The Bengals beat the Ravens yesterday, grabbing sole possession of first place in the tough AFC North. A surprise, to say the least. And while it was a great win, I have a feeling the Bengals could care less. They could care less about their standing in the division. They could care less about beating a rival. They only thing they care about right now is defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer.
You see, Zimmer’s wife died tragically Thursday. The cause of her death is unknown. It would be understandable if Zimmer decided not to travel with the team. It would be understandable if Zimmer wanted to sit this out. It would be understandable if Zimmer wanted to stay home with his family. The Bengals would understand. Hell, they would probably encourage it. But Zimmer didn’t want to stay home. He wanted to be with his other family.
“Man, it just lifted guys up,” Bengals cornerback Johnathan Joseph said of Zimmer’s presence. “Once we saw him in practice Saturday morning and knew that he was going with us, it was unbelievable the feeling I had in my stomach.”
It would be understandable if Zimmer didn’t call a great game. After all, his mind was elsewhere. How can you think of football when your wife just died? How can you call the right scheme, the right formation, when your mind is not fully in it? Zimmer overcame. Zimmer persevered. Zimmer called a tremendous game, limiting the high powered Ravens to only 257 yards offense. Zimmer was outstanding.
“We are prepared for anything,” (Safety Chris) Crocker said of the Bengals’ toughness. “Yes, this was sad. But it was also uplifting because we had a purpose.”
These Bengals are surprising everyone. 4-1 with wins against the Steelers and Ravens. Most experts thought they would spend time in the division cellar. They forgot to account for one thing: Heart. Heart to rally around one of their own. Heart to show strength when times are tough, when no one expects you to perform. These Bengals are different. They’ll be playing the whole year for “Coach Zim”. They won’t be defined by wins and losses. They won’t be defined by individual statistics.
They won’t be defined by how far they go in the playoffs. They’ll be defined by the heart they show on Sundays. For them, football isn’t number one. Their purpose is to heal. The Bengals can help Coach Zim heal. They can support him. They can be there for him. They can be his other family. But most of all, they can play with heart. They can play for his wife. They can play with purpose. And along the way, they can win some football games.