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Tuesday, February 4, 2014
Morning Stripes: A Super Bowl blueprint?

By Coley Harvey

A cursory glance around the Cincinnati Bengals beat, and it's clear some of the team's beat reporters were of one mind Sunday night while they watched Seattle's dominating defensive display in the 43-8 win over Denver in the Super Bowl. Those reporters, including yours truly, were thinking: "Wow, a defense really can still win a championship."

In so many ways, the blowout mirrored the Bengals' most lopsided wins from the 2013 season.

Like Cincinnati did in its four wins with 17-point or greater margins of victory, the Seahawks scored a defensive touchdown Sunday against the Broncos. They also applied so much relentless pressure on previous Super Bowl-winning quarterback Peyton Manning that at times he looked completely lost. Tom Brady, Andrew Luck (for three quarters), Joe Flacco, Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger (for one of two games) shared Manning's bewilderment when they faced the Bengals in the regular season. Rivers, with the help of a solid rushing attack, though, solved the Bengals' defense in the Chargers' first-round playoff win at Cincinnati last month.

Seattle's defense was so suffocating in the Super Bowl that it was easy to forget about the 27 points its offense scored, much the way it was easy to forget the Bengals' offense in three of the 17-point or more wins. The lone holdout of those four games was the late-October 49-9 win over the Jets, when Bengals receiver Marvin Jones set a franchise record, catching four touchdown passes.

So that's why, if you were a Bengals scribe, you couldn't help but think Sunday about where Cincinnati stood in its quest for a Super Bowl berth. Yes, if you believe in curses (the Bengals haven't won a playoff game since the 1990 season, despite making six playoff appearances since), and if you think back to the mostly bad, loss-filled legacy the Bengals have left over the years, it may seem ludicrous to consider them a potential Super Bowl team in the short term. Changes at offensive and defensive coordinator this offseason won't make their Super Bowl dreams any brighter, either.

But at their foundation, the Bengals may philosophically be onto something. Run the ball more in the playoffs, somehow ease the pressure on inconsistent Andy Dalton's shoulders, keep up former defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer's relentlessly aggressive and physical defensive approach, and that trip to the Super Bowl may not be such a fantasy after all.

Here are your Tuesday Morning Stripes: