CINCINNATI -- In the expansive history of professional football in this country, there have been many faces, teams and phrases that, when seen or uttered, command instant respect and reverence.
The Cincinnati Bengals, for much of their mostly hapless existence, have not been among that special and ethereal group.
Wake up, America. That's starting to change. These are not your dad's -- nor your -- Bengals.
With Sunday afternoon's 34-30 win against the Green Bay Packers, Cincinnati earned the type of gritty, will-imposing victory that ought to not only make the rest of the always physical AFC North take note, but one that should also cause other NFL teams to pause and glance over their shoulders in the direction of this majestic riverfront city.
Any team that doesn't look this way right now better do so before it has no choice in January.
OK, slow down. The Bengals? Really?
Sure, you probably heard similar hype all summer and watched an episode or two of HBO's "Hard Knocks," and, even still, you probably didn't believe this team -- one that just three seasons ago lost 12 games -- could really be any good. You probably didn't want to believe. Few would have blamed you.
Even still, your curiosity on the Bengals might have led you to their box score from the season opener at Chicago three weeks ago. When you saw it, you might have thought to yourself: "Yep, that's exactly the team I pictured in the preseason. Forget the hype. They can't win a big game."
Forget the box score. It was emotion that lost that game. To this day, the hurtful, self-inflicted lessons learned from that defeat continue to haunt the Bengals.
"We still kind of feel like we gave one away," said eight-year Bengals veteran and left offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth. "That's really what's burning at us right now. We feel like we need to rattle off a bunch of wins."
The rattling started Monday night with a more lopsided win against the Pittsburgh Steelers than the 20-10 score might indicate. And it continued this weekend.
Now might be the time to start believing.
Seriously, you, and maybe your father, too, should keep an open mind. While the season might still be young, the Bengals proved on a big home stage Sunday that, in spite of themselves, they do have what it takes to win a big game. No matter how much they get in their own way, victories can still come.
Four seasons ago, they wouldn't have won contests like Sunday's. Heck, three seasons ago they wouldn't have won the wacky, back-and-forth affair they ended up pulling out. To a man, they all know that.
While reflecting on their latest win, which was powered by a 20-point comeback that cornerback Terence Newman iced with his 58-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown, several Bengals thought back to the 2009 and 2010 seasons. The group that assembled inside Paul Brown Stadium's home locker room those days had great personnel but didn't have the good fortune, nor the mental makeup, to keep fighting through adversity for a victory.
"It's time for us to win these kind of games," Whitworth said. "I hate to use the word 'talent.' Yeah, we've got talented players, but the real word I want to use is that this team is resilient. It goes out every week and says, 'You know what? We can make a play to win a game.'"
That's what happened in the third quarter when quarterback Andy Dalton bounced back from a horrid, turnover-filled second quarter to hook up with star receiver A.J. Green on a 20-yard touchdown pass that sparked a rare comeback. Per Elias, only one other time in NFL history has a team won a game after leading 14-0 and then giving up 30 unanswered points.
About eight game minutes later, after being sparked by rookie Giovani Bernard's 31-yard reception that took Cincinnati out of the shadows of its own end zone, Dalton connected with another receiver, Marvin Jones, on an 11-yard touchdown that wrapped up a one-minute, 48-second, 95-yard drive to cut what was once a 16-point deficit to three.
Some seven minutes later, Newman scored the pivotal go-ahead touchdown.
"Nobody said rally speeches. Nobody was going crazy and losing their mind at halftime," Whitworth said. "Guys said, 'Alright, whatever play needs to be made to win this game, this is our game. Let's go get it.'"
Coach Marvin Lewis, embattled over his 12 years in Cincinnati for his use of challenges and timeouts, made yet another gutsy call with 4:01 left on the game clock. Just before Lewis threw his red challenge flag, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers completed a 12-yard pass to receiver Randall Cobb for what was originally spotted as a first down. It was close. The ball was placed just beyond the marker. Fans didn't like the placement.
Lewis' coaches didn't, either.
"They said we were good [to challenge and get the call overturned]," Lewis said, retelling what assistants were yelling into his headset. "And when I saw it on the big screen, I felt better about it."
After a brief delay, the spot was overturned. The ball was moved back a few inches, and the Packers were short of the first down. They had to go for it on fourth-and-inches.
Cincinnati rushed its whole unit. Newman was among those anticipating a quarterback sneak. Instead, Green Bay handed off to Johnathan Franklin, its only surviving running back. Still, the rush continued. As Franklin tried to jump over the top of the pile, Bengals defenders Vontaze Burfict and Michael Johnson came over. Johnson leaned his head forward. It jarred the ball loose. After Bengals safety Reggie Nelson scooped up the ball and quickly fumbled it right back, Newman grabbed what he called a "proper bounce" and sprinted in for the final score.
For the first time in a long time, a good bounce went the Bengals' way.
Three seasons ago, Denver receiver Brandon Stokley jogged into the same end zone after being in the right place when Cincinnati cornerback Leon Hall tipped a ball into his hands. Had Hall not even touched the ball, the go-ahead 87-yard touchdown reception that snatched a certain win from the Bengals with 11 seconds remaining wouldn't have happened.
The season before, after leading the Bills 31-14 at halftime, the Bengals stumbled late to a 49-31 loss.
"You guys we're a good football team," Lewis said in his news conference. "We'll keep proving it. They're a good team. If we want to be a good team, we're going to beat good teams. That's how you end up being a great team. You guys make too much of others. We've got good players here, too."
Other teams might be exactly who you thought they were, but as for these Bengals, they aren't the team you're accustomed to.