There is a fire burning.
In the eyes of every Cincinnati Bengal suited up this Sunday afternoon, a fire burned behind those corneas showing an ironclad reserve to do something they haven't done since before Marvin Lewis and Carson Palmer wore stripes.
This was a group of 45 men and their coaches who were bent on beating the Pittsburgh Steelers at home for the first time in their Cincinnati professional football careers.
And do you know what? They did just that.
No one runs against Pittsburgh. Apparently Cedric Benson and the Bengals' offensive line didn't get the memo. Instead, the fourth quarter consisted of some terrific run blocking and what culminated in a 4.75 YPC for one Cedric Benson, including a pretty amazing 23-yard touchdown run to the left sideline in which no Steeler really had a chance to take down number 32.
As he crossed the goal line, there was a fire burning in his eyes.
Teams aren't supposed to come from behind against the Steelers to win football games on the final drive. Apparently that memo got by one Carson Palmer. He was cold, calculating and clinical in a near-perfect performance with the game on the line and the same old song playing in your speakers. James Walker wrote about Chad Ochocinco's telling of a story after the game. You see, before the first snap of that 71-yard game winning drive, in the huddle, Carson Palmer made a statement. He said "we're going for two after we score."
Not if they scored. When they scored.
They were 71 long yards away from a win or a loss, and Carson Palmer willed his team into the end zone with fourteen ticks remaining on the game clock.
I'll bet the "Palmer is overrated/Palmer is done" crowd is pretty quiet this week, as a matter of fact. You can't ask for more from your quarterback than we got out of Palmer today.
On first and goal with less than twenty seconds remaining, Palmer looked to the back of the end zone. Cool and confident that his offensive line would keep him clean again, he looked the coverage off of Andre Caldwell before firing a silver bullet into Caldwell's right shoulder pad.
The defense saw a fire burning in his eyes as he shifted his gaze to number eighty-seven and delivered a perfect strike.
Brian Leonard, once thought to be on the bubble to make the squad in favor of one DeDe Dorsey, lined up on a 4th and 10 deep in the Steelers' territory with the game on the line. He caught a pass from Palmer and headed toward to the down marker, but was hit and headed toward the ground about a yard and a half shy of the first down. Somehow defying gravity and resembling something out of The Matrix, he placed his hand to the ground and willed himself across the down marker by a good two yards before hitting the ground. He came up hurting, but none of us saw it until the ball was spiked and he headed toward the sideline.
One play later he came in and caught an easy two-point conversion to put his team up by three with :14 remaining.
You guessed it. As he caught that football both times...
There was a fire burning in his eyes.
Antwan Odom, fresh off a five-sack week placing him at the top of the NFL sack leaderboard was the first to get a hand on Roethlisberger to bring him down on 3rd down to end the Pittsburgh series prior to the Bengals' game-winning drive.
There was a fire burning in his eyes as he notched his NFL-leading eighth sack.
Jonathan Joseph (on my cue by the way, wish that happened every time I called for a turnover) stepped in front of a Ben Roethlisberger pass and returned it into the paint for the Bengals' first pick-sick of the season earlier in the 2nd half.
There was a fire burning in his eyes as he stepped across the goal line.
Chris Crocker. Jeremi Johnson. Andre Caldwell with several clutch catches including the game-winning touchdown (he's already a difference-maker, but this kid is going to be GOOD). The entire offensive line. Chad Ochocinco. Laveranues Coles with several more clutch catches throughout the course of the game (seriously, T.J. who?).
I could go on. Really, I could. But I won't.
They all had a fire burning in their eyes, willing themselves to an absolutely critical comeback win today. James Walker said it best when he said the following.
"These aren't your father's Bengals.
"Heck, these aren't even your older sibling's Bengals from a year or two ago."
He's got a point. I dare say even in 2005 after a first quarter like the one the Bengals suffered today they would have rolled over; they would have laid down.
Not this Bengals team.
They've got a fire in their eyes. They've got a tenacity that I have never seen from any Bengals team in recent memory. Who among us can recall the last time in three consecutive games to start the season that the Cincinnati Bengals had three conclusive drives to win games in the fourth quarter? Because that, ladies and gentlemen, is what we have witnessed to start this 2009 NFL football season. Only a fluke tipped pass to Brandon Stokely (which fortunately doesn't appear to have stuck with Leon Hall as I feared it would...again, mental fortitude seems to be in stronger supply than I anticipated) changes the fact that three consecutive weeks have featured a game-winning drive by your Cincinnati Bengals offense.
This football team made a very potent statement today. The next test comes Sunday when they travel to Cleveland to square up against the absolutely abysmal Cleveland Browns. Past Bengals teams would play down to the level of their competition...something tells me this Bengals team won't do that next Sunday. Let's hope I'm right in my assessment of this team's heart so far and we see them finally come out and step on someone's neck. By all rights after the confidence boost this team earned today next week's game should be firmly in hand by the end of the first quarter.
Many times I don't like to see a team run up the scoreboard. That doesn't exactly apply for me looking at next week's game. I want the Bengals to win by fifty points. I want to see them come out and absolutely demolish the Cleveland Browns and say it again, loud and clear, that this team is for real and to be reckoned with.
Then they go to visit the Baltimore Ravens (who look absolutely phenomenal and clearly are the class of the AFC North in 2009). That appears to be a different test entirely, but let's cross that bridge when we come to it, shall we?
There is a fire burning, and I sure am enjoying the warmth.
As always I remain, although pretty darn optimistically today,
A Pragmatic Bengals Fan