Paul Daugherty, email@example.com
November 1, 2015
The Enquirer/Sam Greene
PITTSBURGH – We could go on, again, about the "poise'' of Andy Dalton and the "resiliency'' of his team. Or is it Dalton's resiliency and his team's poise? Whatever. Crank up the descriptives: The Bengals are gritty grinders who do whatever it takes, because they aren't satisfied with just making the playoffs.
Other Bengals teams might have folded in Heinz Field Sunday, behind late in the fourth quarter. This team finds ways to win.
And so on.
At some point, what passes for keen analysis crosses the imaginary media line into obviousness. If I'm a Bengal right now, seven winning weeks into it, and I keep getting questions about resiliency, I roll my eyeballs back into my skull. No wonder jocks think we media are dopes.
(And really, why are the Bengals still getting "toughness'' questions, as if the Steelers still have that market cornered? This just in: The Steelers don't, physically or otherwise.)
When do we just relax and accept the notion that the 7-0 Bengals are deep and deeply talented, with a quarterback for whom the light has started to shine in Year Five of his reign?
It might just be occurring nationally that the Bengals are no joke. It should have occurred around here a few weeks ago, at least, with the Seattle win. The Bengals might be all those things the analysts love: Gritty and resilient and stuff. What they are, mostly, is very good.
Bengals fans might have been dialing their psychiatrists at about 3:45 Sunday afternoon – "Can you fit me in tomorrow morning? I'm feeling a little edgy'' – but the Bengals weren't. Said Dalton, "Whatever what was going on today, we just stayed the course of the game. Eventually something was going to work, and it did.''
Admit it: You sharpened your Twitter knives when Dalton threw that interception to Steelers corner Antwon Blake in the end zone, with nine minutes left in the game. Then, three minutes later, when Dalton fumbled a shotgun snap on first down, then threw another interception on third?
Oh, man. It was blood on the virtual page.
Then an interesting thing happened. Interesting, that is, if you've spent the entire fall holed up in Mumbai, watching cricket.
The Bengals won the game. Safety Shawn Williams made a balletic sideline interception of a bad Ben Roethlisberger pass, with 5:34 left and Pittsburgh ahead 10-6. The Bengals started at the Steelers 45. On third-and-5, Dalton escaped the rush, saw Gio Bernard flash across the middle and shoveled him the ball.
What poise! Except Dalton has been doing that since Week 1.
Three plays later, Dalton threw 9 yards for a TD to A.J. Green. The Bengals led, 13-10. Such resilience.
Did we mention that Shawn Williams is a backup safety, used mostly on obvious running downs?
"I've been telling y'all, we've got players who can play,'' said George Iloka. "We have a lot of depth on this team. Nothing (Williams) does surprises me. We all can't get on the field at once.''
Wait. So it wasn't "resiliency'' that won the game?
It was. A little. Mostly, it was a very good, very veteran team accustomed to that position, not bothered by it, and delivering in spite of it. Remember Baltimore? Seattle? The better team doesn't win every time in the NFL, but it does a lot of the time. There is a reason New England is undefeated. And Green Bay.
The Steelers had Roethlisberger back – "the Second Coming'' Domata Peko called it -- and a healthy Le'Veon Bell, at least until the middle of the 2nd quarter, when Vontaze Burfict shredded Bell's knee with a legal tackle, then sprinted to the other side of the field in celebration of the shredding. The Steelers had incentive, needing a win to stay within binoculars-distance of Cincinnati. They were at home with the towel-waving lunatics.
And yet it was Roethlisberger who threw the two crucial picks in the fourth quarter. Bad Ben? Or deeply talented Bengals?
Meantime, for three-plus quarters, the Dalton Gang perfected the horizontal passing game. The offense was bad, until it wasn't. The offense wasted good field position. Mike Nugent had a field goal blocked (after his successful boot was voided by a penalty) Jeremy Hill lost a yard on 3rd-and-1 from the Steelers 18. Until very late, the offense's day was symbolized by a third-quarter possession that started at the Pittsburgh 33 and ended three plays later at the Bengals 41.
No matter. One team had a highly productive offense. The other had the league's 27th-ranked pass defense. The better team won.
"The players understand what we have here,'' Green said.
The unbeaten Bengals are three-and-a-half games up in the AFC North, with nine games to play. What a gritty, plucky bunch.