Make no mistake about, Cincinnati had no business winning this one. But it wasn't the fact that the Bengals beat the Steelers Sunday, but how they won that could have long-term effects on the team’s season.
Out-muscled, out-played and out-coached for nearly three quarters, the Bengals were left for dead late in the third quarter, trailing 20-9.
But much like it did last week against Chicago, Pittsburgh let Cincinnati up off the mat and the Bengals took advantage, scoring two TDs and making a huge defensive stand to win the game.
It's not just the type of win that Cincy would not have pulled out last season; it's the type of win that the Bengals would not have pulled out against the Steelers ever.
Pittsburgh has been called a lot of things by the pundits and the fans — bully, big brother, tormentor — and all of those things were true for three quarters.
There were the Steelers holding Cincinnati to minus-10 (minus-10!) yards in the first quarter. There was the supposedly porous Pittsburgh offensive line holding the Bengal rushers at bay. And there was that Pittsburgh toughness, delivering hits and getting big yards.
Despite all of that, the lead was only 20-9, when by all rights, it should have been 34-3.
Maybe it was the fact that despite getting pushed all over the field, the Bengals were still in the game that kept them riled up. And maybe, this Steeler team just lacks that ability to put teams away.
Whatever the reason, the fourth quarter belonged to the Bengals. And because Cincinnati's defense did a good enough job of bending, but not breaking (not to mention scoring a touchdown of its own), the team was in a position to win the game.
Pulling within five on Cedric Benson’s electrifying touchdown run, the Bengal defense stiffened and kept the Steelers from doing what they love to do — killing time in the fourth quarter with the run.
Carson Palmer took over from there showing why he still has the ability to be one of the best quarterbacks in the league. Palmer drove the Bengals down the field, converted two gutsy fourth-quarter plays (getting a boost from Brian Leonard along the way), and hit Andre Caldwell for the game-winner.
It was the third-straight game that Palmer has taken over the game in the fourth quarter and by all rights, the Bengals should be 3-0 on the season. But the bigger story is the fact that Cincinnati seems to get stronger as the game wears on, a sign that this Bengal team is planning on sticking around all season.
The team still has some wrinkles it needs to iron out.
In each of the three games, Cincy has started off incredibly slow, needing big second halves just to have a chance to win. The defense has forced only two turnovers in three games; and Palmer is still making too many mistakes; while the the kicking game has looked down-right awful at times.
But those mistakes don’t seem as big, after you beat your division tormentor at home for the first time in eight years. And teams that overcome mistakes to post wins, tend to win championships at the end of the season.