We Bengal fans are doubters; it comes with the program.
Like veteran circus freaks, we've been kicked around for a long time and have trust issues with management. Bengal fans usually draw pity smiles from the football world, and any success often comes with a condescending pat on the head.
It's a tough gig, but that's exactly what makes moments like the one against the Bears on Sunday simply golden.
On Monday morning we had bruised sternums from all the chest-pounding the day before. By the third quarter, the crowd at Paul Brown Stadium was drunk with touchdowns and merriment; it was an orgy of high fives and fist bumps.
The score quickly ran out of control, and you could overhear cell phone calls to people at home watching it on TV, verifying that everything happening was real. Euphoric astonishment washed through the stands.
It was a good day to be a Bengal fan.
Since this is the bye week and we're still coming down from our high, let's get silly and toss perspective out altogether one last time. I've held back from using these words, but it's time they are written: The Cincinnati Bengals are Super Bowl contenders.
Before the tiny, embryonic seed of doubt gets any bigger and all those rational counterpoints spring to your lips, first consider the facts.
At 5-2, the Bengals are tied for the lead in what many talking heads are calling the best division in the NFL. They have defeated each divisional team and are heading into their bye week after slaughtering a decent Chicago team, 45-10.
They have the NFL's leading rusher in Cedric Benson, and Carson Palmer is putting up numbers that project comparably to his best statistical seasons. Chad Ochocinco is also back to his customary Pro Bowl form, and the defense is agreed by many as its best unit in years. What's not to like?
If you're not a stats person, if you're an intangibles sort, then there is this: The Bengals went to Lambeau Field and got their first win after losing at home in Week One to the Broncos on a last-second tip for a miracle touchdown.
When some doubted their emotional wherewithal, the Bengals followed the win in Green Bay with a fourth-quarter comeback against Pittsburgh at home, followed by two more consecutive thrilling comebacks on the road at Cleveland and again at Baltimore. They then lost a trap game to Houston, were once again doubted, got angry, and obliterated the Bears the next week.
The team has been through personal tragedy but has stayed focused and professional throughout. Palmer has improved every week and is playing on an elite level again. The Bengal offensive line is feasting on quality opposition. Cincinnati's defense has risen to a multitude of challenges already this season, resulting in winning situations for the offense.
Still not satisfied?
They're already battle-tested in close games after first losing a heartbreaker and then mustering three second-half comeback wins. They have viable offensive weapons that have yet to be fully utilized, including the sixth overall pick, Andre Smith, and the limping defense will mend over the upcoming bye week.
They have two weeks to prepare for Baltimore and then Pittsburgh, and have the upper hand on each. They still play Cleveland, Detroit, and Kansas City at home and travel to Oakland. They're playing their best football right now, and not even Bob Bratkowski can keep a Bengals fan from smiling.
It's okay to talk about the Super Bowl. Let go of your doubt and enjoy it; we don't get these moments very often. Sure, there are lots of reasons why it might not happen, but it's been a while since we've had that many paragraphs at midseason of why this could be the year.
Is there any chance the rest of the world feels the same? I doubt it.
MK—Thanks to Peko for the seats.