A two-minute drill of observations on Sunday's Colts-Bengals AFC showdown:
2:00: The 2005 Bengals are simply the Colts of 2002, but the Bengals defense is further along with a core and philosophy intact. The similarities are eerie. Pro Bowlers at quarterback, running back, and wide receiver. Game-breakers at Nos. 1-3 receivers. A popular, highly-regarded defensive head coach. A defense on the verge of maturing with one or two big-time additions. The Patriots mastery of the Colts is reminiscent of how the Steelers have dominated the Bengals the last three times. But, as Indy proved a couple of weeks ago, this too shall, eventually, pass.
A pass by Carson Palmer, no doubt.
1:47: Sometimes you get the feeling Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis says things because he feels like he has to, and that he doesn't really believe them.
On Friday, he insisted that saying this game is an over-the-hump game would be to admit that football is more psychological than, as he says, "making plays."
But we know that he knows football is as much mental as physical. He's proved that with the players he's brought in here and the preparation he puts his team through during the week. PowerPoint presentations with key phrases. Potential bulletin-board fodder. Inspirational movie clips the night before a game. A major reason Lewis has brought the Bengals as far as he has is because of his sheer brilliance in turning the psyche of his team from losers to winners.
But he can't say it's an over-the-hump game in CoachSpeak because what if they lose?
So we'll say it for him. In terms of NFL spirituality, this is a hump game for his young team in its effort to find a way to consistently beat an elite team. And with the Steelers two weeks away, that makes this even bigger.
1:23: With all due respect to the Giants' Tom Coughlin, this is a Coach of the Year game even if he does work in the county seat of the NFL and has an overall No. 1 pick at quarterback. Lewis and Colts head coach Tony Dungy may have built their rehab jobs in the periphery of America, but it's those No. 1 picks that are also the linchpins of their franchises.
There is no one nicer or more respected in the league and no one who has brought more accessibility, candor, and decency to the NFL than Dungy. Lewis has a lot of similarities, and no doubt will reach Dungy's ease with the media once he has more experience.
Last week's sampling of Coach of the Year voters indicates that if the Colts continue to go supersonic and get home-field advantage at something like 14-2, it's Dungy. If Indy slows down and the Bengals win the AFC North or even make the playoffs while Indy slows to 13-3 or 12-4, it's Lewis if the Bengals win the division, or even make the playoffs. Well, someone has to start Indy braking. If it's the Bengals, that should seal the vote.
By the way, more than 65,000 reasons for Lewis's selection as Coach of the Year will be at Paul Brown Stadium. It is the 16th straight home sellout. At the last PBS game before Lewis took over, 43,544 huddled together in PBS.
1:07: If the Bengals are to win this game, they must stick with the running game. They must be patient in the face of the first 10-21 points racked up by the Colts because, let's face it, they will score.
But if they fall behind, keep giving the ball to running backs Rudi Johnson and Chris Perry. Keep hammering the fast but light Indy front seven. Keep a 10-0 game 10-0. Keep a 17-3 game 17-3 if it gets that way. In the first three quarters, none of those 57-second series with three incomplete passes.
The Bengals have an excellent running game and if it's as good as they think it is, the numbers say it can win the game for them. The Colts are ninth in NFL run defense, but they have played only one running game ranked higher than the Bengals at No. 15. And the No. 11 Jaguars, at 5.3 per carry, gouged them in a game that shrunk the clock in a 10-3 Indy victory. Only one team has taken more than 30 shots on the ground at them.
Here is where the Colts foes have ranked on the run besides the Jags (they played Houston twice:) 17, 19, 20, 21, 22, 25, 29.
00:58: So, naturally, it means that the Bengals No. 24 ranked defense against the rush has to step up against Edgerrin James. But they don't have to become "The Steel Curtain" overnight. They just have to use the same security fence they've been using this season and continue the three major trends of this year; hold teams to field goals, force turnovers, and don't give up big passes. They are allowing less than 15 points per game, are forcing an NFL-high 29 turnovers, and haven't allowed a pass longer than 28 yards since the second quarter of the opener.
If those three principles hold true, and the Bengals run the ball, they've got a great shot. In the Colts' last three losses, they haven't had the ball more than 23 minutes.
00:43: If things go the way the Bengals hope they go, by 8 p.m. Sunday night the nation will be raving about their bookend tackles, Willie Anderson and Levi Jones. This is a rare moment for an offensive lineman. Playing before 64 percent of the nation against a statistically great pass rush on an undefeated team. That's remedial enough for the population at large to gets its hands around what good offensive line play means.
00:13: It's games like this that make one think about Paul Brown. Let's face it. This team has a huge hold on this town no matter what the Bengals do. The criticism is always as white hot as the support is red hot.
And the support is as hot and as fierce as it's ever been. A perusal of the newspapers, a trip to the stadium Pro Shop, a stroll through a mall parking lot passing six out of 10 people wearing Bengals garb.
Football is big in New York and Chicago and Boston and Dallas because New York and Chicago and Boston and Dallas are big. Football has no foothold like this in a small market that shares its sports with another pro team and two big-time college basketball programs.
But then, football in Ohio is absolutely huge. Nowhere-else special. On all levels. The Friday night preps draw like small colleges and get Big Ten media attention. Ohio State is simply religion. The Bengals and Browns dictate a state's state of mind for the work week.
And it all makes us think of Paul Brown. He coached Ohio State's first national title in the first full year of World War II. He formed the Browns and made them the first America's Team as the Baby Boomers came of age. One can argue his brains and will are two of the biggest reasons all kinds of football grew to such popularity in places like Cincinnati, Columbus, Cleveland, and all points Ohio. Before the Bengals, this was a Browns town, making it fertile ground for the AFL.
Funny. If not for a miracle field goal in the snow, it would have been the Browns and Colts in the Greatest Game Ever Played in 1958. Thanks to Paul Brown, Cincy hosts a pretty good game Sunday between their descendants.
Just another reason they name a stadium after you.
00:00: How much time is left on the clock after Shayne Graham's 32-yarder provides a 27-24 win Sunday for the Bengals. Peyton Manning will be his brilliant self, but somehow the Bengals come up with two picks, Rudi goes 32-128, and Palmer takes them 55 yards in the last 3:05.