The Cincinnati Bengals get a chance to promote the Dalton-Green show in prime-time. The Cleveland Browns take their act to Paul Brown Stadium for a battle against the Bengals on Thursday Night Football. The Bengals will finally get a chance to flex their muscles and show who they are in front of a national audience.
This is a different Bengals team. But the rest of the NFL isn’t sure of that. Can they show who they are under the lights?
Gone are the doubters and bitter players of the past. Marvin Lewis is overseeing a team that will not quit. The Bengals have learned from the bumps and bruises of the past and seem like they’re ready to let the football universe hear what they have to say. After another thrilling come from behind victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Bengals looked primed for another AFC North showdown.
The Bengals defense just got an upgrade. Vontaze Burfict is back following microfracture surgery and looks like he was never gone. Burfict was in on 35 defensive snaps and didn’t miss a beat. After the Steelers marched down the field to open the game, the Bengals’ defense slammed the door and allowed Pittsburgh only a field goal the rest of the way. The defensive part of the equation looks set.
Andy Dalton had a bad game against the Steelers. He was pressured by a relentless pass rush that dared him to prove how good he could be. When the chips were down in the fourth quarter, Dalton came through for the Bengals. He engineered a drive that gave Cincinnati the go-ahead touchdown and provided an emotional win for the Bengals.
Forget the past. Don’t think about how the Bengals are supposed to be horrendous in prime-time. The football gods are aware of that little inconvenience. But these are not your father’s Bengals. This version of the Men in Stripes has a definite agenda. They are playing football like champions defending a title. The players are hyped and understand the meaning of its importance.
“It’s Thursday night football. We’re the only teams playing. Everybody will be watching this game,” said cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, per the Bengals website. “It’s time for us to go out and show the world our identity… This is a great opportunity to prove to the world we are contenders and leave the old stuff behind.”
Leaving the old stuff behind is exactly what the Bengals have done so far this season. They have accomplished something that no other Bengals’ team has done. Going 7-0 to start the year has eclipsed the teams that they have been compared to. Now they must ride the new wave of confidence towards the playoffs and beyond. Winning consecutive games is the appetizer. But for a Cincinnati Bengals team looking for respect, the main course is a deep run in the postseason derby.
The first step starts Thursday night. The Bengals have taken a “one game at a time” motto to heart. Another one game step comes against the Browns in prime-time. The Bengals are 3-7 on the big stage. To prove that they are contenders ready for a shot at the Super Bowl, the Bengals have to make the best of every opportunity. Leaving that losing culture behind has been paramount.
“This is a much different team than a year ago,” said left guard Clint Boling. “A lot of the same guys but the mindset is a little different right now. We’ve been playing really well. Last year’s Cleveland loss is not something you just forget about. But I think at the same time there’s a different mentality and mindset that you’re able to move past something like that.”
The Bengals are definitely a different team. From the coaching philosophy to the players who are determined to win, the organization has been turned around. Now it’s time to show the world. Andy Dalton said it best.
“The best part about being 7-0 is we have a chance to be 8-0.”
[Photo by Jason Miller / Getty Images]