All that matters: Bengals are 3-1

By Paul Daugherty
Updated: October 5, 2009

Chad Ocho Cinco (85) hauls in a touchdown pass over the Cleveland's Eric Wright during the first quarter.

Chad Ocho Cinco (85) hauls in a touchdown pass over the Cleveland's Eric Wright during the first quarter.

CLEVELAND — It was a game they completely deserved to lose. They ended up winning with the legs of Carson Palmer and Robert Geathers.

Just how you draw it up. Bengals 23, Browns 20 was a silly football game that just might leave you wondering about the furtive sips of Kool-Aid you allowed yourself after last Sunday’s win over Pittsburgh.

Or maybe not.

The NFL is not a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately business. It’s way more immediate than that.

You’re not only as good as your last game. You’re only as good as your last play.

The Bengals’ offense played tragically for about two hours Sunday, managing zero first downs in 39 minutes and 54 seconds of clock time. It was beautiful on its last play, though. Carson Palmer channeled his inner Michael Vick and ran 15 yards on 4th-and-11, setting up the overtime field goal that put this game out of our misery.

As left tackle Andrew Whitworth said, “The only thing that matters in this game is if you’re good when you gotta be.” Even if watching the Bengals this year has become the fan’s version of childbirth.

To review: The Bengals have won three in a row, twice on the road and once against their big brother in the division. They are 3-1, tied for first place.

The team chemistry is good, its identity is beginning to harden. Last week, it was Sam Cooke, singing “A Change is Gonna Come”. This week, maybe it’s the Negro spiritual “We Shall Overcome”. Even if it’s themselves they’re overcoming.

Regardless, winning is the only thing in the NFL. And we want style points? From this franchise? Next thing you know, you’re going to expect them to make the playoffs or something.

“We don’t have to make it this hard on ourselves,” safety Chris Crocker said. “I would say that nothing good happens when you let people hang around, but we did, and we won. The last four weeks (were) some of the strangest, craziest games I’ve been in.” The Bengals aren’t walking on the fault line. They’re living on it, dancing the rhumba, nine toes into the abyss. The water glass is shaking on the end table, uncontrollably. You wonder when the Bengals might step onto the elevator and get the shaft. It could come next Sunday in Baltimore. They can’t play this way and win in Baltimore.

They almost didn’t win in Cleveland, against one of the two or three worst teams in the league. In no special order of distinction: * The Cincinnati offense thinks every game begins with six minutes to play in the fourth quarter. A million babies were born between the time the Bengals got one first down – with 35 seconds left in the first quarter – and their next, with 5:31 left in regulation.

* Their special teams kept kicking the ball to Josh Cribbs even as Cleveland’s best player kept showing them why they shouldn’t.

* Their long snapper, bless him, could be scouting deals on Orbitz.com any second now.

* They went up 14-0 early and expected the Browns to quit. When the Browns didn’t, the Bengals had no answer.

If you were the Bengals at about 5 Sunday night, you sighed some relief, packed up quickly and got outta town, before the gods changed their minds about the whole deal.

“Circle the wagons, lick our wounds” was how Marvin Lewis described the coming week. “We were lucky today.” They were. The next time Robert Geathers runs 75 yards with a fumble, I will play the lottery the next day and win a million dollars. Though it must be noted that had any Browns players decided to sprint a little, someone might have caught the Bengals’ 280-pound defensive end. Either that, or Geathers is really, really fast.

As for Palmer’s decisive rumble up the wide-open middle, let him define it: “I don’t want to do that anymore.” No team hails Mary forever. Because eventually, it’s going to be like hailing a cab in Manhattan at 4 on Friday afternoon. But for now, the Bengals are 3-1. Are they as good as 3-1? Does it matter?

Living on the fault line isn’t without its advantages. At least for another six days.