With two games in the books, the Bengals stand at 1-1. Their record could easily be 2-0 if not for some now infamous freakishly bad luck. They took the lead with under a minute to go at home, then went into Lambeau Field and manhandled the Pack. Neither game was especially pretty, but both showed fans that this Bengals team is not like those of the recent past. Marvin Lewis’ proclamation that this team is more mature, more focused, and more professional than past squads has bared itself out so far.
Their resilience and short memory after that week 1 nightmare was impressive. They’ve shown the ability to overcome adversity and the “here we go again” syndrome in a hostile environment. They have overcome untimely turnovers, big plays and costly penalties in stride. They’ve shown sound fundamentals and a smash-mouth quality on offense, tenacity and aggressiveness on defense, and have been uncharacteristically opportunistic on special teams. In short, they’ve been playing like playoff teams do.
Whether they can be considered in that category will likely be decided over the next three weeks, when the team faces all of their divisional rivals one-by-one. Going at least 2-1 during this stretch is necessary to keep division title hopes alive. First up are the perennial Bengal killers and Super Bowl champion Steelers.
The Bengals are riding high from their Lambeau exorcism. The Steelers are reeling from a sloppy last second defeat in Chicago. Both teams will be desperate for a win to keep pace with the Ravens.
Working in the Bengals favor is the fact that the game is at home, and this will be their third straight game against a 3-4 defense. Steelers pro-bowl safety Troy Polamalu will be out and his backup, Tyrone Carter, is gimpy. Their running game has been weaker than in years past, and their offensive line is a clear liability again. The Bengals running game has been surprisingly effective so far, their passing game has been much improved, and the pass rush is leading the NFL in sacks.
Nevertheless, the Steelers are still the Super Bowl Champions, and until further notice, the rulers of the AFC North. If Marvin Lewis’ charges truly are prepared to make a run, they must prove they can win this game. They must face the schoolyard bully and take his best shot. They must hold serve at home. They must continue to prove they are not your typical Bengals.
To be the best, you must beat the best as the old adage goes. The time is now. It’s Steelers Week.
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