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Bengals win over Steelers draws case for beauty in ugly NFL wins

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A 16-10 final score is hardly a high flying exercise of offensive muscle, but for the Bengals' defense it proved the ugly truth about this football team in the best way possible.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

There's beauty in the ugly. A win is a win and a notch on the ol' belt. On Sunday the Bengals carved the notch out with their fingernails. The high flying offense was grounded, receivers were left stranded on the tarmac and pilot Andy Dalton couldn't seem to get the landing gear up. So did the Bengals call it quits? Did they pull a Ryan Mallett and make excuses for not being where they needed to be? Nah, they just took a bus. And yes, that metaphor was laced with bitter irony for our Steelers friends.

Even at its best, defense is boring. That's why the socially conscious NFL has made laws to limit the influence of defense over the years. It's whitewashing a fence, it's cleaning the gutters, it's taking out the trash. But the old axiom is true, ‘offense wins games, defense wins championships.' Without the glue of a good defensive stand, it all falls apart. Look no further than the recent tilt between the New York Giants and New Orleans Saints. Without defense it's a coin flip on game days. I don't think anyone would look at the Giants and Saints game and call it, ‘ugly.' That's what they call a shootout. The offense gets all the praise. So while Eli Manning was setting off fireworks in a loss, the Bengals' defense was taking out the trash and doing their taxes at the same time.

It's a dirty job, but someone better do it.

We clutch our breath when the defense is on the field, ‘just hold them.' Their job is in the negative. Hold yards, hold points, limit and bend. The offense lives in the positive, put points on the board, march down the field, attack and push forward. See, the offense gets all the good stuff. For past franchises that have prided themselves on their defense like Baltimore or Seattle, they tend to get more acclaim but for what many would call a mediocre defense, like Cincinnati, we just wait for them to clean the garage.

You can look at the game and come up with the standard lock-box phrase of, ‘an ugly win.' And yes, that's probably accurate, but there's beauty in the ugly. Football is choreographed theatre on both sides of the field. For every one handed back of the end zone snag, there's a fingertip redirection to negate a long gain. For every fifty yard run, there's a pounding stop in the backfield. Although, I'm wrong about calling any time the Bengals and Steelers play each other a ballet; it's more akin to professional wrestling. The drama holds true as any ancient Greek spectacle by Sophocles and Euripides, but it's more blunt and analogous to the exploits of the McMahon family.

There's beauty in the ugly because it holds the personality, it holds the truth. Anyone can win when they're playing their best, but it takes a certain type to win at their worst. It takes a certain type to grind, to grit their teeth and do the job without the bulk of the praise. It takes winners to do that. The ugly is falling down drunk when the lips are loose and the truth comes out. It's not pretty to listen to, but at least now we know where we stand. Ugly is the truth, at your lowest but still victorious. To quote Keats, "Beauty is truth, truth beauty, - that is all. Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know."

The Bengals defensive win, holding the Steelers to 10 points, at home, with their divisional hopes on the line put the truth of this Bengals team on full display. It wasn't covered up by 80 yard touchdown passes or freak 60 yard runs. It was defensive certainty.

Leaving a little more hobbled, a little more broken, the Steelers are going back to the drawing board. The Bengals banged up and bandaged move right along. The slugfest is over for now and a win is in the books. Defensive wins may be ugly this year for Cincinnati, but when ugly looks like this... well, I'll take it every time.