Prove It

They weren’t supposed to be any good. Most of the preseason power rankings had them as the worst team in the league. Those that didn’t rated them second-worst.

No one picked them to win yesterday, not even Joe Reedy, who covers the team for the Cincinnati Enquirer. SI.com’s Peter King, himself a former Bengals beat writer for the Enquirer, predicted a 33-13 thrashing at the hands of the rival Browns.

Oops.

Instead, the Bengals triumphed 27-17, dominating the Browns in the first and fourth quarters, and staging a comeback despite their starting quarterback being knocked out of the game right before the half.

Cleveland committed seven penalties in the first quarter alone, finished with 11 on the day, and there were a few in the fourth quarter that weren’t called, perhaps because the referees were just too embarrassed by the Browns’ enthusiasm for infractions.

Cincinnati RB Cedric Benson rushed 25 times for 121 yards and a touchdown. Cleveland RB Peyton Hillis — the cover boy of Madden ’12 — was held to 57 yards on 17 carries.

What I can’t figure out is why everyone is so surprised by this. The Bengals may have gone 1-3 in the preseason, but Cedric Benson was a monster in the three games in which he played, and every Bengals running back had good nights, except against the Jets. Moreover, Cincinnati held opponents to 2.2 yards per rush in the preseason.

But no one thought the Bengals had a chance, because they were starting a rookie quarterback who only had six weeks to learn a brand-new offense, and this is a rebuilding season. Apparently, everyone forgot Cleveland had a rookie head coach, an entirely new coaching staff, and new schemes for offense and defense. Not to mention their second-year quarterback still doesn’t have a wide receiver of any note to throw to.

It’s only one game, and it most likely is not the start of another playoffs run. The Bengals are starting a rookie quarterback (whose throwing arm got hurt yesterday), and there were a lot of things not to like about their performance against the Browns (including several blown coverages that led to Cleveland touchdowns). The Bengals are going to lose games this year, and I’ll be happy if they finish 8-8.

But I said in this space last week that Cincinnati was going to be better than people were giving them credit for, and they proved it on Sunday.

One game doesn’t mean anything. The last time the Bengals won on opening day, 2007, they proceeded to go 2-5 in their next seven contests. They’ll have to prove it all over again next week in Denver, where they haven’t won since 1975.

But that’s life in the NFL. You have to prove it every week. So maybe it’s okay no one expected the Bengals to win yesterday. Maybe it’s okay they will surely be underdogs next week, and perhaps the week after when they play their home opener against San Francisco.

But maybe the pundits will sit up and take notice there’s something a little more special than they thought happening in Cincinnati. Or not.

The Bengals will just have to keep proving it.

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