CINCINNATI -- Little did the Cincinnati Bengals know this past offseason, but when the NFL powers that be sat down and organized this season's schedule, they set up the most favorable transition between Weeks 4 and 5 that the franchise could have possibly envisioned.
It's a dream scenario, really.
If someone had written those exact words six months ago, six weeks ago or even six days ago, many of you probably would have shaken your heads and thought the person who actually considered it a good thing the Bengals had a seven-day turnaround involving the Browns and Patriots was crazy.
Then again, six months or six weeks ago, very few of us could have predicted the Bengals would be 2-2 with quarterback drama and an unidentifiable offense. Even fewer probably would have imagined the Bengals' loss would include one to a once-little-known backup Browns quarterback. Even fewer would have thought those same Browns would be sitting at 3-2 at the start of Week 5, and holding a slim lead on the rest of the AFC North.
But here we are. All of the above has happened, and the undefeated New England Patriots are coming to Cincinnati hoping to win a fifth straight game that could deflate the Bengals' once-hopeful season.
As bad of a scenario as that might appear to be, it's actually one the Bengals, a team coming off a rough division loss during which very little went well, are actually embracing. For them, Sunday afternoon's home game against the Patriots comes at a good time.
"Anytime you play a New England football team, if you're up and down about who you are and what your style is, you're going to get your tail whipped," Bengals offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth said. "So you've got to know what you're good at, and you've got to go in and do it. That's the only way you beat New England. And that's the truth.
"If you're wishy-washy on what you want to do or what kind of team you want to be, you're in trouble. So this is a great week for us. Here we are, we're 2-2 and we get a chance to decide what kind of team we want to be. This week will tell us with the way we come out and play."
The Bengals are embracing the challenge that the tough-to-beat Patriots and their Super Bowl-winning veteran quarterback, Tom Brady, pose. They're embracing the fact that they might be facing one of the better offensive lines they will see this season. They're embracing the difficulty the venerable and astute Patriots coach Bill Belichick poses from a schematic standpoint.
"These are the games you're supposed to wake up for," cornerback Adam Jones said. "The guys in here pin their ears back when we have good challenges like this."
Last week's 17-6 loss at Cleveland left a bitter, stale taste in the Bengals' mouths. They weren't happy with the way they played, particularly on offense, where they amassed just 203 yards in the air. Receiver A.J. Green caught seven passes, but seven more balls either went over his head, hit the ground at his feet, or zoomed into vacant spots several yards away from him as he and quarterback Andy Dalton got crossed up on different routes and coverages.
Confused, uncertain and mixed up, it was that very style of play that made the loss look even worse and had fans second-guessing the offense's game plan. Calls for Dalton's ouster have sounded all week, and pressure has been added upon Green's shoulders for better play the rest of the season. The run game has taken some heat, too, as many are curious as to why, after struggling in the air, the Bengals moved away from their ground attack last week.
To some inside Paul Brown Stadium's home locker room, and to many more outside it, last Sunday's game should have resulted in a win. Those who believed that found dealing with the after-effects of the loss even more frustrating. Some players think that's why it's so easy for them to welcome the challenge that is the Patriots. There is a renewed purpose and a heightened focus that might not have been there had they breezed through the Browns as had been largely expected.
"We want to go out there and prove to everybody, every day, every time we step on the field, that we're a force to be reckoned with," receiver Marvin Jones said. "In order to do that, we have to play like it. With [last] Sunday, that's not the team that we are. That's not the team I know we are. It's up to us, it's up to everybody in all phases to go out and take the steps to proving that we are not like that and that we can be elite."
Bengals coach Marvin Lewis has detected a positive spirit within his team all week.
"The team is fine," he said. "It's well-positioned, it's well-grounded. It's got some strong foundation points. We know how to go about it. We got our feelings hurt last Sunday when we didn't win. So we had to go back to work and raise the level.
"And they've done that."
We'll see just how much they have in less than 48 hours.