About a month ago, I wrote an article about how I thought the Steelers were lagging behind both the Ravens and Browns in the AFC North.
Then, the Bengals came to Heinz Field for a Week 3 matchup and blew Pittsburgh’s doors off. Was Cincinnati’s 24-7 victory that day a shocker, a fluke? Not when you considered the injuries the Steelers were dealing with on that day, namely the absences of bookend outside linebackers, T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith.
But would it have even made a difference if Watt and/or Highsmith played that day? I ask that question because of the Bengals’ young talent.
In case you haven’t noticed, the Bengals have some young talent, including quarterback Joe Burrow, running back Joe Mixon and Ja’Marr Chase, a rookie receiver I actually said was “damn near the best one in the NFL already.”
I said that in a text message on Sunday afternoon, as I watched Cincinnati dismantle the Ravens, 41-17, at M&T Bank Stadium.
As far as victories by AFC North rivals of the Pittsburgh Steelers go, I have to say that one tasted pretty sweet. Let’s face it, it’s hard to root for John Harbaugh, and it’s easy to root against him, his team and the organization that employs him.
I’m used to hating the Ravens. It’s a feeling I’ve carried around with me for over two decades. As for the Bengals? I haven’t really hated them all that much in recent memory. Heck, even in past years when Cincinnati appeared to be the class of the division and defeated the Steelers during the regular season, I always felt deep down that the latter team, that one I’m fond of, would prevail if the two met in the postseason. The latter team always did.
However, I might have to learn to hate these Bengals, because if I can’t do it on my own, I get the feeling they’ll force me to do so by beating up on Pittsburgh on a more frequent basis than I’m accustomed to.
In other words, these aren’t the old Bungals any longer. In past years, a victory like the one Cincinnati had over the Ravens on Sunday would have been seen as an opportunity for the Steelers to benefit from it and improve their postseason lot (Steelers fans can be quite self-centered).
Unfortunately, I took the Bengals’ dominant victory over Baltimore as a sign that the power may be shifting in the AFC North, but it might not be shifting back toward the confluence. It might not be shifting in the direction of Lake Erie, either.
No, I think it may be shifting in the direction of the city that likes to sprinkle cinnamon on its chili.
We might think it’s a joke that the Bengals haven’t won a playoff game since I was in high school (I certainly don’t think it’s a joke that this was over 30 years ago), but there was a time when the Steelers went four decades without a postseason victory. In fact, we love to celebrate that stretch of futility as simply a part of the organization’s rags-to-riches history.
Who’s to say the Bengals can’t have that same transformation? Some might say the Bengals’ organization is cursed and will eventually succumb to a losing mentality that’s been ingrained in the organization for three decades. But that’s only if youngsters like Burrow and Chase give a damn about such things. Like the late, great Dwight White once said about finally overcoming the Steelers’ reputation of losing back in the 1970s: “You’re not talking about us.” In other words, the past had nothing to do with players like White. Therefore, they had nothing to overcome.
Anyway, Cincinnati sits at 5-2 after seven games and is currently in first place in the AFC North (the number one seed in the AFC, in fact). The loss by the Ravens may have drawn Pittsburgh closer to them in the standings, but both may wind up as bit players behind the Bengals when all is said and done.
Who Dey? If you’re talking about the 2021 Cincinnati Bengals, well, they seem pretty good.