Thinking and believing

Posted: 6 a.m.

Again, with apologies to Cincinnati TalkMaster Lance McAlister and Sports Illustrated's Peter King, here are some things I Think I Believe I Know:

I Think I Believe I Know that watching running back Cedric Benson is fun.

You feel a little like a voyeur because you're watching a guy going through something so personal and emotional.

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Benson

He's playing with the heart and desire of a man playing for his professional reputation and his livelihood. Here's a guy trying to erase what all the people have written and said with every violent run. It's called old-fashioned hunger and it is fun.

It's also a little bit nostalgic. That's the way the Bengals played as a team a few years ago when they brought the franchise back into yearly playoff hunts. Hungry. They played with a certain desperation, like every Sunday was their last shot to make a difference.

I Think I Believe I Know that Marvin Lewis has not lost this team.

They may not be playing with Cedric Benson-like hunger, but they are playing hard and that's one of the many reasons that you can't compare this mess to what happened in the '90s.

For one thing, they never had a two-time Pro Bowl quarterback in the bad old days, so they couldn't miss one. They never had two Pro Bowl receivers, they never had first-round cornerbacks, highly-drafted offensive tackles, or two defensive ends that combined had career season bests of a combined 18.5 sacks.

Obviously they aren't playing like that now and that's the challenge for everyone in the club to figure out about this team. Did they overrate the personnel or is the personnel underachieving?

And they've got a much better locker room than the notorious 1998 club that had the cars packed and idling in the parking lot during the 35-0 loss to Tampa Bay in the finale that made it 3-13. What Lewis has built internally for player support as far as an operation dwarfs what the team had then.

Teams that have a bad locker room wouldn't have played with the toughness and heart the Bengals showed on the road against the Giants and Cowboys, and against the Jets with a backup quarterback. If the '99 team had gone three-and-out in the first four series like it did against the Jets on the road, it would have got beat 31-3 instead of being in the game in the fourth quarter.

Which is why Lewis was so upset with what happened in the last 11 minutes on Sunday. The 21-0 run had all the earmarks of an el foldo. But if there was any sense of surrender, he jumped right on it in the locker room after the game. Which tells you he hasn't thrown in the towel.

All that said, people are going to be monitoring the intensity level this week in Houston after those last 11 minutes.

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Lewis

I think I Believe I Know why Lewis likes this team.

This is truly his team. Only four guys were here from before. You get the sense from him he doesn't have as many stragglers to meetings and not as many players not practicing every day. He has more of his true-blue, blue-collar-guys that he loves than he ever has. The downside is it is quite young on defense, and that was achingly obvious in the last 11 minutes.

I Believe I Think I Know the last 11 minutes against the Steelers were quite weird.

The last thing I remember looking down at the laptop was that the Bengals were losing, 17-10, with about 11 minutes left right after Benson had the kind of 15-yard run that can turn a game around. The Steelers give up 15-yard runs as often as Troy Polamalu gets his helmet knocked off and both happened on the same play.

It wasn't just me. A guy in the stands said he looked at the scoreboard about the same time and the Bengals had more yards than the Steelers at that point and more time of possession. And Ryan Fitzpatrick had a better passer rating than Ben Roethlisberger.

Then all of a sudden it was a blowout.

The Steelers can do that.

Back in '95 the Bengals were ready to knock the Steelers out of the AFC Central race and get back in the playoff hunt at 5-6 in a bad division with a 31-10 lead early in the third quarter at Riverfront and Darnay Scott taunting the Pittsburgh secondary with "We're sick of beating Pittsburgh."

The next thing you know, Pittsburgh won, 48-31, went to the Super Bowl, and the Bengals went 7-9.

I Think I Believe I Know I just can't believe how bad the offensive stats are.

The Bengals are on pace to score 224 points. Heck, they scored 279 points in 2002 when it took them two months to figure out who the quarterback was and 226 points in 2001 when they had a new quarterback, new coordinator, new left tackle and new fullback.

Of course, there has to be some kind of asterisk because they haven't had their starting quarterback in three of the seven games. And he got hurt so early in the third game. But they weren't exactly lighting it up before then, either. Anyone who saw the preseason didn't have a good feeling about this team's ability to score.

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Zimmer

I Think I Believe I Know that the defense has issues, but Mike Zimmer has them headed in the right direction.

No doubt the last 11 minutes were a setback for the new defensive coordinator. There were some bad lapses and no one is happy with the way the defense finished. But at least they found a guy in rookie tackle Pat Sims. In just his second NFL game he stood in tough against the Steelers running game.

Pittsburgh got virtually nothing on short yardage up the gut. They did most of their damage on the perimeter, although we would like to know what happened on running back Mewelde Moore's killing 16-yard run up an open middle from the Pittsburgh 9 right after Benson's run and the Bengals pinned them deep. Sims and middle linebacker Dhani Jones were nowhere to be found. Given Jones' experience you would guess that falls on Sims, but that's what happens with youth. He won't make that play next year, but they need it this year.

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