Reading all the reports on the Bengals first victory of the season, it's hard to discern who, or what, to credit for the win. Some say it was the Bengals defense, others claim it was Joe Flacco's futility, and a few have even blamed the refs. The hard fact remains that the AFC North has yet to find a recipe for beating Cincinnati in a divisional game, and for us Bengal fans, that alone should be a sweet nectar on our lips.
Yet, alas, it isn't. Another local columnist—who is often times unreadable—correctly pointed out that it shouldn't matter how the Bengals win; it just matters that it gets done. Many found more reason to gripe about the meager yardage totals and the third-down doldrums, rather than cheer on their presumably favorite team for their biggest (and only) win of the year thus far. Yes, it was frustrating watching repeated red-zone trips translate to only three points. Yes, Carson Palmer had a poor passing day, and yes, Bob Bratkowski proved once more that his predictable play-calling is hampering his team's production. But the strength of this group, the defense, should have put all that complaining to bed.
The real hero for this game was the secondary and not just for the four interceptions that ultimately won the game. All day—aside from one touchdown pass to Derrick Mason—the corners and safeties blanketed the so-called high-powered weaponry of the Baltimore passing attack and silenced the critics from the week before. Even when Adam Jones left the game with a sore shoulder, Morgan Trent rose to the occasion, and when Johnathan Joseph began to cramp up, Chris Crocker and Chinedum Ndukwe filled in nicely to preserve the win. The defensive line outlasted Baltimore's front five and disrupted Flacco late in the game. But it was the coverage downfield that made the difference.
If you must find a villain for what should have been a happy day, revert to the old custom and blame Bratkowski. People who have never watched football in their lives knew when a running play had been called, and each time Reggie Kelly shifted to the fullback position that prediction came true 100 percent of the time. If Bratkowski doesn't satisfy your ire, toss some of the blame to Palmer's inaccurate passing performance that in all likelihood should have resulted in at least one pick. Assuming your one of those people who simply must bitch about every single negative until you're blue in the face, remind us all how much pre-snap penalties suck. Now that you have that out of the way, can we enjoy the win again?
I agree that Ray Lewis has a point to his complaints of the roughing-the-passer call that Terrell Suggs was flagged for late in the game—everyone agrees with that—but Ray is old enough to know that refs don't always get the calls rights and that every team has suffered from their human errors. To say the Bengals don't deserve the win reminds me of that Aesop story regarding a wolf and sour grapes; get over it, oh ye wise old legend. If Ray must harbor resentment for a hard-fought game that didn't go his way, he should manifest those feelings in Week 17 when the two teams meet again. You are undoubtedly a spectacular player, Ray Lewis, but I thought you were more of a man than that.
I won't sit here and pretend that the Bengals don't have concerns on offense—there is still much tightening to be done on that side of the ball. If anything, they look poorly prepared. The passing game looks a hair out of rhythm (remind you of last year?), the blockers don't seem to be the maulers they were a season ago, and not knowing the snap count should be reserved for pee-wee football. But there is time to fix these things, and the defense showed that the concern on their side should be kept to a minimal.
All in all, Bengals fans, it could have been a lot worse last Sunday and you should recognize that. This isn't Brazilian soccer where the team must dazzle each time on their way to victory. There are ugly games throughout the schedule for every team in the NFL; the key is coming out on top when those occasions surface.
Mojokong—admittedly was close to blowing a gasket or two in the fourth quarter.