It was January 6, 1991. ... That was the last time the Bengals won a playoff game. January...6...1991.
Who is AJ McCarron? His cockiness has been chronicled, but in speaking with scouts and team executives about McCarron this week, all of whom followed him closely during the draft process, it sounds like he was cockier than generally known. These officials spoke highly of McCarron but also said his arrogance was the reason he fell in the draft.
But interestingly, each of the three personnel men interviewed said they always believed that if McCarron went to the right system, with the right coach, he'd be successful in the NFL.
"It's not shocking he's prospering now," one scout who followed McCarron's college career and interviewed him during the draft process said. "Marvin [Lewis] is good handling players, and that team has some good veteran leadership."
Scouts liked McCarron's mobility, his arm and his smarts. What they didn't like was how he came off in interviews, particularly during the combine. All of the personnel men interviewed said, without equivocation, that perceived cockiness is why McCarron went in the fifth round in 2014, instead of where many projected, in the second or third.
Yet this also needs to made clear: These personnel men believe McCarron has a good chance of beating Pittsburgh. Why? Because of his confidence.
The irony of a league busting down McCarron in the draft for excessive cockiness and now saying that cockiness is an asset should not be lost on anyone.
The personnel men look at McCarron now and see a player far more comfortable in the offense than he was a few weeks ago. They also believe the creativity of offensive coordinator Hue Jackson will continue to protect McCarron.
McCarron has been solid in all three of his starts since Andy Dalton went down with a broken thumb in Week 14:
|Dec. 20||Bengals 24, 49ers 14||15-of-21||71.43||192||1||0||115.6|
|Dec. 28||Broncos 20, Bengals 17||22-of-35||62.86||200||1||0||87.8|
|Jan. 3||Bengals 24, Ravens 16||17-of-27||62.96||160||2||0||103.9|
He has made smart decisions with the football and provides just enough mobility to give pass-rushers headaches. This was the McCarron teams believed could be productive in the NFL, the McCarron who seemed like an early-round pick until his mouth got in the way.
He is, by far, no easy layup for the Steelers.
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It will be interesting to see how McCarron responds to the startling intensity of an NFL playoff game. There's almost nothing like it, especially when there's a rivalry and bad blood in play.
On Wednesday, the NFL sent out a video reminding teams about sportsmanship and how players represent the league. The video was sent to all playoff teams, but there's little question the true targets were the feisty Bengals and Steelers, to try to make sure there's no repeat of the pregame scrum that happened in the first meeting.
"I hate Pittsburgh," Vontaze Burfict told reporters this week. "It's not personal. That's just the way it is."
This is the maelstrom McCarron walks into. That cockiness? He's going to need it.
Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him, @mikefreemanNFL.
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