Are you a believer yet?
The bandwagon is filling up with fans at a feverish pace.
The Cincinnati Bengals went into Pittsburgh and came out with a hard fought, tough as nails 18-12 victory. Neither team scored an offensive touchdown in what turned out to be a battle of the trenches. Usually the Steelers win the physical match-up, but not against this Bengals team.
''That's probably the most grinding football game I ever experienced,'' Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said after the game. The Bengals were able to punish the Ravens and Steelers on back-to-back weeks and beat them at their game.
The D was able to get consistent pressure on QB Ben Roethlisberger. He came into the game tied for first in the NFL with a completion rate of 70.6 percent, but he was 20/40 on Sunday with an INT. He rarely seemed comfortable in the pocket.
DE Jonathan Fanene had six tackles with two being for losses, two sacks, two QB hits and a pass deflection. DE Frostee Rucker was able to intercept a tipped pass that set up a field goal. For the game the Bengals were able to take down Big Ben four times.
Every time the Steelers got into the red-zone, the Bengals D got stingy. Pittsburgh could only muster four Jeff Reed field goals. Once again the stellar secondary led by Leon Hall, and Jonathan Joseph were able to shut down WR Hines Ward (26 yards) and rookie WR Mike Wallace (16 yards). That was big considering both had big games in the first matchup.
''They're clearly the best team in the division,'' Pittsburgh safety Ryan Clark said. ''I'd give my left arm to play them again.''
Offensively the Bengals didn’t set any records by any stretch. It was a lot of short slant routes and runs up the gut. QB Carson Palmer was 18/30 for 178 yards and didn’t have a turnover. In fact the team was turnover free.
RB Bernard Scott came in to replace the injured Cedric Benson and finished with 33 yards. As a team the Cincinnati only gained 61 yards on the ground.
But Scott proved coach Lewis right when he inserted him as the new kick-off returner He took a first quarter kick 96 yards for the only TD of the game. What a way to start off in your new role.
The biggest issue facing Cincinnati now is the health of Benson, who left the game with a hip injury. If Benson's injury were serious, that would be a big loss for the Bengals. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports that he is expected to play next week at Oakland. There have been rumors linking free agent Larry Johnson to the Bengals even before Benson's injury. This story will gain more steam as the week progresses.
The Steelers were without star safety Troy Polamalu for all but the opening series as he aggravated the left knee injury that previously sidelined him for four games. He underwent an MRI exam, but there was no immediate word about his status.
By sweeping the season series for the first time since 1998, the Bengals effectively lead Pittsburgh by two games because they own the tiebreaker and, for the first time in their history, a 5-0 division record.
''In the past, we would lose games like this,'' center Kyle Cook said.
Cincinnati ate up much of the clock in the final seven minutes, culminating in a 43 yard Shayne Graham field goal. The Steelers got the ball back with slightly less than two minutes to play, but Roethlisberger threw incomplete on four consecutive downs from the 33, and it was over.
"This was a statement game," Cincinnati safety Chris Crocker said. "Beat Pittsburgh two times. Beat Baltimore two times. Now everyone [in the AFC North] is looking at us from behind."
So what did we learn today class?
1) The Bengals beat the Super Bowl champs without big days from their two biggest offensive weapons. Benson had 22 yards on seven carries before leaving the game and Chad OchoCinco only had two receptions for 29 yards.
2) The Steelers offensive line struggled against the front four of the Bengals D. Rashard Mendenhall was held to 36 yards and the pressure on Ben was there all game long.
3) Carson Palmer didn’t have a great game and his team still won. Usually the Bengals live and die by the play of the franchise QB. He was high on a multiple throws and put a little too much mustard on a few as well. But he played the game manger role and was able to keep the Steelers off balance even without a great effort in the running game.
4) Willie Parker is done in black and gold. One carry for seven yards? No way he is a Steeler in 2010.
5) The Bengals are for real, for real. Talking heads on TV and radio were all predicting a Pittsburgh win. Even Vegas still didn’t believe in them. After being favored to lose by three AT HOME against Baltimore, the Bengals were once again favored to lose, this time by seven.
6) The Bengals are a perfect 4-0 on the road this season, with wins at Lambeau Field, Baltimore's M&T Bank Stadium and the Big Ketchup Bottle in Pittsburgh.
7) With a AFC North crown in clear view; the goal shifts to playoff positioning. This team has a real shot of finishing in the top two and earning a coveted bye in the play-offs. Who wudda thunk it after that week one miracle tip loss against Denver? The Cincinnati Bengals are 7-2 and the bandwagon is getting bigger by the day.
I’ll leave you with the quote of the game courtesy of LB Brandon Johnson, whom filled in nicely for injured starter Keith Rivers.
“I’m almost diabetic right now it’s so sweet. I’m so excited right now I can barely contain myself.”