CINCINNATI – Domata Peko was watching a little TV Saturday with his wife and kids when he heard ESPN NFL commentator and former New England linebacker Tedy Bruschi say something that caught all of their attentions.
“He was saying we weren’t even going to win the division,” said Peko, the Bengals’ defensive tackle. “Me, my wife and my kids were watching. We were like ‘Change the channel!’… I have nothing but respect for Bruschi but he needs to start watching our games.”
The Bengals will only change people’s perceptions of them by winning in January. It’s something the organization hasn’t done since the 1990 season. They can’t do anything about those perceptions right yet. They’ve got three games left to play in the regular season.
Sunday’s 42-28 win over Indianapolis will go a long way to helping them get that chance at changing perceptions. The Bengals are now 9-4, including a perfect 6-0 at home, and have a two-game lead on Baltimore in the AFC North division race. They can clinch the division next week with a win at Pittsburgh and a Baltimore loss at Detroit on Monday night, or with wins in two of their next three games.
Winning this division isn’t enough. There has to be an attitude that comes with the winning that will propel them to a deep postseason run. The Bengals seem to have it.
This attitude has nothing to do with Peko or anyone else asking for respect. It’s an attitude that head coach Marvin Lewis showed off when he kept the offense on the field late in the first half. A first-and-goal at the Colts’ 9-yard line was now a fourth-and-goal at the 1. They led 7-0 and a field goal would be easy points.
But a field goal wouldn’t send a message.
“Regardless of the outcome, it sends a message that he believes in us,” said center Kyle Cook. “He has confidence in the team as a whole, and not just the offense. He believes we’re going to put it in there and, if not, the ball is going to stay on that half-yard line or 1-yard line and our defense is, if not pin them in the end zone, keep them there.
“It’s a huge play because it shows he’s got confidence in this team. He’s willing to make the big call to affect the long-term outcome of the game.”
The Bengals got their 14-0 lead.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis was awarded a touchdown on the play, even though it appeared Indianapolis nose tackle Josh Chapman got enough of a hand on Green-Ellis to cause him to stumble before getting to the goal line. He was initially ruled down short of the goal line but that was because officials thought he had been touched by a defender inside the 1.
Replays showed no one at that spot touched Green-Ellis as he bounced into the end zone. Because the officials never ruled that Chapman had tripped up Green-Ellis, they didn’t look at that portion of the replay. For whatever reason, they didn’t look at that portion of the replay.
“There was a discussion about whether the runner was touched down at the goal line or not,” said head referee Jeff Triplette in a pool report. “I don’t know about that, what position… There was nobody that touched him at the goal line. We looked at the goal line, (those) were the shots we looked at.”
If Lewis kicks the field goal, it’s 10-0. If Green-Ellis is ruled down because Chapman clipped him, it’s only a 7-0 game.
Lewis wasn’t going to question his own judgment about the decision regardless of the outcome.
“My thinking was to score a touchdown,” said Lewis. “If we left it short, we still have two timeouts and they have the ball at the one-yard line… We go for it on fourth down at times, and when we do, we expect to score. They’re always big plays. They always are.”
The results of these calls aren’t always successful. They failed to convert a fourth-and-1 in Cleveland in Week 4 from the Browns’ 7. They failed to convert a third-and-2 from their own 41 on their opening possession at Miami in Week 9. Andy Dalton was stuffed on a quarterback sneak on a fourth-and-1 from the Baltimore 47-yard line in Week 10. The Ravens took over with good field position and scored a touchdown on the ensuing drive in a game they ultimately won 20-17 in overtime.
The bigger picture is that Lewis has shown his team he has faith in it. The safe play would’ve been to kick the field goal and take the 10-point lead into halftime.
Sometimes you don’t play it safe. Sometimes you get a little greedy. Sometimes greed is good, as Michael Douglas’ character Gordon Gekko famously said in the movie “Wall Street”. Well, it’s good to a point. The Bengals led the league with seven rushing attempts on fourth-and-1 entering the game. They were successful four times. It’s 5-of-9 now.
The M.O. has been set.
“(Lewis) has done that a couple of times this year and sometimes we haven’t been so successful, so for us to get a second chance here was great,” said Green-Ellis. “Those stick with you when it doesn’t happen. Those are critical situations and you’ve got to win those critical situations.”
They are winning those critical situations, even if every once in a while they get a little help.