Here we stand, four down and 12 to go. The Bengals are standing unblemished and atop the weakening AFC North. The eyes of the world are slowly rotating to the Queen City and with good reason. This skill and ability is no news for those who read Cincy Jungle. The development of high pedigree athletes and surprised maturation of undrafted souls have formed a team, a unit, that seems to have done nothing but click and drive the last four weeks. We know how good the boys are, but more importantly, we know how good they can be.
The NFL pushed out their list of All-Pro candidates Tuesday morning now that the first quarter of football has been played and Cincinnati is mentioned in the same breath as the typical media darlings with many of their players featured on the list. This is the cross to bear for a football franchise that has seen its share of heartbreak. The games are won in the trenches, the accolades are reserved for the hardened victors and we all know that no one remembers the superstars after four games. The world only recognizes if you win the last game. We know how good the Bengals can be.
That being said, let's take a breath. We can enjoy this moment. Before the next test let's all give a round of applause for those that got us here. Long journeys start with a step and as Sparky Anderson once said, "Great seasons start with great beginnings."
Aaron Rodgers takes home the prize. This is hardly a shock. The Packers are, to some extent Aaron Rodgers, or you could reverse that. When a player takes a team on their shoulders there's a reason. He is a future Hall of Famer who continues to elevate his game. But outside of Rodgers there are some shockers on the board (not including Tom Brady of course). Cam Newton has the Panthers, well, winning at least. Carson Palmer's duct tape knees lead a dangerous Arizona team and Palmers is arguably playing as good as he ever has post Kimo von Oelhoffen's helmet. Meanwhile Andy Dalton forges on. Scared and hardened by past mediocre campaigns, by a fanbase that seems incapable of really loving him, Dalton seems to have a new groove this year. Poise and focus. He's been outstanding and worthy of all the accolades he's receiving. With the exception of Brady and Rodgers all the quarterbacks on this list have failed when it mattered most, is this the year one breaks out? Is this the year Andy Dalton surges to a deep playoff run?
Adrian Peterson is your NFL rushing leader, so while he revels in his stats, the Bengals continue to experiment. While Jeremy Hill hasn't lost his starting job despite a rocky first quarter, it's been Bernard who has led the way. There is a different feel with this tandem though. Usually you can comb the post-game and post-practice comments and read lines laced with sarcasm and dejected feelings when a touted player stumbles. The excuses roll off the tongue easy when you struggle. But once again, there is a transformed understanding of the ultimate goal. Bernard and Hill are playing off each other, an intense, albeit friendly, competition. It's like a nature documentary; when piranhas hunt you never see them hunt each other. Bernard is leading the NFL with 5.5 yards per carry, Jeremy Hill's 5 rushing touchdowns is second in the NFL. I'll give Adrian Peterson the All-Pro nod; I'll take Gio and Jeremy on my team.
We all remember things differently. We all look back in time and can rationalize in our heads that we were smarter, held deeper insight, were more in tune with the world. So when I say I felt the season took a turn when Tyler Eifert went down with his season ending elbow injury last season, you can take that with a grain of salt. He's developed into the weapon he was always meant to be. His one man opening game welcome party was impressive enough, but it's very clear the man isn't done. He's nightmarish for defensive schemes. He's an open field threat, he's a short coverage danger, he's Tyler Eifert.
In the first two weeks, A.J. Green had limited production and some were wondering what was going on. Tyler Eifert and a rehabilitated Marvin Jones were getting the attention as Andy Dalton threw strikes. But where was Green?We're pretty sure people just started asking about Green's lack of production because they just missed talking about him every week. His Week 3 performance is why he is who he is. Why he is a premiere wide receiver. Why he stacks up as good as anyone in the league. You can pretend to forget about him, but that' all you're doing, pretending. Make believe and fantasy lands. Adriel Jeremiah Green is as real as it gets.
Geno Atkins is as advertised. All we heard in preseason was Atkins was operating at 100 percent. We could only hope that it was true. Four weeks into the season and we see, yes indeed, he's back. The defensive line as a whole has been revived. Dipped in the waters of salvation and they have a new heartbeat. Atkins shares the fake award with Aaron Donald who has been part of his own revitalization in St. Louis who has embarrassed their fair share of offensive lines in the early season.
The lions' share goes to a suffocating Arizona secondary who has managed not only key interceptions but stifling pressure to receivers and quarterbacks alike. Josh Norman and Tyrann Mathieu are unquestionably having strong starts to the year. Although, Adam Jones has been nothing to sneeze at. A tremendous game against Oakland got attention and his intensity has inspired those around him, but already we're seeing a dinged up high passion player. Jones will need to find a way to contribute if his injuries continue to nag, he's been too important to the start of the season to fade away now.
Alright, now breathe in one more time. Exhale. Good. Now enough of the adulations, it's time to get back to work. We have plenty of time to know and see how good the Bengals can be.