(Part 1 mostly deals with my thoughts on the Bengals, while Part 2 veers back to Steelers talk. I'm expecting to get ridiculed for much of what follows, but hey, despite the fact that I'm a die-hard fan rather than an impartial journalist, I still try to call it like I see it each week in the hopes of providing you with a more comprehensive and unique narrative to consider and discuss than most in my position might be inclined to do.) - Michael Bean -
Clever post title, huh? Okay, not really at all. And as you'll see, there's a whole lot more than nine easily digestible thoughts contained in this post, and part two that follows soon. But I'd been wanting to get away from some of the predictably timed posts this week and just delve into some good old fashion pontification. In the same type of meandering free-form that I was taken to when I first started out with this little experiment back in 2006. So here we go.
(Note: Order does not at all reflect importance in author's mind. That would be too organized remember?)
1) I can't bring myself to kick things off with commentary about the Bengals. There's no way to avoid feeling dirty in the end, but I can at least put it off for a few paragraphs...
During the 2008 season following two losses in three weeks to the Indianapolis Colts and the New York Giants, the sky also happened to be falling. The Steelers looked poor in three consecutive games coming out of their bye week, and only a Byron Leftwich led comeback against the Washington Redskins had saved the team from falling to 5-4 after their 5-1 start to the year. There were of course undeniably troubling developments unfolding on the field early in that championship season. But the team had proven it was competitive every week, and capable of winning close games down the stretch. Some good fortune was ultimately needed for the team to make its run to Lombardi No. 6, but as Mike Tomlin said late that season, 'throw style points out the window.' You got that right. This team is not the Indianapolis Colts of the mid-2000s. Translation: it's not a robotic, well-oiled machine captained by the greatest quarterback in NFL history, and bound for at least 12 wins each and every year.
This team is going to make mistakes; it's going to win ugly at times; it's going to look so good at others that it will leave you wondering what the hell could possible cause such a disparity in execution from series to series, game to game, or week to week. But this team is going to hang tough, be right there in position to win most weeks, and ultimately provided the type of entertainment experience we all hope for when devoting our free time and money to following the team and the NFL.
2) I'm extraordinarily anxious about the Steelers and Bengals matchup on Monday Night Football next week? Why? It's not the game that I'm apprehensive about, though I'll get to why I think it's going to be a tough test in all likelihood. Instead, I'm just nervous as hell about what's going to happen in Steeler Nation - or at least the segment of the world-wide population that frequents Behind the Steel Curtain - were the Steelers to lose to the....gasp....Bengals. The Bengals are not a great football team, no mistake about it. But they also are not your average impotent 2-5 team. From top to bottom, their roster is not at all littered with inexperienced, marginal talent. They're not a top-10 team from a talent-standpoint, but they're not in the bottom-third either with the likes of Buffalo, Jacksonville, Cleveland, et al. They're somewhere in between really.
3) Because the talent cupboard is not entirely bare, it's acceptable to look into other 'x-factors' that might affect Monday's game. In other words, no amount of 'focus', 'heart' or any other unquantifiable factor will be enough if the physical matchups favor one team too heavily. But when a team like the Bengals knows they can matchup physically with their opponent, that all-important thing called confidence and belief creeps into play. The Bengals believe they can win next Monday night against a Steelers team they took down twice last year. And they know that a win against their big brother would be just what the doctor ordered to get the pressure off their back for at least a week as they try to string together a potential winning streak.
4) Hell, the Bills have come so close to getting off the snide in recent weeks that even they believe better days are in store if they continue to give the same effort they've given in defeat. You can count the same goes for Cincinnati. The Bengals have hung tough in four of their five losses, the lone exception being in Week 1 against the Patriots when they fell behind by 90 points or so in the first half. Even in that game they managed to climb back into it late, which if nothing else, got their minds right for the following week, yet another triumph over the Baltimore Ravens, a team you'd think could/would/should beat Cincy 7 out of 10 times.
Of their five losses, four have come against teams with winning records. Three of the five are either leading or tied for the lead in their respective conferences. Miami is no slouch either as we learned a few weeks ago. The combined margin of defeat in those four losses (not counting against New England when they lost by 14) was 21, with two games decided by a FG, and the other decided by 7 and 8 points. All close games that competitors will tell you they should have won. Now, there may not be a full locker room of legit competitors in Cincinnati, but there's enough I'm afraid to not start pointing fingers at one another just yet. Translation in my mind: don't expect the Bengals to self-destruct this coming Monday just because they're down for the proverbial count.
Anyway, one final thought on this front - Marvin Lewis and many of these same Bengals have a track record of not sulking and throwing in the towel after starting the season off disappointingly. In 2008, Lewis likely saved his job by guiding his team to a 4-3-1 finish, highlighted by three straight to close the year, after the team started out 0-8.
In Part Two, I turn my attention back to a team that enjoys hardware in its trophy case, the Pittsburgh Steelers.