The Cincinnati Bengals lost 20-0 to the Baltimore Ravens yesterday which puts them in position to make history. Since 2003, no team has made the playoffs after losing in shutout on Opening Day. What happened in 2003, though?
On September 7, 2003, Drew Bledsoe’s Buffalo Bills took on their quarterback’s former team, Tom Brady’s New England Patriots. Passing for 230 yards and one touchdown, alongside 89 yards rushing and two touchdowns from Travis Henry, the Bills scored 31 points. Brady passed for 123 yards and alongside Kevin Faulk’s 62 yard rushing game and Larry Center’s 36 yard rushing game, the Patriots scored a whopping zero points.
On the next day, Donovan McNabb’s Philadelphia Eagles faced off with Brad Johnson’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Johnson passed for 238 yards with two touchdowns for a 17 point total for the Buccs. McNabb passed for 148 yards and no touchdowns for a zero point total.
On September 10, 2017, Joe Flacco’s Baltimore Ravens and Andy Dalton’s Cincinnati Bengals met at Paul Brown Stadium for Opening Day. Flacco passed for a measly 121 yards, but was helped by impressive rushing games from Terrance West, 80 yards, and Javorius Allen, 71 yards, for a 20 point game. Despite passing for 170 yards, Dalton threw four interceptions, got little help from the rushing game and relied on A.J. Green to do most of the work on the receiving end, leading Cincy to a zero point day.
What makes the September 7, 2003 shutouts of New England and Philadelphia so special and how does it relate to yesterday’s atrocity in Cincy? Well, the matchups in the Conference Finals that year were the Indianapolis Colts versus the New England Patriots and the Carolina Panthers versus the Philadelphia Eagles.
Granted, the Panthers held Philly to a field goal, it was a better day for the Pats. Brady and his team kept Peyton Manning’s Colts at bay and with a final score of 24-14, after starting the year off by being shutout, the New England Patriots were off to their second Super Bowl in three years. They defeated Jake Delhomme’s Panthers 32-29 on a last second field goal by Adam Vinatieri.
Again, how does this connect to the Bengals? Well, first of all, all three teams were shutout on Opening Day by an unthreatening squadron. So WHAT? Tons of teams have been shutout on opening day by another bad team and missed the playoffs since then, what makes the Jungle so different?
Being different is not the distinction, what gives Cincinnati hope is that they are similar to New England and Philadelphia. The 2016 Bengals and the 2003 Patriots and Eagles have a lot in common. The reason I’m using the 2016 team is because I only have the stats from one game of the 2017 season.
In ‘03, New England rushed for 1607 yards, got about 3.4 yards per rush, passed for 3432, completed about 59.6% of their passes, got about 10.73 yards per completion, earned 294 first downs, passed for 23 touchdowns and ran for nine. In ‘03, Philadelphia rushed for 2015 yards, got about 4.83 yards per rush, passed for 3020, completed about 57.6% of their passes, got about 10.82 yards per completion, earned 302 first downs, passed for 17 touchdowns and ran for 23. In ‘16, Cincinnati rushed for 1769 yards, got about 3.96 yards per rush, passed for 3942, completed about 64.7% of their passes, got about 10.83 yards per completion, earned 341 first downs, passed for 18 touchdowns and ran for 17.
What do these stats show? They show that all three teams had a strong run game that could go for big yards. They also were able to rely on their receivers when needed.
All three teams kept their rushing yards per attempt number pretty high, between three and five yards per attempt. That means that if any of these three teams rushed on first, second and third down, they’d move the chains before setting up the special teams squads for fourth down.
The passing numbers were fantastic for all three. Recording 10+ yards per completion with completion percentages over even just 50% is incredibly impressive! That means that, on an average drive, if they missed on first and even second down, too, they’d still be favored to get a first down if they passed again on third!
Sure, the past 14 years dictate that getting shutout on Opening Day is not a good omen, but those were all teams that weren’t any good the year before, either. The Jungle narrowly missed the playoffs last season, but their numbers were still slightly better than the last two teams’ numbers were when they got shutout in Week One and still made the postseason. “Cincinnati is in for history-Parts One, Two, Three and Four” (it was originally only four parts, but this, “Cincinnati is in for history-Part Five, the bonus track,” is, as mentioned in the title, a bonus track) are chock-full of stats clearly indicating how the remaining 15 games of the 2017-18 NFL season will go Cincinnati’s way.
Also, as a parting piece, please remember the events that transpired 16 years ago today, 9/11. On September 11, 2001 two hijacked planes, American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175, crashed into the Twin Towers, New York City, New York, killing 2763 people, one hijacked plane, American Airlines Flight 77, crashed into the Pentagon, Arlington, Virginia, killing 189 people, and one hijacked plane, United Airlines Flight 93, originally aimed to crash into the White House, Washington D.C., crashed into the ground outside of Shanksville, Pennsylvania, killing 44 people. Never forget.