Not long before the start of today's game, I wandered over to da site, where I found that Geoff Hobson, whose blog postings are almost as intermittent as mine, had thrown up a few thoughts. Specifically, he was cautioning fans against reading too much into the 2011 Bengals, who had yet to be tested.
One assistant told me on Saturday that while locker room chemistry is extremely important, it takes time to become visible. He wants to see them go through some adversity first.
That’s code for their response to big injuries and tough losses, be it blowouts or of the last-minute variety. Another long-time insider says he’s looking to see how they react "to getting hitting in the mouth. And they will get hit in the mouth."
That’s going to take a month or so.
As it turned out, it would only take about a half or so. After a dream-come-true first quarter in which the Bengals leaped out to a 13-point lead, the usual happened: the Bengals fell apart, the other team -- in this case, the Cleveland Browns -- came roaring back, and in the space of 15-odd minutes not only did they reclaim the lead, but Cincinnati's starting QB was knocked out of the game on the final play of the half.
On the list of "Movies We've Seen Before," this is pretty much right at the top. And in second, third, fourth and the next two or three hundred places as well. As Doc notes:
This was the sort of game the Cincinnati Bengals have lost forever and ever. Remember the 2009 opener, at Paul Brown Stadium? The Bengals had it won, until Denver wideout Brandon Stokley snatched a tipped ball and turned it into an 87-yard touchdown. That kind of stuff has happened to the Bengals for the past 25 years.
And since we've seen this movie before, we know how it ends, right? Tight game, starting QB lost, locker room breaks down with the star wideout throwing punches at the coach, etc. Been here, done that, got the "Do Your Job" t-shirt, blah, blah, blah.
Except it didn't. Instead, all the stuff that normally happens to the Bengals...happened to the Browns. How many times have we watched the Bengals clinging to a small lead only to give up a big scoring play? Or trying to get the ball back for one last chance late only to give up a 40- or 50-yard run for a soul-crushing TD?
Yeah, that's what I thought.
Instead, after giving up a final field goal about halfway through the third quarter, the defense locked the Browns out of the end zone. The offense, though mostly ineffective, dipped into its bag of tricks for a stunning 41-yard scoring pass. And then Cedric Benson took the party rock to the house in a totally WTF 39-yard scamper that closed the door on any hopes of a Cleveland comeback. Michael Johnson's interception to bring things to a merciful close for the Browns wasn't even icing on the proverbial cake, just the cherry on top of the victory.
If they would have folded after giving up 17 unanswered points, the number of surprised Bengals fans would be zero. Instead...well, you saw it, too. I don't know how well this team is going to do. Fewer rather than more wins still seems likely. But what I do know after today is that we've got a team. Sink or swim, they showed me today that they'll do it together.
Now. One down. 15 to go. Who. Dey.