Cincy Slayed Their Dragons, Only To Face Them Again Sunday in Pittsburgh
Just 4 minutes and 17 seconds into Monday Night’s game against the Denver Broncos, Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton threw an interception returned for a touchdown, causing even the most devoted Bengals fans to feel a sense of déjà vu and apprehension.
It seemed like a familiar narrative, one that had unfolded in Cincinnati far too many times.
This was, after all, one of those dreaded “prime-time” games, which had been the Achilles’ heel of the Bengals franchise throughout the 12-year tenure of Marvin Lewis.
However, the pain and skepticism within the Bengals’ fan base runs much more profound.
Following their trip to the Super Bowl in 1988, subsequent years were marked by 14 consecutive seasons without a winning record, a string of disappointing draft picks, numerous off-field controversies, and subpar leadership from the front office.
When you tally it all up, it encapsulates 23 years of playoff-win drought.
A significant portion of the recent uncertainty can be attributed to Dalton, who is considered the cornerstone of the Cincinnati team.
Heading into Monday Night’s matchup, Dalton had a less-than-encouraging 2-9 career record in games played under the lights, outside of the typical 1 p.m. kickoff.
So, when Dalton’s second pass of the evening sailed high and eluded the grasp of wide receiver A.J. Green, landing in the hands of Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib for a touchdown, recent history made it hard for Bengals fans to have faith that their team could rise to the occasion in the spotlight.
However, this Cincinnati team is different, and the outcome on Monday night was a stark departure from the past.
A franchise that had languished in mediocrity for over two decades, seemingly unable to rise above adversity, FINALLY DID so in a triumphant 37-28 victory! This win addressed long-standing “macro” issues that had plagued the franchise:
- The Bengals can’t win in prime time.
- The Bengals can’t defeat a formidable team.
- The Bengals can’t emerge victorious against exceptional quarterbacks.
- The Bengals can’t win a game of significance.
All of this was made possible by a team that responded to adversity in ways rarely witnessed in Cincinnati.
You score on a pick-6? We’ll counter with an 85-yard touchdown run by Jeremy Hill on the very next play.
You return the second-half kickoff 77 yards and score shortly after?
We’ll swiftly regain momentum as Adam Jones returns one for 80 yards and seals it with our touchdown.
You’re down by two with 7:49 left to play, holding three timeouts and facing Peyton Manning at QB?
We’ll intercept two passes and seal the game. This resilience shook off the burden that had weighed on Cincinnati’s shoulders for years.
The Bengals possess the talent and the requisite number of wins to make it to the big stage, but they’ve had these elements for nearly four years now.
What has been lacking is the most crucial ingredient for a team aspiring to achieve extraordinary feats: BELIEF.
As all former players and most fans understand, football is a mental game.
Do you think the Patriots consistently excel year after year purely because of talent?
Do you believe it’s solely due to Tom Brady and Bill Belichick? It goes far beyond that.
A great franchise like the one built by the Patriots is characterized by a specific standard rooted in belief.
So when tough times come, when adversity strikes, and when the moment is monumental, a team like the Patriots is mentally prepared to know how to respond. This belief has been cultivated over many years.
The Bengals also took their time, but their Monday Night victory over the Broncos finally vanquished the seemingly insurmountable history of struggling in games of significant importance.
This triumph instilled confidence in the Bengals that, if maintained, could propel them on a substantial playoff run.
However, as is often the case in the NFL, another formidable challenge awaits, this time eerily encompassing many of the same obstacles the Bengals are said to have just overcome. This time:
- Another game under the bright lights of prime time.
- A matchup against a top-tier team, the playoff-bound Steelers arrive on a three-game winning streak.
- A face-off against a potent offense led by Pro-Bowler Ben Roethlisberger.
- A game in which the victor claims the AFC North title and a probable Wild Card home game.
While much has been accomplished, there is still much ahead. For the Bengals and their fans, there is a genuine reason to believe…