Good Monday morning, everyone.
After playing the role of spectator for one Sunday, the Cincinnati Bengals are getting the country's full attention one day later as they seek a little "Monday Night Football" redemption. Their last time on this particularly bright stage didn't go so well. They were shelled in Baltimore by the Ravens in last year's season opener, 44-13.
This time around, they are back, as you well know, in an early-season divisional clash. The Pittsburgh Steelers have arrived into town, along with ESPN's army (eight total production trucks parked at Paul Brown Stadium on Thursday to start building sets and getting cameras ready for the one-of-a-kind spectacle). Before the day ends, one of these teams will be tied with the Ravens atop the AFC North standings. Before it ends, one will be left scratching its collective head, wondering why it hasn't yet won a game this season.
Both enter with 0-1 records after Week 1 losses.
You will, of course, be watching the game, but make sure you keep refreshing ESPN NFL Nation's Bengals and Steelers pages throughout the day. Myself and colleague Scott Brown will be providing you with every bit of analysis you need in order to watch Monday's game.
Speaking of those posts, let's go on and get the day started with a few of the day's morning stripes:
It's apt that we titled this edition of the Morning Stripes "Approaching kickoff," because our first link has to do with kickoffs, kick returns, punt, punt returns and field goals. As the Cincinnati Enquirer's Paul Dehner Jr. wrote over the weekend, special teams will play a key role in this game. In the past four seasons alone, there have been long punt and kickoff returns for touchdowns that swung momentum in one direction over the other, there have been key block punts and there have even been missed and made field goals, like last year's game-winner by the Bengals' Josh Brown which sent them to the postseason for a second straight year.
Sticking with the Enquirer, here is a look from Joe Reedy at what Monday night's game will mean for the division. Yes, it's early still, but a win could help the Bengals send a warning shot to the rest of the conference: they are here, they are for real and they can live up to the hype that has been with them since April. But like Reedy says, it's not merely about winning this game. They'll need to beat the Steelers again later this year at Pittsburgh and snatch victories from Baltimore, too. It's about consistency. If Cincinnati wants to be taken seriously, it's going to have to win and keep winning, and winning, and winning.
On CincyJungle.com, a writer posed a rather interesting proposition for the Bengals. As Cincinnati prepared for Monday night's game, it probably would have been wise to account for the recently resigned Jonathan Dwyer. The fourth-year running back out of Georgia Tech was let go entering the first game, but was brought back last week as Pittsburgh's run game suffered setbacks that were the product of a pair of backfield injuries and a stagnant scheme that barely amassed 30 yards in Week 1. Against the Bengals in one game last year, Dwyer rushed for a season-high 122 yards.
As it sets up Monday night's game, Bengals.com sat down with a couple of sportswriters, and team radio analyst Dave Lapham for a pregame roundtable on the Steelers and Bengals. He chatted with ESPN's Jon Gruden for a bit, too. Gruden, like so many others, is most curious to see how well Pittsburgh's tweaked offensive line will manage the Bengals' defensive front that accounted for so many sacks a year ago. Each of the roundtable guests gave the edge, like so many others, to the Bengals.