[Editor's note: Though plenty of you are clicking on and commenting on our Morning Aftermath general entry, it seems that fewer are clicking on the individual game-by-game write ups. So we'll start posting each individual game write-up in the Rumor Mill, too. Because we realize how difficult it is to move the cursor to the red line and click a button.]
Way back in Week One — officially less than a month ago but unofficially a date that feels like a year back in the rear-view mirror — the Bengals had been stymied at home by the Broncos defense.
The Broncos defense? That rag-tag group had been consistently mediocre during much of Mike Shanahan’s tenure as head coach, with a revolving door of defensive coordinators and a series of bad personnel decisions in free agency and the draft.
But the Bengals finally mustered a sustained and successful drive against Denver, scoring their first seven points of the game late, and taking the lead. Then came one of the flukiest finishes in league history, with that bouncing ball Brandon Stokley catch-and-run with not a single Bengal stationed at deep free safety.
After the game, most viewed the last-second Lady Luck heroics as a short-term curiosity, since the widespread belief was that: (1) the Broncos were going to be very bad this year; and (2) if the Bengals can’t beat the Broncos at home, the Bengals are going to be very bad this year, too. Again.
And, as further proof that it’s impossible to figure this game out, both teams are a combined 8-0 since that final gun sounded, with wins over the likes of the Packers, Steelers, Ravens, Cowboys, and Patriots.
On Sunday, the Bengals made it clear to the rest of the league that they are for real with another stunning come-from-behind finish, winning their second straight division game on the road thanks to a fourth-quarter comeback.
Along the way, the Cincinnati defense — led by coordinator Mike Zimmer, whose wife died suddenly only days ago — held the souped-up Flacco-fueled Baltimore offense to only seven points, picking him off twice along the way.
Even more amazingly, Bengals running back Cedric Benson racked up 120 yards against the supposedly impenetrable Baltimore defense, which hadn’t allowed a 100-yard rusher since 2006. Though Benson has undergone a remarkable transformation since flaming out in Chicago after being the fourth pick in the 2005 draft (one writer thinks Benson has assumed residence in an entirely new body), it’s hard not to wonder what the heck the Bears did or failed to do in getting this guy to play in Chicago like he is playing in Cincinnati.
“It’s hard to put into words,” Benson said after the game. “To achieve something like that, being
through what I’ve been through. I can’t express how uplifting it is.”
It’s uplifting for Benson, the Bengals, and all of Cincinnati. Though there’s still a long way to go, the 4-1 Bengals are sitting one game in front of the Ravens and the Steelers. And the Bengals have beaten both of them.
But the most telling moment for us came after Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis tried to pull a Brian Russell on Bengals receiver Chad Ochocinco. Chad popped up after the helmet-to-jaw hit, hatless and ready to challenge the future Hall of Famer.
But there was something in Ray’s demeanor after the hit that suggested a subtle, and incredibly uncharacteristic, sheepiness. Though we’d never put money on Ochocinco in a
knife fight with Lewis, the fact that Chad sprung up from the dirty hit seemed to make Lewis realize that there’s a new sheriff in the AFC North.
“We don’t get intimidated by anyone,” Marvin Lewis told Peter King after the game. “It was funny.
The Ravens always introduce the defense here. I’m sure they like to get
the crowd fired up. And so I told our players, especially our young
guys, ‘Make sure you get a good seat for it and get a good view.’ They
all saw it. They saw Ray Lewis do his thing. Then we went out and
played pretty good defense too.”