Head coach Marvin Lewis finally has his team that plays it one snap at a time and he needs his Bengals now more than ever to keep themselves in check.
Right guard Bobbie Williams and left tackle Andrew Whitworth have seen it before. The Bengals go into a home game against an opponent they're supposed to and must beat, but at the most inopportune time come out flatter than Second Street. As far back as Buffalo in 2005 and as recently as Tampa Bay and Miami in 2010. Throw in Atlanta in 2006, Arizona in 2007 and Houston in 2009, and the 6-4 Bengals are well aware what the 4-6 Browns can do Sunday (1 p.m.-WLW-AM 700) at Paul Brown Stadium.
But this year these haven't been your father's Bengals or your kid's Bengals or your great aunt's Bengals or even your own Bengals. They haven't had an Egg Game yet in 2011 where they come out and lay an egg and Whitworth doesn't expect one in a game they have to have to stay close to the 8-3 Ravens and 7-3 Steelers.
"I think in the past there have been a lot of games we didn't respond, road or home, against teams we should play well against," Whitworth said this week. "I think this is a different team, though, and I think this year we've been able to play pretty well against teams when we're favored or not and I don't think that's really an issue. The concern this week is it's another division game. It means a whole lot. I think different than the scenarios we've had in the past, every one of these (last) six games is crucial and it's going to mean a lot to what we do."
The Bengals seek to steady themselves after two straight losses to Pittsburgh and Baltimore and if there is ever a time to regain their winning AFC North ways, this is it with a familiar script and foe at home.
In the 13 seasons the Browns have been back in the NFL, the Bengals have hit them for seven of Cincinnati's top 21 rushing days since the merger. Five have come under head coach Marvin Lewis, four of those have been at PBS, and four have been in November or December. Cedric Benson, the man that figures to get most of the carries Sunday, makes the list twice, including his 150-yard effort in last season's 19-17 win last December.
The Browns have a good defense, ranked first against the pass and in the top 10 in scoring, but their numbers against the run continue to be low. This week it is a No. 29 ranking.
"I don't know, man," Benson said when asked this week why the run clicks against Cleveland. "Just getting out there and being physical with them. They are a division team, AFC North guys, they play good defense. You've just got to get out there and play physical and execute. It's not rocket science."
Which is how the Bengals have approached this season. There has been no drama of a rocket launch or misfires on the pad where it has all blown up. They've been up and in for every game.
"I feel like in the past we were always worried about, 'When are we playing this team? When are we playing that team? Looking forward to this team,' " Whitworth said. "This team doesn't see it that way. We see it as the next Sunday, the next challenge and the next time we get to go prove who we are.
"Trap games happen because you start making one game more important than the other. I don't think any of them are more important than (the) other. The next week is the most important and I think this team has that attitude. "
As Williams says, how many of these guys were around when Terrence McGee returned a pick and kick for the Bills? Or when Mike Vick became a pure passer for a day?
"This team is a different team," Williams said. "Short memory. This team doesn't know what's happened in past years. That's good because they're building their own identity, so let's go get it done."
What they do know is that this team did run it on the Browns. It took the Bengals awhile to crank it up on Opening Day, but Benson's longest run of the season came on the last carry of the game, a 39-yard touchdown run that gave him 121 yards on 25 carries for his third 100-yard game against the Browns. The Bengals also know they've run the ball better the past two weeks against the Steelers and Ravens and that Benson nicked the Ravens for two rare red-zone rushing touchdowns in Baltimore last Sunday.
They also know the Browns are just as red-zone stingy and miserly about allowing points. With the inspired play of middle linebacker D'Qwell Jackson and a young athletic front line and back end, the Browns are eighth in the league in allowing red zone touchdowns and seventh in allowing points.
"All their guys have a couple of sacks here and there," Whitworth said of the Cleveland front anchored by rookie tackle Phil Taylor. "Their style is they're going to be in all the right places, they'll be in the right fits and they want to make you mess up, shoot yourself in the foot and they're not going to give up a lot of points because they play good in the back end. It's going to be key to execute every single play vs. these guys. Mistakes will hurt you. Any time you shoot yourself in the foot it will be obvious."
Like he hopes his team does, Whitworth has moved on from the last two snaps in Baltimore. The Bengals were 17 yards away from tying the game in the final minute, but each time the Ravens got pressure on the quarterback from left tackle. On third down the Ravens gave the Bengals a surprising look and on fourth down Whitworth didn't get the change in cadence.
"We just had a little stunt there and kind of was in the wrong thing," Whitworth said. "It's something you bounce back from all the time. Guys get beat or make mistakes. I think the key is not letting it affect who you are and what you do every single week and every single week you have to come prove yourself, so it will be no different. It's really not a thought this week.
"There are bad stretches in every game. Every player has a bad couple of plays in every game. You just happen to have an instance that I don't really consider a bad play as much as miscommunication and not knowing what the snap count was. It got changed and that's a mistake we can't make anymore."
So Whitworth figures if he's not worried about that last series hanging over the team or a dreaded letdown, the other guys aren't. Not this Sunday. Not this team.
"I don't think that's something this team is worried about; we treat every game as if it is the most important one," Whitworth said. "It's no different. Just like last week. Would I like to have the last play back with another snap count? Heck yeah. But it doesn't mean anything now. If we can beat people these next six games, we can do anything we want, so it's irrelevant."
TOP 21 RUSHING GAMES FOR BENGALS SINCE MERGER
278: Corey Dillon vs. Denver, Nov. 22, 2000
246: Corey Dillon vs. Tennessee, Dec. 4, 1997
216: Cory Dillon vs. Arizona, Dec. 3, 2000
202: Rudi Johnson vs. Cleveland, Nov. 28, 2004
201: James Brooks vs. Houston, Dec. 23, 1990
192: Corey Dillon vs. Cleveland, Dec. 12, 1999
190: Harold Green vs. New England, Dec. 20, 1992
189: Cedric Benson vs. Chicago, Oct. 25, 2009
184: Corey Dillon at Detroit, Oct. 28, 2001
182: Rudi Johnson vs. Houston, Nov. 9, 2003
174: Rudi Johnson vs. San Francisco, Dec. 14, 2003
171: Cedric Benson at Cleveland, Dec. 21, 2008
169: Rudi Johnson vs. Cleveland, Dec. 11, 2005
168: Corey Dillon at Cleveland, Oct. 10, 1999
165: Rudi Johnson vs. KC, Nov. 16, 2003
164: Corey Dillon at Indianapolis, Oct. 6, 2002
163: James Brooks at New England, Dec. 7, 1986
160: Pete Johnson vs. Cleveland, Dec. 17, 1978
150: Cedric Benson vs. Cleveland, Dec. 19, 2010
148: James Brooks at Dallas, Nov. 20, 1988
145: Rudi Johnson Cleveland, Sept. 17. 2006