CINCINNATI — The game-winning kick in overtime hit the left upright—doink—and went through. That was not the Same Ol' Bengals. Past Bengals teams would have watched the kick hit both uprights and bounce out.
They took gut punch after gut punch from the Seahawks on Sunday. Bam. Boom. Pow. The Bengals just stood there, smiles on their faces. That's the best you got? That was not the Same Ol' Bengals.
Those past teams would have wilted. This one came back from a 17-point deficit. This one held Seattle to three first downs in the Seahawks' last six possessions.
The Bengals are multifaceted. They are tough, swift, smart. They can ground and pound. They can run by you. They beat Seattle in overtime, 27-24, because they are maybe the deepest, baddest-ass team in football. No, these are not the SOBs. These are THE BENGALS.
They are not sad-sack, paper-bag-wearing, choking-dog, throw-your-hands-up-in-disgust Bengals. These are the crazy good Bengals.
If you don't understand that, if you want to keep saying wait until the playoffs and they'll fall off a cliff like usual, then you don't just misunderstand them; you don't get football.
They are 5-0, these Bengals, and the last time that happened, in 1988, Andy Dalton was one year old. Well, Dalton's all growns up and he's all growns up. If there was one play that perhaps symbolized the transformation of this team, it was a nasty, dirty and unnecessary cheap shot on Dalton by Michael Bennett. Or rather, how Dalton endured that cheap shot.
After Dalton was intercepted, Bennett smashed him in the back, nearly helmet to spine. Dalton, 216 pounds, and Bennett, 274, went crashing to the ground. Dalton got up and then Bennett pushed him to the ground again. Bennett then jumped on Dalton, his forearm landing near Dalton's neck.
The hit was Suh-like, as if football had been transported suddenly back to 1950. I think—I'm certain—the old Dalton would have crumbled after that hit. Not that he lacked toughness, but I've seen Dalton take shots like that and suddenly lose his accuracy and pocket presence.
That didn't happen this time. Dalton would take several more brutal shots, including one late in the game when he was knocked clean off his feet, his helmet tumbling to the ground. No matter. With about three-and-a-half minutes left in the game, in spite of all of those brutal hits, a swashbuckling Dalton sprinted right up the gut of that Seattle defense and scored on a five-yard run.
In all, Dalton led the Bengals to 20 unanswered points. That sound like Same Ol' Bengals to you?
There will still be people who say they need to wait and see what Dalton does in the playoffs, where he's 0-4. But again, anyone who says that doesn't get it. Right now, he looks like a different human, and to think he would suddenly transform into another different human makes no sense.
Cincinnati's 136 passing yards in the first quarter are the second most allowed by the Seahawks in the first quarter in the Pete Carroll era, according to ESPN Stats & Info. Washington had 138 such yards in 2011. The old Dalton and Bengals wouldn't have done that to this defense.
What was most impressive about Dalton were the smart mental adjustments he made. After A.J. Green started torching the Seahawks, the team put shutdown corner Richard Sherman on him. Sherman slowed Green, forcing Dalton to hold on to the football longer, and the Seahawks sacked him four times.
What did Dalton do? He started going to tight end Tyler Eifert, who sliced the Seahawks defense. Dalton went to Eifert in the final minute of regulation. In all, Eifert had 90 yards receiving and two scores.
Making that adjustment will go down as one of the more pivotal moments in the career arc of Dalton, and it's why people like me think we're seeing a different guy. The old Dalton would have just kept forcing the football to Green. Instead, he made a Tom Brady-like adjustment to Eifert. Sounds simple, but Dalton didn't always do the simple.
Cincinnati’s defense sacked Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson four times. The Bengals held the Seahawks scoreless in the fourth quarter and overtime. Throughout all of the bad, losing years in Cincinnati, it was often the Bengals coaches that looked clueless. This time, after the game, Carroll was the one who looked baffled. He had no explanations for why the Seahawks are 2-3.
In the Bengals' postgame locker room, there was no sense of great accomplishment with their 5-0 start. The message from every player I spoke to seemed to be: We can get better.
They're not satisfied.
The old Bengals, the fans-wearing-bags-over-their-heads Bengals, would have been popping champagne corks. Not this group. Nope. They know better.
The Bengals are so spectacularly different that they attracted the attention of astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson. After the doinky kick went through Tyson tweeted, "Today's Bengals winning OT field goal was likely enabled by a 1/3-in deflection to the right, caused by Earth’s Rotation."
If this were the Same Ol' Bengals, the Earth would have rotated the wrong way.
But these aren't those SOBs.
Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.