In the NFL, the mantra is a simple one. To end the season with a winning record, the formula isn’t long and drawn out. Never lose a game at home and split the road games. Give or take a few, the end result is either 11-5 or 12-4. Either record is good enough for a strong wild card or division championship. Marvin Lewis has been preaching that sermon since he became head coach of the Bengals. Now, in his twelfth year as coach, the Bengals are taking it further. This year, they’re kings of the road.
The Bengals are 6-1 on the road this year, as they prepare to face the Denver Broncos on the last Monday Night Football telecast. That one loss came against the Arizona Cardinals, in what many hailed as a Super Bowl preview. The prime time game was one of the season’s best battles and had the ratings to prove it. The loss helped the Bengals understand what it takes to be a successful road team.
What makes a close loss a learning tool for a team?
“Experience,” tackle Andrew Whitworth explained, via the Cincinnati Bengals site. “This team has been together for so long and been successful and success breeds success. You look at the Seattle comeback against a great team. That was at home, but we used that experience to help us in Arizona. It didn’t work out, but we used that game to help us come back on the road against one of the best teams in football. I think it’s gotten to the point that we’re not saying, ‘Oh, that’s a tough place to play.’ Now we just go play the game.”
With the rise of the defense, the Bengals have also turned around their losing ways. Most teams that have a great defense have a chance to win on the road. It’s a matter of staying in the game and not allowing the home team to build a lead that can’t be overcome with a possible fourth quarter surge. Whitworth likes those odds.
“With our team playing defense, as well as we do, that’s what helps us win those road games.”
Since 2011, the Bengals have compiled the NFL’s third best road record at 25-14, behind only New England (26-12) and Denver (27-13). Since 2012, only Denver (22) has more road wins than Cincinnati, tied with New England at 20.
Head coach Marvin Lewis is aware of the sudden shift and attributes it to the attitude of the players. The desire to win is stronger. They have something to prove.
Blocking out the noise can be a vital factor in winning on the road. The past few years, the Bengals have been able to get the job done on the road when the win was absolutely necessary. The Week 16 game against the Broncos will be one of those huge road games.
Denver played their role in a must-win scenario in 2006. In 2011, a crucial October road win in Tennessee got them into the playoffs. There was also a road victory over Pittsburgh in Week 16 of 2012, which got them in again. Then there were the three straight wins in New Orleans, Houston, and Tampa Bay that revived last year’s Wild Card run.
The Bengals have definitely become kings of the road. The Broncos should be no problem. It’s the playoffs that matter, after all.
[Feature Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images]