Toughness. Professionalism. Aggressiveness. Fortitude.
When was the last time these words accurately defined our Cincinnati Bengals? 1990? 1980? Ever?
A franchise that’s been defined by finesse, flamboyance, and (usually) failure, seems to finally have some hair on its proverbial chest. After spending the majority of the last 20 years perpetually rebuilding, Marvin Lewis said, “enough is enough”. Instead of being seduced by 40 times and measurables, the team instead simply looked for football players. Men who do not wilt under pressure or folder in adversity. Men of character and resolve.
To find them, this year’s team was assembled from parts found in the junkyard, the consignment shop, and the irregular rack. An offensive line with just two returning starters; two cast-off safeties. A former first round bust at running-back. Another a second rounder given up on by the Rams. A fullback out of football last year. In many respects, this roster is much different than those of years past.
Since the nightmare scenario to end the opener versus Denver, this rendition of the striped crusaders has been different. Brandon Stokely’s ridiculous and improbably touchdown touched off another round of “here we go again—the gods hate the Bengals” pronouncements from fans and pundits alike. Truthfully, no one would have necessarily blamed the team if they had curled up into the fetal position and embraced another season of oblivion.
This team, however, is different. They fought back. They sacrificed. They began to persevere. The scrapheap cats handled Green Bay. They then sandwiched two late game victories over the schoolyard bullies (The Steelers and Ravens) around a tough win over a very game Cleveland squad. Their latest contest was a clinical dismantling of a desperate Bears team that was a complete victory in every phase.
As the team returns to action from their bye, they find themselves in unfamiliar territory: in first place, with all the tie-breakers, armed with an offense predicated on a successful power running game, but still capable of big plays with a bevy of dynamic receivers led by the All-American Franchise QB. And a salty, stingy defense led by a fiery coach and teeming with smart, tough talent, and a head coach with an unwavering message doing it his way. Not bad for a motley crew of spare parts.
There are, of course, nine games to go. Plenty of time for things to change and for the character of the team to unravel into more familiar results. Previous incarnations of these Bengals have been unable to handle success. They’ve tended to believe the media hype and press clippings and lose their focus. This could happen again, but I tend to doubt it.
This team is different. No matter what the future may hold, this team of cast-offs, free agents, and hungry youngsters won’t lose focus. No matter what may come with divisional battles with the Ravens and Steelers on deck, these Bengals will come to play. They will be aggressive, tough, unflinching. They will fight to the final gun and defend every inch of ground. They will display character, determination, and grit.
And for once, it’s great to see, and something worthy of rooting for.