Monday, November 28, 2005

Steelers represent opportunity for Bengals

Marvin Lewis is growing tired of the questions. His frustration appeared to reach its peak following last week’s loss to the undefeated Indianapolis Colts at Paul Brown Stadium.

During the post-game news conference, Lewis became somewhat perturbed when a reporter asked him what a relatively narrow 45-37 defeat to the Super Bowl shuffling Colts said about his team.

“Considering the Colts are probably the best team in the league, what conclusions can you draw about your team from this game?” the reporter asked.


Deep breath.

Ok, here goes …

“Well, we’re not satisfied with losing,” Lewis said. “We’re not going to go down that road again. The Colts are a very good football team and we went toe-to-toe with them. We’re a good football team. But, in order to prove that we need to go out and beat the other good football teams out there.”

The national media – I don’t believe the aforementioned reporter was local – are a little too eager to paint the 8-3 Bengals as a Cinderella story. A one-year wonder.

Truth is, the Bengals are anything but an overnight success.

The Bengals are coming off consecutive 8-8 seasons. They’ve managed to remain in the playoff chase into the month of December both of those years.

It has taken Lewis and his staff more than two seasons to make the personnel changes necessary to build the foundation of a winner.

This year’s Bengals are barely a shadow of their bungling past.

“We’ll keep climbing up that ladder,” Lewis says. “We’ll keep working at it. We’ll keep coming at it and swinging at the plate. We’ll stay together and we’ll be fine.”

Bengals QB Carson Palmer, who was 25-for-38 for 335 yards and two touchdowns against the Colts, was asked the same question.

“We did some good things, but we lost,” Palmer said. “We don’t play to come close. We play to win. This game hurts. We don’t play to lose.”

Still, the Bengals have failed each time they’ve had an opportunity to silence the skeptics:

Jacksonville 23 Bengals 20 - Early penalties shifted the field position in the Jaguars’ favor and a late Palmer fumble helped Jacksonville seal the victory.

Pittsburgh 27 Bengals 13 – A replay-reversal negated a Chad Johnson touchdown and Chris Henry’s dropped pass in the end zone prevented the Bengals from building an early lead and shelving the Steelers running attack.

Indianapolis 45 Bengals 37 – Despite what the final score might indicate, it was an off-side penalty on a third-and-10 play which prevented the Bengals from forcing the Colts to punt on their first possession. Indianapolis kept the ball and took a 7-0 lead moments later. Game. Set. Match.

“We didn’t get off the field on third down,” Lewis said. “It started with that first penalty. We made some plays, but not enough plays.”

The Bengals have yet another chance to legitimize themselves to a doubting public when they travel to Pittsburgh for a rematch with the rival Steelers at 1 p.m. Sunday at Heinz Field.

The Bengals defeated the Baltimore Ravens, 42-19, at Paul Brown Stadium Sunday.

A victory over Pittsburgh this week would provide more than just vindication for the Bengals. It would put them in the driver’s seat for the AFC North Division title and make them legitimate contenders for the postseason and, quite possibly, a home playoff game.

Few people would disagree with Lewis’ assertion that the Bengals are a good football team.

But, they’d rather not wait until the Pro Bowl rosters are released for confirmation of their talent.

“We can play with the best of them, period,” said Chad Johnson who had six catches for a career-high 189 yards and a touchdown against the Colts. “We tried to show the world this isn’t the same Bengals anymore. We still need to put up a ‘W’.”

The “Cinderella” Bengals are dressed for the ball. They’ve been fitted for their glass slippers.

But, the invitation is, as they say, in the mail.

“We’re getting closer,” Lewis said. “One day we’re going to have that breakthrough victory. That will be great for everybody.”

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