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Cowher: Bengals no longer surprise

Cedric Benson

Posted: 7:30 p.m.

MIAMI  - Bill Cowher, the man who predicted the Bengals would be the NFL's surprise team in 2009, says they won't be going away any time soon and everybody will know about them this time.

"They're a solid team; they'll be back," Cowher said Tuesday after the CBS news conference here at the Super Bowl. "Marvin (Lewis) does a very good job of keeping them level-headed and I can see them picking up where they left off. It's a tough team to play. They play good defense with two of the best corners in the National Football League.

"They've got some young linebackers. I think offensively with (Cedric) Benson and that offensive line they did a great job with and with Carson (Palmer) still there and they get some more weapons for him on the outside, I think they'll be fine."

Cowher, the former Steelers head coach who is expected to be back in coaching next year, is working his first Super Bowl in the CBS Studio. He thought the Bengals had something special brewing when they nearly knocked off the Chargers in San Diego late in the year.

"It was unfortunate they probably played their best game against San Diego and they just couldn't get it going against the Jets," he said. "Still, it's a solid foundation with defense and the running game. It's amazing the one strength you thought they would have kind of became their weakness with the passing game. But they're still solid."

Even though he's impressed with Cincinnati, Cowher still thinks the Bengals, Steelers or Ravens have no clear-cut edge in the AFC North.

"It's such a tough division," Cowher said. "The Steelers lost a lot of close games. Baltimore is still a solid team with a good young quarterback. They're getting a little bit old on defense, they address their corners, but that's still a good team and they need to get some receivers for their quarterback, too. I think it's those three teams."

BOOMER, SOLLY REMINISCE: While Cowher was talking about Bengals present and future, two of his colleagues, Boomer Esiason and Solomon Wilcots, were talking about those Bengals from 21 years ago. They were two of those Bengals from January 1989 in this very spot, when Esiason, the quarterback, took his NFL MVP trophy against Joe Montana's Hall of Fame bust and Wilcots, one of the SWAT Team safeties, pitched in on a defense that held the vaunted 49ers to one touchdown until the final 34 seconds turned it all to mush.

Now Esiason may be calling the game on Westwood One Radio and Wilcots may be manning the Saints sideline during the CBS broadcast, but their thoughts won't be far from that day.

"I always think of it every Super Bowl, but especially when it's in Miami," Wilcots said. "I think of it this way: We came within 34 seconds of holding them to 13 points, and the next year they scored 55 on Denver."

Esiason said he's wondering what if Bengals head coach Sam Wyche opted to play fullback Stanley Wilson after finding him in a cocaine-induced stupor the night before the game. Wilson, one of the keys to the lethal Bengals running game, never played another snap for Cincinnati.

"I swear to God. Bill Parcells would have let Lawrence Taylor play," Esiason said. "I know in my heart he would because he did. Stanley was under a different set of rules. I always think Sam could sleep at night because morally he made the right decision. It might have cost his team the Super Bowl, I don't know. We all played great. It was a great game. It was close. But it was one decision. It was almost like a fourth-and-one decision and he decided to punt and we lost."

It always comes back to one event. During Tuesday's production meeting, senior producer Eric Mann went around the room asking Super Bowl veterans what their teams did the night before the game. What was the curfew? Did they stay in the same hotel? Did they move to a different hotel?

"Yeah," I told him. "We moved the night before and then Stanley moved again."

Wilcots is working his second Super Bowl sideline and the first one was in Miami, too. He had the Bears three years ago when they lost to the Colts. And it's just as serious to him as it was in '89.

"As players, we knew it was a big game for Paul Brown, Mike Brown, Sam Wyche. Don't let them kid you. Players know," Wilcots said. "It's the same thing here. We know what it means to the Viacom CEO, Sean McManus (president of CBS News and Sports), and the vice presidents. We want to bring the ring back for them."

Wilcots was paired with the Saints because he is the TV analyst for the club's preseason games. There is a method to the madness. Steve Tasker once played for Colts general manager Bill Polian in Buffalo and will be on the Indianapolis sideline. Wilcots played for former Colts head coach Tony Dungy in Minnesota and went to church with the family of current head coach Jim Caldwell when both were at the University of Colorado.

"But I've got a relationship with (Saints) head coach Sean Payton and (general manager) Mickey Loomis from doing their games and if we need to dig for something during the game, that will help," Wilcots said.

Wilcots considers sideline reporting the reconnaissance work of the broadcast. He and Tasker are pretty much dropped into the middle of the battle.

"We're the eyes and ears of the guys in the booth. We can see what they can't see," Wilcots said. "All your experiences help you, from playing in this game to working other games. You can see them making certain adjustments with a nod. Or, how are they resolving conflict? Is it via arguing and yelling? Or is it calmly? And you can almost be proactive when you see how the conflict is resolved because you have an idea of what is coming next."

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