Here’s what I’m thinking after Cincinnati’s 27-17 victory lifted the Bengals to 4-2 heading into the bye week.
1. This Bengals team continues to make the plays that escaped them all of last season. Last year, the Colts would have scored on their final drive and Cincinnati would have fallen apart when it needed a big play. Not this year. The good vibes of 2009 are back. I honestly believe this year’s team believes it will win the game in the end – and that’s rather remarkable considering the inexperience all over the roster.
2. Mike Nugent missed a big kick, but it shouldn’t overshadow how solid he has been this season. Yes, his kick was from a makeable distance and would have helped Cincinnati’s cause, but it was his first missed field goal of the season – and he didn’t miss it by much. As someone who has lived through and survived the Neil Rackers era – barely – I’m thankful for Nugent’s steady presence this season. I fully expect him to bounce back whenever he gets his next opportunity.
3. This Bengals team will actually get better in the coming weeks. The Artist Formerly Known as Pac Man Jones will provide an upgrade over third-corner Morgan Trent, and Kelly Jennings will return too, giving the Bengals four first-round picks at cornerback alone. That’s a valuable asset heading into the later parts of the season when injuries start to take their toll. Keith Rivers could also return and Rey Maualuga should return to full strength, giving the team even more talent on the defensive side of the football.
4. I think Cincinnati’s season will be decided in its next two games. If the Bengals can at least split the road games at Seattle and Tennesse, they are legitimate contenders for a playoff spot. If they falter, and 4-2 fades into 4-4, it’s hard to imagine the Bengals turning things around with a tougher schedule down the stretch and four games combined against the Steelers and the Ravens. Thus, Seattle and Tennessee are enormous games coming out of the bye week. And here’s the clincher – since they’re road games, you’ll actually get to watch them on TV.
5. If Cedric Benson is indeed suspended, I think his replacement is already on the roster. Between Bernard Scott, Brian Leonard, and Cedric Peerman, I think the Bengals ground attack could continue chugging along. Scott is speedy and explosive, Leonard is steady and productive, and Peerman makes solid special teams plays every week (including a crushing block yesterday), why not give him a chance to make an impact in the backfield? In the end, the point may be moot. I think Benson’s suspension will be reduced to a game or two if anything, making his absence minimal.
Extra point: I’ll admit I was wrong. I loved Andy Dalton as a quarterback prospect, but I thought the Bengals were insane for giving the small-school kid the starting job in a lockout-shortened offseason. Dalton has impressed just about everyone, myself included, and it’s hard to imagine this team taking the field with anyone else under center.
Keep up the good work Roadhouse. You’re giving this team a fighting chance in every game.