CINCINNATI -- OK, Cincinnati Bengals, can we have a heart to heart?
Your win over the New England Patriots on Sunday afternoon was fantastic, amazing, stupendous, remarkable and any other adjective you can think of along those lines. The fact that one week after an uncharacteristic loss, you beat a Super Bowl-winning quarterback and his undefeated team, who everyone -- except Las Vegas, apparently; oddsmakers favored you all week -- thought would clobber you into submission, is something that bears applause.
You also ought to be recognized for the fact that despite a harrowing outdoor scene that looked like it was straight out of the Apocalypse, you held on, fended off Mother Nature and earned one of your most important wins of the young season.
Congratulations, you're back over .500.
But here's the thing, Bengals, football fans are fickle, as can be the media who cover the sport they so passionately love.
For that reason, the following question has to be posed: This time around, can we believe in you?
Can we, the voracious consumers of this sport you so courageously risk limb and livelihood for, take you seriously this time? Can we believe that now, you are officially, without a doubt, 100 percent able to live up to the hype so many built up for you this offseason? Can we believe this immensely-talented team does have the internal drive and desire to not only get by as an OK team, but to be a truly great one?
Essentially, what we're asking is this: Should Bengals fans start getting their hopes up again, or should they wait to see if you play down next week to a currently quarterback-less team in Buffalo that you should beat? The fans are on to your hot-and-cold style of play. Many of you are on to it, too. Like them, you know you have a habit of going into winnable games and, for whatever reason, not arriving.
"We can't do that. We can't be up and down. We can't be a roller-coaster team," defensive tackle Domata Peko said. "We've got to be consistent and steady. The guys in this locker room got the hint [Sunday]. We've just got to play that way every week."
Cincinnati, you know that in order to be taken seriously again, you must pressure every quarterback the way you did Tom Brady. Four-sack games were once a staple in your defense. Make it that way again. Pretend the Brian Hoyers of the world are just like the Mannings, the Flaccos, the Roethlisbergers and Rodgerses; you know, championship quarterbacks you've beaten the past year.
In order to be taken seriously again, you have to throw for more than 170 yards and simultaneously rush for more than 160 like you did in your 13-6 win over the Patriots. That type of balance is your offensive identity, whether you believe you have really found such a thing or not. You have the horses, so keep figuring out ways to get the ball into Giovani Bernard's and BenJarvus Green-Ellis' hands. Keep tossing it to Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert. Keep looking for A.J. Green, Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu. Don't deviate from that plan. If you do, you'll have a repeat of last week's bitter mood.
You don't want that.
Coach Marvin Lewis was so disgusted by that loss that he put you all through practices last week that were as close to training camp levels of intensity and physicality as the NFL would let him employ.
"We were ready," defensive end Wallace Gilberry said. "When you feel like your back is against the wall, that's how you come out fighting. You want to hit whoever it is, first. And when you hit them, you don't really want to give them a chance to hit you back. That's the mindset I take out there, and I'm quite sure I got 10 other guys feeling the same way. I don't care which quarterback you bring and what your case may be, when our back is against the wall, we fight you. So that's the results you get when you got 11 guys swinging and throwing haymakers for four quarters. You make stuff happen."
Gilberry wasn't the only one feeling inspired by the intense workouts. Green-Ellis, en route to his 19-carry, 67-yard performance, was, too.
"We hate losing around here, and anytime you lose, it leaves a sour taste in your mouth," Green-Ellis said, referencing last week's disappointment after a 17-6 loss at Cleveland. "We were anxious to go out [Sunday] whether it was rain, sleet or snow, monsoon, hurricane, tornado. We just wanted to go out and get the 'W.'"
It's fitting "monsoon" was one of the weather elements he invoked. Late in the fourth quarter, during a crucial Patriots drive, sheets of rain settled into Paul Brown Stadium. They soaked the venue so much that it was hard for spectators in the rafters to even see you all moving around the field. Many probably wondered how you even saw the ball.
Apparently, the Patriots couldn't see it, either. On a six-pass drive that started inside the final two minutes, Brady threw four incomplete passes and one interception. Just before the pickoff, the clouds began to lift, the rains started to ease. The precipitation had slowed just enough for Adam Jones to track Brady's deep, hopeful, potentially game-tying throw and tip it into the air, before securing it in his hands as he landed awkwardly. Even though 16 seconds remained, the Patriots were out of timeouts. The game had been iced.
You, as a team, had won.
Just like the Week 2 win over the rival Pittsburgh Steelers, a solid ground game complemented the passing attack. Just like the Week 3 victory over Green Bay, a big defensive play late effectively preserved a win.
You need more of the same, Bengals.
"As much as you hate letting a couple slip by here and there, you're going to have to win more," center Kyle Cook said. "We've already dropped two, so obviously we're going to need to go on some good streaks. But what better way to start it off? We have a hard one against us this week to go to Buffalo. As a team, we have to come together and not only play well at home, but play well on the road."
It all goes back to consistency. Play the way you did Sunday, and you'll start seeing people believe in you again, too.