The buzz around the Queen City is amazing. The Cincinnati Bengals are winning fans, and team merchandise is flying off store shelves. However, the main conversation is always the same. No matter how good the Bengals are, the talk shifts to winning a playoff game.
The Bengals are playing as good, or even better, than the franchise teams they’re being compared to. The Cincinnati teams of 1981 and ’88 are regarded as the best in Bengals’ history. Although those teams reached the ultimate game and lost, the battles are considered two of the best Super Bowl Games played.
Ray Lewis has already picked his Super Bowl L matchup. According to the Boston Globe, during the latest Monday Night Football telecast, Lewis made his bold prediction with the other members of the crew. He picked the Bengals to face off against the Carolina Panthers. The New England Patriots were absent from every prediction. That oversight may be due to the key injuries suffered by the Pats.
But before the Bengals can reach Lombardi Land, they have to do one thing. Say it with me, class. Win a playoff game.
The Bengals have lost two games since starting the year with eight straight victories. Dalton has looked sharp, and the rest of the offensive weapons are in place. The win over the Rams saw the return of the running game. As the weather turns colder and the playoffs get closer, a sound running game is a not a luxury — it’s a necessity.
Yet with all the success the Bengals are having this season, the main topic of doubt is Dalton in the playoffs. In four straight years, Dalton is 0-4. Any interview or conversation that involves the Bengals will eventually lead to this subject. It has become the pink elephant in a sterile white room.
Through it all, Dalton and the Bengals are standing strong. They bear the inevitable question and remain sound in reasoning and reassurance. Per the NFL Network, Dalton once again addressed the issue with patience and hindsight.
“We can’t worry about what’s happened in the past. We can’t go back and play those games,” Dalton explained, falling back on a sentiment rolled out dozens of times this season. “Our whole focus is what we’re doing this year. We’re still not in the playoffs yet, so we can’t worry about that. We just got to be playing our best football come the end of the year.”
Why do members of the media ask the same question? The answer is actually quite simple. The Bengals are stockpiled with tons of talent that transcend the first team and produces wave after wave of weaponry. Great players are a definite plus. But there’s one factor that outshines ability. The one intangible that Dalton lacked has shown up this year.
Andy Dalton has developed into a leader.
The Bengals’ players and organization have noticed the change in his approach to the game, mistakes, and handling of his teammates. There’s also the pressure that comes along with being expected to win games early. In the perfect football scenario, that happens. In reality, it seldom does.
The Bengals’ roster is filled with guys who are used to winning. They’re just now hitting their stride. Tackle Andrew Whitworth is a leader who has witnessed the development of Dalton and others.
“I’ve said this for years, there’s been such an expectation on these guys,” Whitworth said. “From A.J. to Andy to Marvin Jones and Dre Kirkpatrick and just some of these young players, Carlos, Geno, they all had success to some extent early. So, all the sudden there’s this pressure to win. The reality was, they were all in their first and second year and not really necessarily the best years of their careers. Now I feel like the majority of our team is hitting that stride of year four, five, six, seven where they’re at their absolute best.”
This could be the best time to be a Bengals fan. Maybe this is the year they win a playoff game and fulfill the prophetic prediction of Ray Lewis.
[Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images]