Hobson's Choice: New Bengals' state of mind

I was prepared to write an angry e-mail, complaining about how the Bengals let the fans and themselves down . . . again. As the game wore on, they did nothing to alleviate my fears that the Browns were going to get us again. When it was over and we had snatched victory away from a scrappy Cleveland team, I still wasn't satisfied. It shouldn't have been that hard. Where was Carson throwing his passes, I wondered. Why, I asked, can't Chuck Bresnehan figure out that Charlie Frye rolls to his right on every single play and put a linebacker there to contain him?

But I realized something. Good teams find ways to win. What the Bengals did on Sunday was ugly, but they still got the W. The defense came up with just enough stops. Rudi put the team on his back and carried them down the field.

So my question is: what's the mental state of this team? How resilient are they? Do they have faith that they can conquer anything? Are the holes that they've shown in the last month functions of them giving one thing away to make something else happen? Just how good are these Bengals?

Okay, that's a lot of questions, but I'd love to hear your take. And I'd like to apologize to the team for some of the things I said during the game. Good teams find ways to win, even when they're having a bad day.
John, #1 Bengals Fan in Lawrence KS JOHN:

It was their mental state that bailed them out of a dicey situation that would have caught up to a lot of teams. Clearly these are the most resilient Bengals since the 1990 team started the season 5-3 with six of the first eight games on the road. And for that Marvin Lewis deserves to be Coach of the Year. He took over the biggest basket case in the NFL and in three years has them playing like cool, confident champions.

OK, you can rail all you want about the lack of focus at home against a struggling team last Sunday. But that's life. It happens every Sunday in the NFL and every Monday through Friday in skyscrapers. It's called the human factor. These guys aren't I-pods. It's not Madden 2006 out there.

I agree with you. The fact they hung together and found a way to win against Cleveland is just another example of an on-the-rise team continuing to validate itself as a play-off team. Play-off teams win on the road and anywhere they're not supposed to win. An elite team is a consistent play-off team over a few years.

When Lewis arrived, they were the ultimate Charlie Brown team. Whenever it looked like it may actually start to go right, a flag would fly (James Francis on Troy Aikman), someone would get hurt (Darnay Scott's broken leg), a No. 1 would bust (where to start?) and the big money wasn't big enough (Ray Crockett signing a Denver deal in a Cincinnati hotel room).

Any Bengals' follower could have told you that last Sunday's game was the game they always used to lose. How many times on those last drives of the past did the flag go the wrong way? And they got two straight against the Browns in the last two minutes? More proof the mentality is no longer just waiting for Lucy to take the ball away at the last instant.

But you make your own breaks. They stayed close Sunday to give themselves a chance. Lewis has given them back that Paul Brown-Lemar Parrish-Pete Johnson-Boomer Esiason-Sam Wyche confidence that borders on the swagger that you need to play football.

They know they've conquered the ghosts. They hear about it all the time from the media, so they know they've killed the 15-year-old vampire. The worst AFC road team of the last 10 years won all its division road games. They've won routs (Minnesota, Chicago), won late (Tennessee and Cleveland), won grinders in keeping teams out of the end zone (Baltimore) and won a shootout (Pittsburgh).

Before, when a defensive free agent hit the market, he called Lewis first. Now, when an offensive free agent hits the market, he'll call Carson and Chad first.

In the last month they've shown they can play any style of offense needed, and that they still need some help on defense. They've given up too many yards and too many points, but Lewis' principles are taking root (speed, turnovers, red-zone toughness) and it's clear that Chuck Bresnahan has worked well as the defensive coordinator. Their league-leading 38 turnovers show they have a core of playmakers they once sorely lacked and while they may have some missing parts (consistent sacker, an anchor in the middle, and a presence against the run in the secondary), these guys are competitors and find ways to get it done.

So how good are they? They can score, can't they? They put up 117 points in that three-game stretch against the top 10 defenses of Indy, Baltimore, and Pittsburgh. And they can run the clock, can't they? And they've proven they can make a play on defense and special teams when they need it.

They are what they are. A talented, emerging, and dangerous near-division champion that could win the whole thing with a few post-season breaks this time around.

(Yes, the Colts are ungodly at home. But a fast inside track also helps the Bengals. A tip here, a bounce there, a call there. . .)

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