Good Monday morning, Cincinnati Bengals fans. Welcome to sole possession of first place in the AFC North.
How does it feel?
I'd imagine it feels great, although you know very well that a win next week at Detroit and this team can begin scripting a postseason story that, for now at least, appears it won't include a loss at Houston. With the Texans, that AFC South bugaboo that knocked the Bengals out of their last two playoff trips, stumbling through a four-game losing streak, the Bengals appear to be clear of having to make a trip down to Reliant Stadium as long as everything continues trending the way it currently is.
And what way is that? The winning way.
Sunday's 27-24 overtime win over Buffalo was not pretty by any stretch of the imagination. Cincinnati didn't even need to be in overtime. With a 14-point fourth-quarter lead, the Bengals should have been hopping on the bus to the airport, not bracing the sideline for a sudden-death period.
But it happened anyway. And, as has been the case the last three winning games, they won Sunday in the clutch anyway. Coupled with losses by Baltimore and Cleveland, the victory placed Cincinnati all alone atop the division. If the three teams can replicate those exact winning and losing efforts next weekend, the gap for the Bengals can grow.
As you revel in the glory of being all alone in first place, we take a look back in Monday's Morning Stripes at what got your Bengals there:
Much like the ESPN NFL Nation article linked above, Cincinnati Enquirer columnist Paul Daugherty looked at the way the Bengals beat the Bills. He, too, was a little dismayed that it took an extra eight minutes and 16 seconds for them to finally call themselves victors. But, at the end of the day, a win is a win. For now, it doesn't matter how a team gets to that end result. Style points aren't measured in the NFL. But by the postseason, Daugherty argues, this team better take the lessons coach Marvin Lewis stressed he wanted it to still learn. Because by then, what looks like it could be a potentially ugly win could turn into an ugly loss that won't be forgotten for seven months.
Although the Bengals gave up two long touchdown passes in the fourth quarter that led to the game being tied at 24 by the end of regulation, overall, their second-half defense was stout, particularly against the run. After giving up 86 yards rushing in the first half, the Bengals only allowed 44 in the second half and in overtime. Part of the reason for the lower rushing production was because the Bills had to rally from a large deficit across much of the game's final 33 minutes. Another part had to do with a tweaked game plan. As the Enquirer's Paul Dehner Jr. notes, Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer made a halftime adjustment that called on scraping the zone-read defense. Quarterback Thad Lewis wasn't running it as well as they thought he would. The move paid off.
After missing a field goal wide right earlier in the game, Bengals kicker Mike Nugent redeemed himself in overtime when he split the uprights with a 43-yard field goal from the right hash. It was his second game-winning field goal against the Bills in two seasons. He buried another 43-yarder in an October 2011 win from the left hash at Paul Brown Stadium. Nugent told reporters after Sunday's game that he felt better about his first 43-yard game-winner than he did the latest one. Why? Because he didn't have a missed kick in the first game. Special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons said Nugent pulled his head up too quickly on the miss, so before he went out for the overtime winner, he requested he keep his head down. The advice worked. Here's more from Bengals.com's Geoff Hobson on the field goal.
Lewis likes to use the word "flinch" to describe his team's game-to-game focus. As Fox Sports Ohio's Kevin Goheen writes, the Bengals flinched alright Sunday, but despite doing that, they still held on for a big victory.