What is the age old adage in sports--particularly in football? "A win is a win", right? In the parity-driven league that is the NFL, that adage rings truer after every weekend in autumn and winter. Most of the time, it doesn't matter how a team gets it done, it's that they finish the job and remain the last club standing.
Yet sometimes, both fans and media members get wrapped up in "style points" in the form of blowouts and/or "pretty football" and that isn't the 2013 Cincinnati Bengals' forte. My conjecture about much of the criticism on Andy Dalton lies in the fact that he doesn't play the Peyton Manning-brand of "pretty football" and won't wow you in the stat sheet week after week. But, Dalton and this Bengals team finds a way to win.
As a third of the 2013 season is officially in the books, one can confidently say that watching this year's Cincinnati squad has been a bit of a roller coaster. There have been some trademark wins against "elite quarterbacks" (three, to be exact), even though I hate this argument on the word "elite"), and came out victorious in a venue where they haven't won in almost 30 years.
While there have been inconsistencies for the Bengals, there is one thing that has remained consistent in their play: mistakes. Be it in the form of penalties, turnovers, odd play-calling and/or missed plays on the field, the Bengals have not been a clean ball club in 2013.
The Bengals have been turnover-free only once in five games this year and that was against the Steelers in Week Two. And, even in that game, Cincinnati committed nine penalties and arguably kept the game closer than it should have been.
Sunday's overtime thriller against the Bills showcased many different mistakes by Cincinnati and they came in a variety of different forms. It seemed that almost no one was immune to the mistake bug--not even the better players on the team.
On offense, Dalton threw a costly interception deep into Buffalo territory that likely took Cincinnati points off of the board before halftime. Offensive coordinator Jay Gruden called conservative passes all day and that really showed after this turnover. All-World wide receiver A.J. Green made a number of great plays on Sunday, but also dropped one of the easiest passes of his career because he attempted to run with the ball before catching it. That drop was at a critical point in the game when the momentum was clearly shifting back towards Buffalo in the second half.
The special teams unit had it's own forehead-slapping moments. When Adam Jones wasn't catching punts inside of his own ten-yard line, he was busy getting a 2.5 yards per return average. Then, after the Bengals offense scraped together a critical late drive thanks to a fourth-and-long conversion between Dalton and Dane Sanzenbacher, an Alex Smith hold during a made field goal by Mike Nugent pushed the team back ten yards. Raise your hand if you knew that Nugent was going to push it no good on the second try from further back. Yeah, me too.
And though the defense has been largely credited with carrying this team through the first 33 percent of the schedule, they haven't had the cleanest record either. The cornerbacks getting burned a couple of times aside, linebacker Vontaze Burfict had two after-the-whistle penalties that gave the Bills 30 yards. A defense simpley can't give up those types of penalties if they want to put a team away.
Here's the ironic thing: despite all of the mistakes that we saw on Sunday and the previous five contests, the Bengals have one of the better records in the NFL at 4-2 and have sole possession of first place in the AFC North. So, while it sounds as if I'm scolding the guys in orange and black, which is actually accurate, I am also praising them. And, if you think that Marvin Lewis is worried about "pretty football", he apparently isn't.
Why? Well, overcoming these snowballing mistakes and getting out of a tough first part of the schedule at 4-2 is definitely noteworthy. You don't get there if you are a weak-minded squad. A team also doesn't get there if it doesn't have the talent to do so. As advertised this offseason, this truly is a different Bengals team. One with confidence, heart and talent.
Now they just need to clean up the mistakes to start becoming a league juggernaut.