The saddest part of the Bengals' surprising season has been the empty seats at Paul Brown Stadium. Thousands of them. Make that 20,000 of them nearly every home game.
The Bengals have enjoyed one of the best turnarounds in the NFL this season -- going from 4-12 last year to 9-6 in this one -- and few have been there to enjoy them.
On Sunday, it's time for Bengals fans to push aside their issues with ownership and the stadium deal and applaud these players. The Bengals are playing the Ravens with a postseason spot on the line. This day isn't about Mike Brown. It's about Andy Dalton and the rest of the Cincinnati overachievers.
There's plenty of valid reasons for the public protest among the Who Dey Nation. Two winning seasons in the past 20 years (before clinching their third this year) have justifiably brought discontent and prompted valid questions whether the team is committed to winning. The handing over of the taxpayer-financed Paul Brown Stadium to the Bengals has soured many of the city's fans (and non-football fans), too.
This season has included some of the smallest crowds in the stadium's history. Only 41,273 fans showed up for last Sunday's win over Arizona, making Paul Brown Stadium more than one-third empty. It appears that die-hard fans are the endangered species in "The Jungle" these days.
Point proven. Message delivered. Now, Bengals players are begging fans to show up for Sunday's game. "I really want to encourage all of the Cincinnati fans to come out and cheer us on as we try to make the playoffs," defensive tackle Domata Peko said.
So, Bengals fans, are you listening?