For the Cincinnati Bengals and their fans, the phrase that most readily might come to mind was “at last.”
At last, the Bengals had shed the moniker of the team that beats everybody who isn’t anybody.
At last, the Bengals faced down one of their division’s two big bullies and came out on top in a big spot.
At last, the Bengals earned their ticket to the playoffs.
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Of course, the Bengals’ tale of redemption actually begins six weeks ago.
Cincinnati had lost four in a row, and was looking quite un-playoff like at 3-5. Another year of frustration for Bengals’ fans.
But a surprising and impressive 31-13 victory over the defending Super Bowl champion Giants set the stage for Cincinnati’s resurgence (it also wound up being a key loss for New York). Wins over also-rans Kansas City, Oakland and San Diego followed, and at 7-5, Cincinnati was poised.
But there were doubters. Of course there were doubters.
The Bengals still had back to back games against the Steelers and Ravens on the schedule to end the season, and that would be their downfall, everyone assumed.
Those doubts were amplified when the Bengals lost a heartbreaker 20-19 to the Dallas Cowboys, and coming into this week, no one figured Cincinnati would be able to deliver the knockout punch to the Steelers, who faced a win or go home game in their own building.
Call it kismet. Call it payback.
Call it what it was, an inspired defensive effort that secured the biggest win of the season in the face of a lackluster performance from the Cincinnati offense.
But don’t say the Bengals didn’t earn this one.
Nothing is free when you play in Pittsburgh, and Cincinnati took this game because it was what they needed to do.