CINCINNATI -- Count Chad Johnson among those who believe the Cincinnati Bengals -- his Bengals -- would have finally gotten out of the first round of the playoffs had quarterback Andy Dalton not gotten hurt at the end of this season.
"A healthy Andy Dalton and we definitely make it out of that first round," said Johnson, the former longtime Bengals receiver.
Dalton, who at one point was in the MVP discussion, saw his season end when he broke the thumb on his passing hand in Week 14 last regular season. Although he tried some unique therapies and gave the thumb adequate rest, it never healed in time to rejoin the Bengals in the playoffs. Backup AJ McCarron had a 2-2 record in games he started in relief of Dalton (including in the postseason). Had it not been for a costly fumble and a pair of defensive penalties in the final minutes of the Bengals' wild-card round loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, McCarron would have led the Bengals to their first playoff victory in 25 years.
Johnson's comments came when he was reached by phone earlier this week, just before the start of free agency. Since his 11-year playing career ended in 2011, Jones has shifted into the role of die-hard Bengals fan, continuing to support the team he played 10 seasons for.
Even after a playoff loss as gutting and disappointing as January's, his message to his fellow Bengals supporters was a simple one: stay patient.
One thing management/scouts have been successful at in Cincy is bringing in great receivers. Be patient. https://t.co/MT9LXcky0L
— Chad Johnson (@ochocinco) March 11, 2016
"What we can't do as a city -- and I said 'we' because I'm still part of them -- what we can't do is get impatient," Johnson said. "We have to remember there was a long period, a very long period where we waited to get to this point to where we're going in each year, and you have a chance. There was a time where we didn't have a chance. You knew once December, January rolls around, the season was over."
He would know. The Bengals Johnson played for between 2001-10 had only two winning seasons. Prior to the 2005 playoff appearance, the Bengals hadn't been to the postseason since the 1990 season. Since Marvin Lewis became head coach in 2003, the Bengals have had seven postseason trips, with five of them coming in the past five years.
"What Marvin has been able to do with that organization has been marvelous, in turning it around," Johnson said. "Now, it's different. Going into every season you know you have a chance where you'll be in position to be making a run at the playoffs, and making a run at the 'ship. And that's a great feeling to have going in year-in and year-out from now on."
Change has hit the Bengals hard this offseason, most notably to their coaching staff. Several assistants left for new jobs with other teams right after the season. Lewis quickly scrambled to fill their spots with a veteran group that includes the likes of Bill Lazor (quarterbacks coach), Jim Haslett (linebackers coach) and Kevin Coyle (defensive backs coach). Those three have head coach or coordinator-level experience.
"They'll be fine," Johnson said. "Even with free agency there isn't a shortage of talent that's not replaceable. You're not losing your top-tier guys. You're losing guys that you can fit someone in. It might not be just as good, but you can get the same production out of them where it doesn't falter or hurt the team."