They have been called the cardiac cats. They have been called a pretender and not a contender. After the first week, they were called the same old Bungels.
But after five games in the 2009 season, you can call them the first place team in the AFC North.
At 4-1, the Bengals are a tipped pass-fluke touchdown away from being unbeaten. However, many skeptics say they are also a few plays away from being 0-5.
After another come-from-behind win against Baltimore, the Bengals find themselves in a place where they haven't been in a while, in first place.
So how have the Bengals accomplished this fast start? It is simple; solid defense, a good ground game, and a veteran quarterback who can make plays when it counts.
The biggest change on this team is on the defense. Mike Zimmer has taken a group of guys that "nobody else wanted" and turned them into one of the better units in the AFC.
Up front it starts with the pass rush. Antwan Odom has been the man to attack opposing quarterbacks, while Robert Geathers and Frostee Rucker have been a solid combo opposite of Odom.
Up the middle, Peko, Johnson, Fanene, and Sims have shut down the run and also gave a push on the inside. The bottom line is that there is solid depth here.
The linebackers have been great as well. The group of Rivers, Maualuga, Jones, Jeanty, and Johnson have been among the best linebacking units in the NFL. They are sure handed tacklers, they can cover pretty well, and have put pressure on the opposing quarterbacks in passing situations.
The secondary is also a unit that has also played well. JJ, Johnathan Joseph, has had several picks when it really matters, including the one that was taken back for six against Pittsburgh.
On the other side, Leon Hall has come into his own and matured beyond his years. The real key in my opinion is the play at Nickleback. Morgan Trent has not been beaten for the big play. As a rookie he has been able to limit the opposing slot receiver to the average play, which is huge considering the way Hall and Joseph have played.
The safeties are also solid and deep. Roy Williams, despite his misplay on the Cover 2 against Denver, has been a valuable asset, while Ndukwe and Crocker are ball-hawking safeties that can make the big hits.
The bottom line is that this is the type of defense that a Marvin Lewis team should have been playing five years ago.
On the ground, the first round pick the Bears let go, Cedric Benson, has been Rudi Johnson like. We all remember what a boost a 1,000 yard power back like Johnson was back in 2003. Now Benson is on pace for a 1000-plus yard season.
As long as Palmer has a big-game back that he can count on for 80-to-100 yards a game on the ground, the Bengals will have an offense that is able to mix it up well.
Speaking of Palmer, it doesn't get much more clutch than leading your team to three straight game winning drives late against the teams in your division.
Palmer hit Caldwell late against the Steelers after getting two fourth down conversions. A week later, he ran for a crucial fourth down conversion in an overtime win against the Browns. Then, to top it off, he lead an 87-yard drive down the field to beat the vaunted Baltimore Ravens defense.
Granted, Palmer has been what the experts call, "a turnover machine," but he has stepped up when he has needed to.
Child please! That is what Ochocinco may be saying so far into this article. The resurgence of Mr. Ochocinco has been a catapult to their 4-1 start.
Chad has over 350 yards and three TD's, which is almost as many yards and TD's as he had all of last season. Chris Henry is again sparking the deep plays, while Brian Leonard has proven why the coaches made a smart move by not cutting him.
The season is only a third of the way home, but by starting 4-1 with three division wins, the Who Deys couldn't have gotten off to a better start.
But as Jim Mora would say, "Playoffs? You gotta be kidding me, Playoffs? "
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