Posted: 7:00 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 3, 2013
By Anthony Cosenza
Have you washed that rotten taste out of your mouth, yet? If the Cincinnati Bengals took two steps forward by beating the Green Bay Packers in a wild face-off at Paul Brown Stadium, then they also took four more back by playing awful football against the Cleveland Browns a week later.
Now, in a week filled with questions surrounding the Bengals, Cincinnati faces a huge test in the 4-0 Patriots this Sunday. Though they have their vulnerabilities, Bill Belichick and Tom Brady have made things work well enough to win some tough games. New England has overcome injuries, inexperience and other potential pitfalls to silence the preseason critics.
In a word, this game is huge for the Bengals. There are a handful of reasons why and some could argue that there are even more than that, bu nevertheless the magnitude of Sunday afternoon can't be denied.
It could be argued that the Bengals played one of their worst football games against Cleveland in the Andy Dalton/A.J. Green era. It's ironic, really, as the team was coming off of one of their biggest and craziest wins just a week earlier against the Packers. Regardless, the Bengals showed their youth against the Browns by not being focused and thinking they could win by just showing up.
Like they did after week one in Chicago, the Bengals show up to Paul Brown Stadium humbled and probably a bit angry that they let one slip past them. Cincinnati rebounded nicely with back-to-back wins against tough opponents (yes, the Steelers are still a tough beat even though they stand at 0-4) and given the way that they beat Green Bay, nothing would surprise us with the 2013 Bengals. The Patriots game is towards the end of a tough first part of the schedule, but getting to 3-2 before facing a Jekyll and Hyde Buffalo Bills team would be big for momentum.
What better way to measure yourself in the conference than to go up against a currently undefeated team that boasts three Super Bowl rings in the last decade and a half? They proved that they can beat a Super Bowl quarterback in their two victories this year, so why not Brady next? After the win against Green Bay, most were talking about the Bengals as the class of the AFC with the Patriots and the Broncos.
If the Bengals want to continue to be in the same breath as those teams, they need to do something that they haven't done since 2001--beat thel Belichick-led Patriots. Even with their injury and other woes, the task won't be easy, as you can see by their perfect start to the season. But, if Cincinnati plays clean football, they could be able to puff out their chests once again after a big win.
As I mentioned earlier, the Bengals did a great job at getting back to work after their heartbreaking loss in Chicago. Doing so showed heart, motivation and coachability from the Bengals' young roster. However, as I also mentioned, the Browns game also showed their youth by getting too full of themselves.This Cincinnati team needs to know who they are going up against this week.
Under Marvin Lewis, the Bengals have had their share of Goliath-slayings. Undefeated Kansas City in 2003 and Buffalo in 2011, a couple of huge wins against the Aaron Rodgers-led Packers and some more against the Ravens and Steelers. This game isn't just about bragging rights and legitimizing themselves as an AFC power. It will show their character as a team and will help them continue to make hay in the playoff picture going forward.
Nobody seems to want to run away with the AFC North, do they? The Steelers are playing very un-Steeler like football and the Ravens are a mystery. The Browns are coming off of two nice victories, but how long can Brian Hoyer keep it up? Most agree that the Bengals have the deepest roster in the division and one of the better ones in conference. A good way to prove that is going toe-to-toe with the Patriots on Sunday.
Forget the pride and image boosting that would come with a win this weekend. The Bengals need to start distancing themselves in the division race and make a mark in the conference standings. They could make things easier on themselves than they did last year where they had to win seven of their last eight to get into the playoffs. Show steadiness and consistency--for the first time this year.