I was completely wrong. And I love it.
Before the season I picked the Bengals to finish 4-12 again this year. I wanted to pick higher, but my pessimism won out. But it only took Andy Dalton and the rest of this young squad a mere six games to match my predicted win total. The lumps for the rookie QB have not been nearly as lumpy as I (and you, admit it) expected.
I’m not putting this team in the playoffs yet. But because they believe, I am starting to believe. Being wrong never felt so good.
That said, I’ve earned the right to toot my own horn a little. In my game preview on Wednesday, I made two predictions.
First, I said Brian Leonard would have one of his best days as a Bengal. While it was not his best rushing day (9 yds on 2 carries), his 47 overall yards ranks 2nd best for him behind the game against Buffalo two weeks before. Over half of those yards came late in the game on a key 25 yard catch-and-run on 3rd-and-7 near mid-field as Indy was trying to come back.
Second, I said that the Bengals’ back 7 would make their first interception. Painter had not thrown one in over 150 passes, but Leon Hall came up with a first for both sides at a pivotal moment to put the game away. Thanks for getting my back, Leon.
Some other observations from the game…
– If you’ll indulge me a baseball reference, Nate Clements is for this defense what Orlando Cabrera was for the 2010 Reds. Neither is a name that frightens an opponent, and neither plays a flawless game, but they both provide key intangibles and a veteran steadiness that is invaluable to their teams. JJoe is the better player, but I am glad that the Bengals have Clements because he seems to elevate the guys around him.
– Leon Hall will never be a shutdown corner, but the guy makes a lot of nice plays.
– Finally, a running back rotation! Indy did a nice job of preventing big runs, but having a change of style kept the options open for Jay Gruden. And Leonard deserves a couple of more touches a game. He is not a feature back, but he makes plays when he gets the ball.
– Most of us perceived the secondary as a big weakness going into the season. But the retooling that they did in free agency are paying off. They held Painter to almost 100 passing yards below his average from his first two starts. And with Adam Jones able to come off of the PUP list, they should get even stingier. (BTW, whose less-than-brilliant idea was it to have Morgan Trent cover Pierre Garcon, anyway? That’s begging to get torched.)
– The AFC North is a meat-grinder. Have you seen the list of top defenses on NFL.com? 1) Pittsburgh. 2) Cincinnati. 3) Baltimore. [You know it eats Ray Lewis’s lunch that his crew ranks behind the Bengals!] 7) Cleveland. No doubt how this division is built.
– This was the first game in which the Bengals never trailed.
The Bengals get a week to rest and heal as they prepare to take on the next streak to fall this year. The Bengals have not won west of the Mississippi River since beating the Chiefs at Arrowhead on Sept. 10, 2007. But that can change on Oct. 30 with a win in Seattle against the currently 2-3 Seahawks, who play in Cleveland next week.
UPDATE: I was remiss in forgetting to give big props to Andrew Whitworth and Andre Smith for their great job in pitching a shutout against the dominating DEs Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis. I was openly fearful of the Smith-Mathis matchup, but Andre got the job done from the first snap to the last. Perhaps he is (finally) beginning to justify the love that the coaches had for him in the 2009 draft. A tip of the hat to the pair of starting tackles.