As good as it’s been through seven games, and there’s been a lot more good than anyone not on the Bengals roster would have predicted, now we find out if this is the real deal. The heavy lifting is about to begin.
Here’s what we know about the Bengals. They have a rookie quarterback who plays with the poise of a veteran. He has a target that in just seven games has developed into one of the more lethal weapons in the NFL. They have an offensive coordinator who actually calls a balance of run/pass plays and doesn’t lose track of players in the process. And just one more word about Jay Gruden: how can it be that this guy never got a chance to be a position coach anywhere in the NFL except as a part timer on his brother’s staff, let along get a chance to run an entire offense?
We know the Bengals defense is workmanlike good. It’s a side of the ball devoid of any stars. It rushes the passer well. It defends well in the secondary. It’s been good enough to have been ranked number one, earlier this season, in the entire league.
We know the Bengals locker room has been fumigated. Knuckle heads have been extracted, internet video chats and reality TV shows have given way to focus on core business.
But what we don’t know is how the team will handle having a target on its back. Because at 5-2 and within striking distance of a division lead, that’s exactly what the Bengals have on their backs, starting today. There’s a difference between being a nice story and the big story. The Bengals are developing into one of the bigger stories in the NFL. Other teams have now gathered intel on the Bengals. They won’t sneak up on anyone. And with the Steelers and Ravens waiting on them twice, the level of competition is about to take a major up turn. It’s fashionable to say the Bengals are young, they’ve played a weak schedule, they’ve over achieved. I don’t think any of those arguments have much merit.
Why, exactly, did Marvin Lewis have to pop off about Carson Palmer again this week. A couple of weeks ago, Lewis talked about a cryptic ‘he’, someone who, according to Lewis, did a good job of running off fans from Paul Brown Stadium. The guessing began immediately whom ‘he’ was. The mystery was solved late this week, when Lewis told a national writer that, in so many words, Palmer quit on the team in the middle of last season. That was startling, on a number of levels. One, that a NFL head coach would say something like it. Two, that it was the usually tight lipped, media dismissing Lewis who said it.
When he was pressed by the local media to elaborate, Lewis response was simply, let it go. Yet he refuses to. Bashing Palmer does no good now. He’s moved on. Lewis should let it go too.
Maybe like you, I watched a good amount of college football Saturday. Ohio State-Wisconsin, Southern Cal-Stanford, Missouri-Texas A&M all great games. But as I watched, I wondered how anyone affiliated with the Big East Conference could possibly think that adding teams like Houston, Central Florida or any of the service academies would put them on the same playing level with schools in the Big Ten, Pac 14 or the Big 12 minus two? UC’s loyalty to its conference is commendable. But tying your boat to a dock that has yanked away from its moorings only means you have a boat that has a good shot at sinking. It may be too late, probably is, to find a new home by choice. That boat has sailed. But the new UC athletic director, and the man who hired him might want to devise a strategic plan to position UC a little better when the next and maybe final round of conference aligning occurs. It will happen. It might be the ACC. It might be the Big 12 minus two. But when it happens, it will be the last chance UC will have to remain relevant in the world of big time college football. What a crime it would be for the UC to win the Big East this year, go to a BCS bowl game for the third time in four years and then slip back into the obscurity of a conference that has directional schools and teams that matter little, even in their own towns.