There is a luxury suite on the top floor that overlooks the AFC North. It’s shiny and comfortable and smells like the Playoffs. After milling about their new digs for a while, the Bengals put their feet up on the glass table, lean back and smile to themselves. This is the life.
Suddenly Marvin Lewis bursts into the room and banishes his team to the boiler room.
“We can come back when we win it,” he tells them as they file out and head to the basement.
In the parking lot below, Pittsburgh walks to its car holding a cardboard box, escorted by two NFL security guards. Behind them is Pittsburgh’s secretary, Baltimore, also carrying a box but walking alone.
Most of the world still has a hard time accepting the facts: In the toughest division in football, Cincinnati has clubbed their way past Darth Raven and the Steeler Emperor twice each. This past week, experts everywhere declared that the Bengals were not ready to succeed on a big stage like the one at Pittsburgh. “They’re not that good,” they said of the Bengals, yet all season long, no one has adequately answered why not.
We in Cincinnati have been shat upon for so long, that we crave a little recognition when something goes right. Yet in the face of the best Bengal season in a long time, very few believe in them. I admit it’s frustrating but we can take solace in knowing that the Steeler Nation is still beside themselves with rage and disappointment. Eat crow, you vermin. And before you resort to that lame historical comeback regarding your Super Bowls remember this: no one is disputing you’ve been better in the past. All we’re saying is that our team is better than yours this season. Today. Now. Go polish your trophies while you cry and lick your wounds. You can find us up here sitting on top and laughing at you if you want to give it another go in January.
The best part is that the Bengals don’t care what any of us have to say; they have work to do. I get the feeling they aren’t even enjoying their success. They’re playing like they’ve been sentenced to hard labor until they win it all. No smiles. No relaxing; just pick axes and a half-mountain of concrete that still needs busted up.
They are a strong team. The offensive line is a group of angry elephants protecting their treasured quarterback and slamming d-lines out of running lanes for Mr. Benson and crew. The defense is a stubborn roadblock that forces opposing teams to turn around and go back where they came from. The backups on this team are as good as the starters, and everyone is held to the same standard.
They are also a smart team. We’re witnessing perhaps the best collective coaching effort this franchise has enjoyed since the Paul Brown Era. The game plans are superior and unwavering, players appear totally prepared and demonstrate excellent technique when doing their job. The roster is made up of forgotten toys and castaways and isn’t the most talented in the league, but the discipline and focus emphasized on the practice fields each week have this team in place for a first-round playoff bye.
Who cares if the world refuses to believe it? It’s happening either way. Fans and media will continue to find reasons why the Bengals are unable to win it all, while Marvin and his staff will continue to disprove each stigma that resides in the minds of humans who know football. So go ahead and assume the Bengals can’t; you’ll be cleaning out your office next.