During HBO's miniseries Hard Knocks no player seemed to work harder for a roster spot than Cincinnati Bengals running back Brian Leonard. After Sunday's win against the Pittsburgh Steelers, he showed us why he deserves to suit up in the orange and black each Sunday.
There was plenty on the line between the two teams on Sunday, considering the loser would fall two games behind the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC North. After trailing 20-9 at the beginning of the fourth quarter, the Bengals rallied with two late touchdowns by Cedric Benson and Andre Caldwell to defeat the Steelers 23-20.
Sunday's game was more than just another regular-season win for the Bengals; it was a statement game for a team showing they have what it takes to be contenders not only in the AFC North, but for the rest of the NFL. If they can beat the defending Super Bowl Champions, the Bengals have every reason to believe they can beat any team.
Bengals wide receiver Andre Caldwell should be considered one of the heroes considering he scored the game-winning touchdown on a four-yard pass from Carson Palmer with 14 seconds left in the game. However, the touchdown would have never happened without the effort provided by Leonard.
On a 4th-and-10 from the Steelers 15-yard line with 18 seconds left, Palmer was heavily pressured and struggled to find any open receivers. While trying to avoid the sack, he dumped the ball off to Leonard on the right side of the field. Unfortunately, the pass wasn't far enough for the first down and Steelers linebacker James Farrior appeared to have the game-winning tackle.
Instead, Leonard avoided Farrior's tackle, kept his balance by holding himself off the ground, and dove just far enough to give the Bengals a first down at the four-yard line. All of a sudden, the Bengals were left with another shot at ending their eight-game losing streak against the Steelers at Paul Brown Stadium.
Leonard may not see a significant amount of playing time each week as a backup running back, but he will be seen as a hero by Bengals fans for the remainder of the season.
The fans of Cincinnati wanted nothing more than to defeat a Steelers team that had defeated their team time after time over the last couple of years and it may not have happened without Leonard. His effort on that fourth down may end up being one of the most important plays of the season for the Bengals, especially if they play well enough to make a playoff run.
Even though it's still early in the season, the Bengals have already had an exciting first three games of the 2009 season. With impressive wins against the Steelers and Green Bay Packers, they are showing the rest of the league why many analysts picked them as a "sleeper" team in 2009.
Not only did Leonard make a major contribution to the Bengals' victory over the Steelers, but he has given hope to the fans of Cincinnati toward their beloved football team.
It may only be three games, but with a solid defense and an offense full of weapons, the Bengals are beginning to show signs of a team we saw in 2005. The 2009 Bengals appear to have the potential to be just as great as the team from four years ago, if not better.