On Sunday, during yet another one of their big regular season road games, the Bengals proved as much when, as time expired, they defeat the Detroit Lions 27-24 at Ford Field. Cincinnati Bengals kicker Mike Nugent’s game-ending field goal was his second in as many weeks.
If they keep grinding out victories like their past two, the Bengals have good reason to believe a Super Bowl appearance could be in their future. That’s because, again, these aren’t the Baby Bengals you’ve come to know the past few years. Defining wins such as these are signs they’re maturing.
Last week, on the road in front of a hostile Ralph Wilson Stadium crowd in Buffalo, the Bengals overcame a fourth quarter rally by getting past the Bills in overtime. Nugent’s 43 yard field goal midway through the period led to another 27-24 victory. It was one that helped lay the foundation for Sunday’s victory over a team that came in with the same record, a similar physical makeup on the offensive and defensive lines, and its own solid quarterback receiver tandem that had big play potential. All last week, the Bengals felt confident that if they could beat this mirror image of themselves, they finally could begin letting the rest of the football universe know what they already did: that they are pretty good.
Cincinnati was so young last season that its opening-weekend 53-man roster ranked as the third youngest in the NFL. After making a few tweaks this offseason, it entered 2013 as the 12th by adding some veterans players in positions needed to be fill.
How fitting it was then, that on the day the Bengals faced the team that was the league’s oldest in Week 1, Cincinnati would pull out perhaps its biggest win of the season so far.
The Bengals have played physical games all season, but this one in Detroit may have been one of their most intense of the year. They certainly boarded the plane late Sunday banged up and bruised for sure.
In all, seven players were evaluated for injuries at some point during the game. Two of them, cornerback Leon Hall and backup defensive tackle Devon Still, didn’t return. Hall’s Achilles injury is a “significant” one, according to coach Marvin Lewis. Still’s injury is less severe, but could require him to miss some weeks.
As beat up as the Bengals were, they made it through this game thanks to their young stars. Specifically, it was the play of 2nd year cornerback out of Alabama Dre Kirkpatrick and defensive back Taylor Mays who helped in the absence of Hall. On offense, it was quarterback Andy Dalton’s 372 yard, three touchdown performance, and AJ Green’s six catches, 155-yard game that helped keep the offense running while the defensive stars were falling out.
On the game winning drive, third year Bengals receiver Dane Sanzenbacher and rookie running back Giovanni Bernard caught a pair of passes that pushed the Bengals, with less than 30 seconds, from their own territory and into a position where Nugent could forget his earlier miss, and deliver in the clutch.
The more the Bengals grind, the more they trim up, shape up and clean up, the more this team can do something very special, a team showing a lot maturity and poise even when they are down.