Yesterday's loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers is no reason to panic for fans of the Cincinnati Bengals. Yes, it was a disheartening loss to a bitter rival, but looking at the loss in context of the situation around it gives Bengals fans every reason to continue to support their team.
1. If the playoffs began today, the Bengals would be in. Even with yesterday's loss, the Bengals would be in as a wild card team if the playoffs started today. That's mainly because the AFC North is shaping up to be the lone division in the AFC with multiple contenders. The Jets loss in New England last night puts them a full game behind Cincinnati and Baltimore and Buffalo is unraveling at the seems. Neither the AFC South or West seem likely to produce a runner up who will be able to claim a spot.
2. The Bengals showed resilience. The came back from a Steeler haymaker in the first quarter that saw them down two scores and tied it up. The defense stiffened and the offense made plays, sans one deflected interception and a poor rookie mistake from Andy Dalton. Even without Leon Hall and AJ Green, the team never gave up and had the game for the taking right up to the bitter end. This was no Bengals team that allowed Pittsburgh to literally run out the clock as they had in the past. No, there's no consolation prizes in the NFL, but yesterday's rising from the mat showed again a different Bengals outlook.
3. AJ Green is OK. Green only hyper extended his knee. After the game, he said it stiffened up on him, limiting his ability to play in the second half, but was clear he'd be ready to go for Baltimore on Sunday. Green's presence is a major necessity on this offense.
4. Leon Hall is gone, but the cavalry is on the way. Just three weeks ago, Morgan Trent would have been starting and Bengals fans would have been holding their collective breath on every pass play. Now Trent is in Indianapolis and the Bengals can fall back on Adam Jones (provided his hamstring is a go) and Kelly Jennings, both of whom have extensive experience as NFL starters. Neither will completely replace Hall. There's a reason why the Bengals locked him up long term, but both give Cincinnati better relief at the cornerback position than most teams in the NFL have. And how prescient was the move to bring in veteran Nate Clements now?
5. The Bengals still have the best lines in the division. Cincinnati showed yesterday the ability to both run the ball effectively and protect Andy Dalton (no sacks against Pittsburgh). On defense, they were able to get to Big Ben with just a four man rush. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh didn't run the ball all that effectively and Baltimore chose to have Joe Flacco throw 50 times in Seattle in their loss. There's a reason for that.
Yesterday's game came down to a future Hall of Fame quarterback who made plays when his team had to versus a rookie who didn't, but has shown a great propensity to learn on the job. Bengals fans can count on Andy Dalton bouncing back and not having encores to those kinds of mistakes. It also showed that Cincinnati can stand toe to toe with the "big boys" of the NFL, take a punch, and get back up to deliver their own.
This week in Baltimore will be another stiff test, but this team is on to something here and Bengals fans should take notice.
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