There’s no doubt that the Cincinnati Bengals are new and improved. The latest addition to that file was the dismantling of the Cleveland Browns on Thursday Night Football. But it can’t stop there. The Bengals have a long way to go. The mission now is to understand they still have everything to play for. There obstacles in their path that will limit the way they are perceived.
The first accomplishment hurdled by the Bengals was the win at Pittsburgh. The players weren’t buying into the Steelers Week hype that was being pushed by the public. Even though the rivalry is long and bitter between the teams, Bengals’ players took a business-like approach to the matchup. The attitude showed, in a 16-10 come-from-behind victory.
“As we’ve become better, the (perception) started rubbing guys the wrong way,” Andrew Whitworth said, via the Cincinnati Enquirer. “We see them as a good team we have to beat, not a measuring stick for how good we are. We’re just trying to collect wins and get into the playoffs.”
That attitude and focus was shared by the entire Bengals team, as they traveled to the Steel City and returned to the Queen City victorious.
The Thursday night game against the Browns was test No. 2 for the new and improved Bengals. The Battle of Ohio was going to be a prime-time affair that brought back memories of disasters past. The last time the Bengals and Browns met on the national stage, it was a complete meltdown. Terrance West rushed for 94 of Cleveland’s 170 total yards rushing. The Bengals held the Browns under two hundred yards passing, but the run defense looked like Swiss cheese.
The most haunting stat from that game was the performance of Andy Dalton. The Bengals’ signal caller had the worst night of his career. He went 10-of-33 for 86 yards, and tossed three interceptions. His passer rating of 2.0 was the talk of the league.
That demon was exorcised.
Dalton connected for three touchdowns, to lead the Bengals past the Browns. His quarterback rating was a sparkling 139.8 with no interceptions. The Bengals’ defense made adjustments and held the Browns to 32 yards and two first downs in the second half. The defense held Cleveland to 69 yards rushing and — once again — held the air attack to less than 200 yards.
Dalton was just as pumped as the fans when asked about the Battle of Ohio’s latest results. Per ESPN, he was anxious to let the nation know his thoughts on the matter. He was talking before reporters had a chance to ask questions.
“A little different from last year, huh?”
The Bengals have vowed to take the season one game at a time. The experience is just as exhilarating from week to week.
“It seems like every week it’s a first-time-ever,” receiver Marvin Jones said. “It’s all good. We’ve got to be 9-0 next and keep it moving.”
The Bengals will need that attitude and resolve as the season progresses. The path is filled with landmines in the form of media doubters, bandwagon fans, and more games under the lights. That’s the territory to be treaded when you’ve become an 8-0 team. There’s still so much so play for.
Yet, there will never be total confidence in the new Bengals. Until the Bengals can put an end to the biggest obstacle, there will always be whispers about the toughness of the team. There is a monkey riding their back that has to be fed. The Bengals must end the playoff drought. The last time the Bengals won a playoff game, The Simpsons were making their network debut.
It’s not fair that winning postseason games and Super Bowl trips denote great teams. That’s the way the NFL is designed. Teams must win it all or be forgotten. The Minnesota Vikings lost every Super Bowl they played in. They were a great team that rarely gets mentioned. The Vikings have so much to prove, and the Bengals still have everything to play for.
[Photo by Andy Lyons / Getty Images]