Three years into the creation of the Bengals, Paul Brown was carried off the field with fans cheering loudly after the final game of the regular season. The crowd of more than 60,000 was elated as the Riverfront scoreboard flashed "Baltimore Here We Come". The Bengals had just become the youngest expansion franchise to win a professional sports title. The Bengals were the AFC Central champions. They would be heading to Baltimore to face the Colts in their first ever playoff appearance.
The success the Bengals had that season was a bit of a shock. They actually won their first game of the season and then proceeded to lose the next six games. Midway through the season they were looking at a 1-6 record. Paul Brown was able to muster up some of the magic we only see in Disney movies as the Bengals exploded in the next game to beat Buffalo 43-14. This was what fans were accustomed to in a Paul Brown-coached team.
The next game they faced not only a division rival, but a personal matchup for Brown. Being the namesake of a team that he was fired from gave him all the fire he needed to move four hours south and create another professional football franchise. He wanted to not only beat the Cleveland Browns, but make a statement. That week, his statement came in the form of a 14-10 victory.
The Bengals followed those momentum setting wins with more victories against the Steelers (34-7), Saints (26-6), Chargers (17-14) and Oilers (30-20). This put them into a position of a win and you are in scenario for the playoffs. They were in control of their own fate and had the opportunity to close the door on the Cleveland Browns hopes of a playoff berth. The Bengals had to beat the Boston Patriots to make this a reality.
In the final game of the season against the Patriots, the Bengals were dealt another blow. The consistent Virgil Carter was lost for the game with an injury. Carter was actually the backup heading into the season but was forced into the starting role due to an injury to Bengals star Greg Cook. Cook was lost for the season with a shoulder injury in training camp.
In stepped the third string quarterback, Sam Wyche. The way this story would play out on the big screen would be that Wyche had the weight of the world on his shoulders and had to bring the Bengals back from some huge deficit. In reality, the Bengals had already built a comfortable lead and could have relied on their defense to win this game. Instead of playing conservatively, Brown kept his foot on the gas and the Bengals rolled to a 45-7 victory.
The icing on the cake for Brown was the victory ensured Cleveland would not take the division. The Cleveland Browns held on to the top spot in the division for the first 12 weeks of the season but the Bengals entered the final week with a win-and-you're-in scenario. The Browns needed the Bengals to lose for them to claim the crown. Paul Brown was able to shut the Browns out of the playoffs nearly eight years after he was fired from the team.
In that final game, Brown wanted to run up the score against the Patriots. As players tend to "scoreboard watch" he wanted the Cleveland team to see that they were essentially playing for nothing as the Bengals controlled their own destiny.
The division crown is what we hold on to, but what took the Bengals from a six game losing streak to a seven game winning streak? Some of it was scheduling. The AFL was always looked at as the kid brother to the NFL. Of the seven teams the Bengals faced from the NFL, only one had a winning record the year prior. The other seven teams the Bengals played all were familiar foes from the AFL.
That wasn't the whole story though, the team did actually improve in the second half of the season. During their losing streak, the Bengals averaged 230 yards a game. During the winning streak they gained 312 yards per game. They averaged 2.5 giveaways during the losing streak and averaged 1 giveaway in the winning streak.
The offense made a major improvement, but the defense stepped up also. The Bengals turned into a bend-but-don't-break defense that may have given up more yards per game, but kept scoring down. They averaged less than 12 points a game given to the opposing teams.
The Cinderella season wasn't meant to be unfortunately, as the Bengals fell 17-0 the following week to the eventual Super Bowl champion Baltimore Colts.
1970 was the birth of the modern NFL. The AFC and NFC were newly created divisions after the NFL / AFL merge and the Bengals had the distinction of being the first winners of the AFC Central. On top of that, Paul Brown was named the first ever NFL coach of the year.