Mike Prisuta's Fourth and Goal:

The Cincinnati Bengals appear to have wrapped up the division, thanks to a newfound physical brand of football.

Who Dey?

Who Knew?

And, more significantly, When Dey?

As in, when did the Bengals become the bunch of bad-asses that sauntered into Heinz Field on Sunday and traded punches with the Steelers and wound up celebrating?

I had heard the rumblings from across the league that this was a different Bengals team, a more physical, more committed Bengals team.

But nothing I had seen on Sept. 27 suggested the Bengals were anything but the Bengals.

The Steelers lost that afternoon in Cincinnati, but it was mostly because Limas Sweed dropped a touchdown pass and Mike Wallace ran out of bounds and Santonio Holmes ran the wrong route.

The plan for the rematch was for the Steelers to clean up such details and re-establish their dominance in the AFC North Division now that Cincinnati had apparently supplanted Baltimore as Contender No. 1 to the Throne.

The war that ended 18-12 wound up establishing dominance within the division, but not in the manner the Steelers had envisioned.

It was a good thing the U.S. Ambassador to Ireland was here to see it, because Dan Rooney probably otherwise wouldn't have believed it.

Many in the No. 2 all-time Heinz crowd of 65,392 are probably still rubbing their eyes with disbelief.

Equally unanticipated was Steelers safety Ryan Clark's concession speech in the immediate aftermath.

"They're the division champs," Clark declared of the Bengals. "They're going to be division champs unless Cleveland beats them, and then I think they still have it."

The math is ominous if not official.

The Bengals have a one-game lead over the Steelers, a 2-0 record in head-to-head meetings with the Steelers and games left at Oakland, with Cleveland and Detroit, at Minnesota, at San Diego, against Kansas City, and at the New York Football Jets.

What's that add up to, 11 wins? Twelve? Thirteen?

It's a lot easier to perceive the Bengals as such a team because of the way they played Steelers football while managing to win on the road without scoring an offensive touchdown.

This one was no fluke.

And there's not much to blame it on other than the Bengals being at least as physical as the Steelers if not more physical than the Steelers. The kickoff-return TD admittedly was a factor, but two of those had been overcome against the Browns and the Vikings.

If Sunday taught us anything it's that the Bengals finally get it. After years of being beaten up by the Steelers and Ravens, the Bengals are finally hitting back. They're suddenly comfortable in a gang fight.

"Probably the most physical, grinding football game I've ever been on the sideline to experience," said Bengals Coach Marvin Lewis.

And he's stood on sidelines in Pittsburgh and Baltimore back in the day, watching the likes of Greg Lloyd and Ray Ray.

Added quarterback Carson Palmer, "I think if there's one word you're going to define us with, it's ‘physical.'"

That doesn't make the Bengals unbeatable on a given day, but it makes them a player in the AFC playoff picture and, if Clark is to be believed, a playoff participant in waiting.

"They were the better football team than us this year," he said. "But don't get me wrong, I'd give one of my arms to play 'em again. Whether it's in Cincinnati, whether we have to play at North Allegheny (High School); I'm not trippin'. I would love to play 'em.

"We're gonna work towards that, work towards getting in the playoffs. I feel they'll be a playoff team, obviously, by winning the division, and hopefully we'll see 'em again."


Steel City Insider Top Stories