes you come back hungrier.  There’s no doubt about it.  You come earlier.  You come harder.  That’s the only way I know how to do it.”

That won’t appease folks who want his head on a platter.  Many cite the Reds’ dismissal of Dusty Baker as the necessary course of action for a team that hasn’t been able to get over the playoff hump.

If the Reds have postseason success under Bryan Price, it will prove to be a wise move.  But that hasn’t happened yet.  Whacking Jack McKeon after the Reds fell from 96 to 85 wins seemed like the right move in 2000.  But the Reds didn’t have another winning season until 2010 (with Baker as manager).  Meanwhile, McKeon won a World Series title with the Marlins in 2003.

Mike Brown stuck with Marvin Lewis when it wasn’t a popular decision in 2010 and the Bengals have been a consistent winner since.  We’ll see if coaching continuity ultimately pays off.

As bitterly disappointed as we all were on Sunday, the Bengals have clearly gotten better over the past three seasons.  They have a deep and talented roster and a drama-free locker room.  And nobody in the NFL will add a better player to its roster next year than Geno Atkins.

So while I understand the skeptics who doubt whether Cincinnati will ever have postseason success without changing coach or quarterback, there was a reminder outside the Chargers’ locker room last Sunday that sometimes those skeptics get it wrong.

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Dalton’s Picks Haven’t Changed Simms’ Pick

Posted by Dan Hoard on December 31, 2013 – 3:55 pm

Last week on Showtime’s “Inside the NFL,” host James Brown asked the panel to pick a team – other than obvious favorites like Denver or Seattle – that could make a serious Super Bowl run.

Phil Simms picked the Bengals.

“When you look at them, they have guys that can impact the game,” Simms said.  “That’s how I judge teams.  How many stars do you have out there that can win the game for you?  The Bengals have a lot of them.”

That was before Simms was in the broadcast booth for Sunday’s regular season finale against Baltimore.

Marvin Lewis

Cincinnati won 34-17 despite a career-high four interceptions for Andy Dalton.  Did that up-and-down performance cause Simms to reconsider his lofty expectations for the Bengals?

“It brought them up even higher,” Simms told me this week.  “Seeing them in person again and watching them all week and really getting a feel for the football team – I get a very good vibe when I’m around the team.  The players all get along.  They’ve got energy – it’s real.  I think Marvin Lewis has a great feel for the football team and I like the coordinators.  What I saw on the field on Sunday just convinced me even more that maybe for once I might be pretty smart.”

But what about the four interceptions?  Surely that had to concern Simms.

Quite the contrary for the former Super Bowl-winning quarterback.

“I really do believe this:  The fact that Andy Dalton threw four interceptions is a good thing,” said Simms.  “I played the position and when I had those games and threw those interceptions, I was mad all week and by gosh, I was going to show ‘em.  I’ll never forget what Andy said to me before the Chicago Bears game to open the season.  I brought up some of these things about the criticism of the quarterback and he said, ‘I can’t wait for the season to start because I’m going to shut everybody up.’  That was music to my ears.  I said, ‘You tell ‘em where to go Andy.’  You want your quarterback to have a little bit of that in him, and I see it in him.  After throwing those interceptions, I think he is going to ‘bow up’ this week and I think he is going to play well.  We’re going to see a quarterback that is tighter and more efficient and I expect him to play very well.”

Dalton black uniform (440x330)

Dalton’s interception total has gone up in each of his three seasons and this year, only three NFL quarterbacks had more than Andy’s 20 INTs (Eli Manning 27, Joe Flacco and Carson Palmer 22).  But Dalton also posted career highs in every other statistically category and finished third in the league in touchdown passes with 33 (Peyton Manning 55, Drew Brees 39).

“Interceptions will happen if you have an aggressive style of quarterback throwing the ball downfield,” said offensive coordinator Jay Gruden.  “We have to maybe pull his reins back a little bit, but the first interception (last Sunday) to Marvin Jones was a great play by the defensive back and that’s a shot we want to take.  It was one-on-one with no safety to be found.  The last interception was one-on-one coverage on A.J. and Andy just underthrew him.  I like where Andy’s at.  I like his anticipation and I like his aggressive style right now.  Obviously we need to rein back his picks, but to do what he did through 16 games and throw as many touchdowns as he did and throw for as many yards as he did is a huge improvement from last year.”

“Quarterbacks are going to throw bad passes – they’re going to turn the ball over, so I don’t overreact to them,” said Simms.  “I hear people say, ‘Just don’t turn the ball over.’  I tell them, ‘Maybe the quarterback should just fall on the ball on every down.  That way they would win because there would be no turnovers.’  You want them to be daring and do this and that, but don’t turn it over.  It’s going to happen, so the criticism is unjust many times.

“I was watching TV this morning and the things they say about quarterbacks – they think they are going to go out there and play perfect games.  It’s ridiculous.”

That’s coming from a quarterback who was nearly perfect in the New York Giants’ 39-20 win over Denver in Super Bowl XXI:  22-for-28 for 268 yards with 3 TD, 0 INT, and the highest passer rating in Super Bowl history at 150.9.

That record-setting performance capped Simms’ third trip to the playoffs.  Dalton goes into his third trip still looking for his first postseason win.

“His presence on the field has grown,” said Simms.  “I think physically he’s grown too, which I think is a really big deal.  He is going to be their franchise quarterback and he’s going to be there for a while.  I think the experience and the fact that he’s physically better – and that he has a better team around him – his chances of winning and doing what everybody wants have gone up dramatically since last year.”

“With such great experience under his belt, he’s gotten better every season, he is the leader of this football team now, he knows what’s expected of him, he knows what’s ahead of us, and we really feel good about where he is right now,” said Marvin Lewis.

“It’s hard to develop quarterbacks,” said Simms.  “The Bengals had a plan, and I give them a lot of credit.  They drafted him, they put him in there, and he’s practiced and played for three years.  They’re seeing those benefits, and it’s time now to march on for the next five or six years – whatever it is – and see how many games you can win and if you can get it done in the playoffs.”

Simms can see for himself.  He’ll be back in the booth at Paul Brown Stadium on Sunday.

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