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Bengals get a Super memo


Geno Atkins

NEW YORK — So much for that slick and glossy packaged narrative of the-rules-have-killed-defense-and-it's-a-passing-league-only that dominated this season of Denver's record-breaking offense.

We give you the Seattle Seahawks after they yanked Sunday night's NFL title straight out of the 1970s and 1980s by dusting off an old-fashioned Super Bowl blowout. The Broncos, as it always seemed liked they were in that era, were the victims. This time by a stunning 43-8 count bloodied by the NFL's No. 1 defense that no one saw coming.

But now that it's here it's the best thing that has happened to Bengaldom in the four weeks since the bitter-pill loss to the Chargers ended the season for the third straight year in the first round of the playoffs. The Bengals should be looking in the mirror this Monday morning because what are the differences?

A top three defense that scores touchdowns and pressures with four linemen. A young and accomplished quarterback that's not a cardboard cutout of a 6-5 first-round passing machine. Playmakers at running back and wide receiver. Opportunistic return teams.

If Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson said 'Why not us?' after it was over Sunday night, why can't the Bengals say it with their third-ranked defense getting back its two best players and a smart quarterback heading into his fourth season with a gaudy winning percentage that has one of the league's deepest depth charts for weapons?

The Bengals had one of their best years on offense when it came to the record book but came up unsatisfied in the postseason. So on Sunday it seemed quite fitting that one of their more revered records—the late Dan Ross's 11 Super Bowl catches he shared with others—fell in a losing effort with 13 by Denver's Demaryius Thomas.   

OK, OK. Seattle's No. 1 unit may be one of the greatest championship defenses of all-time. What its Cover 2 zone coverage did to Denver quarterback Peyton Manning's NFL-record 55 touchdown passes was an autopsy and not a game plan.

And Wilson may be a 5-11 athlete/runner with a gun while Cincinnati's barely 6-2 Andy Dalton is still, in big moments, trying to get comfortable in the pocket.

But listening to the Seahawks celebrate their formula and roster Sunday night is a lot like listening to the Bengals.

"We're misfits," cornerback Richard Sherman said as he ticked off the pedigree of a punishing defense that never let Manning breathe with four turnovers.

He started with Malcolm Smith, a seventh-round draft pick who started the year playing outside and ended the year inside getting the Super Bowl MVP handed to him by fellow USC alum Marcus Allen.

"From (safety) Kam Chancellor in the fifth round to undrafted free agent (end) Michael Bennett to Richard Sherman in the fifth round to (linebacker) K.J. Wright in the fourth round," said Sherman, who made sense and the media wise up all week.

Then there was Seattle offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell observing, "We feed off our defense, their frenzy," while Wilson saluted the fourth-youngest roster ever to win a Super Bowl. There was defensive coordinator Dan Quinn sounding a lot like Mike Zimmer and Paul Guenther when he talked about the versatility of faceless guys like Smith and defensive tackle Clinton McDonald assuming varying roles.

"No one on our team had been to the Super Bowl, but we believed we could go and take it," Wilson said. "If I told you I was thinking about the future, that wouldn't be us. We think about the moment and enjoy this moment."

Sound familiar? You may be hearing more of it. It is, after all, a copycat league, as they like to say.

Heading into the game last week, new Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson took a timeout from his staff's self-scouting analysis and resisted the temptation to make Seattle the favorite. After all, he shares University of Pacific roots with Seattle head coach Pete Carroll and he loves the physical style of the Seahawks.

"But we have to play Denver next year," Jackson said. "The team that is balanced, physical, and runs the ball has a great chance of winning Super Bowls. That's what I believe in. At some point you have to make the other guy tap out and say 'Uncle.' Not that the other team will quit. They just know you're going to come after them and I think Seattle will do that. The most physical team who takes care of the ball is going to win the game and the way Seattle plays it seems like they'll put up a good fight."

Jackson would also have no part of comparing the Bengals offense to what is going on in Seattle.

"We're studying that right now and it's going to end up what we do best," Jackson said.

But there's no doubt Jackson noted that Seattle became the first Super Bowl winner not to commit a turnover or give up a sack. Turnovers, 30 of them, were the major reason the Bengals weren't here. Four of them, just like the Broncos on Sunday, took Cincinnati out of the playoff game against San Diego.

There were object lessons teeming all for the Bengals on Sunday night.

(Including Wilson talking about how 21 skill players gathered for a voluntary passing camp in California during the offseason.)

Wilson was good, particularly early when he hit four of his first five third-down passes. But, as usual, Seattle didn't ask him to win it like the Bengals have continually asked Dalton. Wilson, who threw nearly 200 fewer passes than Dalton this season (586-407), didn't throw more than 30 in a game since Dec. 2, and on Sunday he only had to go to the air 25 times while the Seattle defense ruled the day.

Then there were Wilson's type of passes. Short, quick routes at or inside the numbers. That's how he got the first three third downs. The fourth one, a lovely 37-yard bomb down the left sideline to wide receiver Doug Baldwin, looked like it was also the product of threatening the middle of the field. Baldwin crossed outside with wide receiver Golden Tate cutting inside and that hung up cornerback Champ Bailey just long enough to let Baldwin get free.

And keep an eye on Bengals speed receiver Andrew Hawkins after Seattle's Percy Harvin had his own package and rushed twice for 45 yards early before he took the second half kickoff for a touchdown.

"At the beginning of the year, I told the guys we had a team," Wilson said. "We had a players-only meeting and I told all the players a story my dad used to always tell me. He always used to kind of tap me and say, 'Hey, why not you? Why can't you be a world champion or whatever you want to be?' "

But the biggest lesson of all may be that reinforcement of that defensive mentality the Bengals adopted when Zimmer arrived in 2008 and led the way to four playoff berths. Seattle administered this beating with no help from Jersey's notorious winter winds. Not at just eight miles per hour at most.

Phil Simms, the MVP of the first New Jersey Super Bowl title as the Giants quarterback, shared the coin-flipping duties with the man that brought the title to Broadway, Joe Willie Namath of the Jets. Before he left for the flip, Simms cooled his heels in the suite reserved for the Bengals group headed by executive vice president Katie Blackburn.

As Blackburn and Simms chatted about—what else—the weather, Simms pointed at the limp end-zone flags.

"In 15 years playing in this stadium," said Simms, shaking his head, "I've never seen the flags dead like that."

The Seattle defense, it turned out, unleashed its own turbulence.

"Defense wins championships," said Chancellor, who backed up the cliché with his tone-setting shot on Thomas on a crossing route early in the game.

The play summed up Quinn's game plan. He dared Manning to throw it deep by clamping down on the short routes and emphasizing tackling to prevent the dreaded yards-after-catch.

"We zoned it out. We were going to run and hit," Sherman said. "If they caught those, they'd have to deal with it after they caught it. We weren't really trying to affect Peyton that way. If we could intimidate their receivers in some way, that's what our plan was. Kam's hit was exactly what Kam said he was going to do to set the tone early. That's what he did when he hit Demaryius on the crosser."

It also reinforced that despite all the rules catering to offenses, despite all the touchdown passes, despite the mountain of passing yards, good defense always seems to beat good offense. For the sixth time in the Super Bowl, the league's top-scoring team faced the league's stingiest. For the fifth time, defense won.

Asked if good defense really and truly does beat good offense, Quinn, paused before allowing, "Tonight it was."

Maybe next year, too.

"Why not us?" asked Wilson before his signature sign-off of "Go Hawks."

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