Monday night did not end with a shortage of storylines for the Cincinnati Bengals. What else can you really say about a game that has never happened in a lifetime for some people?
Seriously! The Chad Johnson era and the Andy Dalton-A.J. Green playoff streak helped reel in a younger generation of Bengals fans. And the Bengals have beaten the Pittsburgh Steelers during those years, but never quite like this.
Not since 2003 have they beaten the Steelers by two scores. Not since 1999 have they won despite being 10-point underdogs or more to the six-time Super Bowl champions. Not since...have they ever been this physically dominant against them before?
That’s a question worth asking someone old enough to have actually watched Kevin Greene play live.
A few hours before kickoff on Monday, Greene passed away at the age of just 58. Like most everything that’s happened in 2020, it seemed to have come out of nowhere. When Greene made two Pro Bowls and an All-Pro team with the Steelers from 1993-1995, his position coach was none other than Marvin Lewis for all three years. Greene’s playing days were nearing an end, but Lewis’ coaching career was just beginning.
Jay Morrison of The Athletic said on Twitter that Lewis was able to go to Greene’s Hall of Fame induction in 2016, and just talking about it made Lewis more excited than his usual self.
One of the more memorable conversations I had with Marvin Lewis was in 2016 when I asked him after a training camp practice about flying to Canton to watch Kevin Greene's HOF induction. Usually buttoned up, Lewis was so excited about going and happy to talk about it.— Jay Morrison (@JayMorrisonATH) December 21, 2020
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Lewis is a true football guy, which as our own Matt Minich states, is someone who will talk about the game with anyone; a true ambassador to the sport. Minich said that Greene definitely qualified as that, and Carl Lawson, one of Lewis’ last great draft picks, probably agrees.
Greene’s professional career is historic and beloved by many, but before all of that, he started as a walk-on at Auburn. His 11-sack 1984 season is still second in school history, and not even Lawson could break it in his two years rushing the passer for the Tigers. Greene is one of the greatest players in the history of Auburn football, and if there was any doubt that he had an impact on Lawson, another War Eagle pass-rusher, that was erased on Monday night.
That game was for you KG. Rest easy Shifu #BeatSteelers— carl lawson (@carllawson55) December 22, 2020
Lawson played the best game of his NFL career against one of Greene’s former teams. He finished the night with nine pressures and five hits on quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Oh, and a strip-sack to boot. He’s had multi-sack games in his four years with the Bengals, but this was next level. He was beating the crap out of left tackle Alejandro Villanueva in such a diverse manner, using inside and outside counter moves flawlessly. It was a true pass-rushing clinic, and it needs no commentary from yours truly. Just sit back and enjoy:
Believe it or not, only 10 other players currently on the Bengals roster have played more games for the team than Lawson, who isn’t even 26 years old yet. Lawson knows more about this (dare I say) “rivalry” than most of the team, and that includes Mike Daniels. At least that’s what I thought.
In the final minutes before kickoff on Monday, ESPN played a clip from the Bengals’ first game against the Steelers this season. I checked the full replay on NFL GamePass to see if it was there; it was not, so you’ll have to take my word on this. It featured none other than Daniels in the middle of a pregame huddle repeating three words to his teammates.
“WE HATE THEM. WE HATE THEM.”
At that point in his life, Daniels had never been a part of a Bengals-Steelers game; he was signed as a free agent about a month before the season even started. When he retires, he won’t be known for his time in Cincinnati.
That didn’t matter. Daniels embraced the animosity. He wore it like a badge of honor.
After Monday’s victory, Daniels had more words to say about those darn Steelers and proceeded to celebrate with some Black & Gold cigarettes in hand—excuse me—Black & Yellow cigarettes.
That clip is enough to make any Bengals fan a Mike Daniels fan. But I wanted to truly do justice to what he’s meant for this team.
Daniels hasn’t produced like his old self in his ninth year in the league, but he’s taken on multiple roles for a defensive line that has been bombarded with injuries and lackluster play. Even in this game, Daniels didn’t jump out on the box score, but he continued to do the dirty work at essentially every spot between the tackles. Here are a few plays from Monday that best showcase his weekly grind.
From Vonn Bell’s hit stick explosion, to Mackensie Alexander’s high-stepping interception return, to Daniels’ unglamorous labor and unrivaled energy, it really seemed like the catalysts for the Bengals’ biggest win in years were players that only recently joined the team. These are the guys that can help you establish a winning culture, because they have seen and experienced other winning cultures. They don’t need coaches telling them what the expectations are, they put in the work already knowing what the expectations should be.
Monday night was about the players; the ones proving their worth in contract years, like Lawson, and the ones leaving their mark, like Daniels. When a team comes together all at once like that, there is no demon of a football team they can’t overcome.