MIAMI -- It was a comment Cincinnati Bengals coach Marvin Lewis made in passing, at the tail end of a broader point he was trying to emphasize. Like many quotes he and countless other coaches often give at news conferences, it was the type of statement that could have easily been thrown away, dismissed as being something comparatively insignificant.
But upon further review, the point Lewis was making is actually a pretty strong one, and one Bengals fans have to hope their team was paying attention to.
"We know it's going to be difficult and tough," Lewis said this week, discussing the challenge of playing the Miami Dolphins on Thursday night. "We're going to play a football team that's lost a lot of close football games, so we've got to play great football."
OK, so it wasn't the football equivalent of John F. Kennedy's "Ask not what your country can do for you" or Franklin Roosevelt's "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself," but Lewis' quote got the point home. The Bengals will be going into a hostile environment against a team desperate for a win after having lost its last three games by a total of 15 points. The added adversity of bringing an injury-depleted roster to South Florida makes the Bengals' challenge that much greater.
Days after earning their easiest win in five seasons, the Bengals know that when they step through the tunnel at Sun Life Stadium they will have to brace for 60 minutes of intense, physical, grinding football. The 49-9 blowout they just enjoyed against the New York Jets can't be expected this week, no matter how much the Dolphins are scuffling.
"It's going to be a tough game," Bengals cornerback Chris Crocker said. "[The Dolphins] are in a lull right now and they're really trying to find a way to win. Those guys are going to play really hard."
After jumping out to a 3-0 start, the Dolphins have lost their last four games. Aside from a 38-17 loss at New Orleans that kicked off the losing streak, they have been in the other three games until the final minutes.
"They've had their struggles on offense, but they're going to find a way," said Crocker, who spent part of the 2008 season with the Dolphins. "This league is all about parity. There's good players on each team. They're going to make good plays. We just have to make more."
Miami caught the rest of the league's attention last week when it jumped out to an early 17-3 lead at New England and looked poised for a big streak-snapping victory. After two quarters, the game appeared to be well in the Dolphins' favor. And then the Patriots stormed back, scoring 24 unanswered points in the second half to claim a 27-17 victory. While the Dolphins may have been disappointed by the result, that first half was enough to prove to the Bengals that Miami won't give in like the Jets eventually did.
The good thing for the Bengals, though, is that if Thursday's game ends up going down to the wire, they have experience in situations like this. Indeed, games like Sunday's are a rarity for them. If anything, tight contests are more of the norm for them, which is why columnists and feature writers have for years nicknamed them the "Cardiac Cats."
Just take a look at the Bengals' record for the rest of the first half of the season. Excluding last Sunday's blowout and a 17-6 loss at Cleveland, every other game the Bengals have played has been decided by 10 points or fewer. They are 5-1 in such contests. At Buffalo and Detroit in consecutive weeks, they walked off with wins after Mike Nugent hit a pair of game-winning kicks. He made a 43-yard field goal to beat the Bills in overtime, and a 54-yarder as time expired against the Lions.
"We've been in a lot more dogfights than being in games like this," Bengals receiver Marvin Jones said after the win over the Jets. "We know what it is. We can't let our guard down, and we're just going to keep going forward and keep preparing like we're going to be in a dogfight and go out there and get the 'W.'"
As insignificant a storyline as it may seem, it is true: the Bengals can't get caught up in reliving their blowout. That game was the exception. The rule is that winning each week in this league is tough, and this week could be the toughest.