Just like last Monday, we have to welcome you once again this Monday to sole possession of first place, Cincinnati Bengals fans. How does it feel?
You've now started back-to-back weeks by jumping out of bed, skipping to breakfast and hi-ho, hi-hoing your way to work with an upbeat demeanor that few should have on a Monday morning. I guarantee you, your counterparts in Cleveland, Baltimore and Pittsburgh haven't quite been gliding so easily through their first work days of the week. How does it feel?
It has to feel pretty good, I'd imagine.
With Sunday's 27-24 win over the Detroit Lions, one of the best teams in a very competitive NFC North division, the Bengals have now claimed yet another big-boy, better yet "grown-man," win that ought to look favorably on their résumé as the postseason picture begins taking shape by the end of the season.
For the second straight week, you've gone off to work lifted by Mike Nugent's right leg. In consecutive weeks, the kicker has blasted game-winning and game-ending field goals. Last week, his 43-yard overtime boot sent Cincinnati to 4-2. Sunday's 54-yard drive as time expired made the Bengals 5-2. They now have claimed two road wins in this tough four-road-game-in-five-game stretch, and won three straight games overall.
The way each of those wins -- and one more; the Week 3 victory over Green Bay -- was decided could best be described by one of coach Marvin Lewis' favorite terms: "grinding." They truly were the types of wins that relied on the Bengals willing themselves through some harrowing and adverse conditions.
As we kick off this Monday's Morning Stripes, we go a little deeper into looking at the way others described the gritty win:
Cincinnati Enquirer columnist Paul Daugherty discussed the Bengals' "grinding" philosophy in his opinion piece from the three-point win by essentially saying, if you are faint of heart or simply tired of the Bengals having to win in this fashion, then stop watching. These types of wins, like we also mentioned here on ESPN.com last week, are part of the Bengals' identity. In these days of great NFL parity, it's the only way they know how to win. To that end, my favorite line in the column: "The leaves are falling. Rake them up." So, if this type of winning isn't your cup of tea, now might be the time to tune out; or go see a doctor. This won't be the last time they'll win a game in such stressful fashion.
One reason the Bengals were able to pull off this latest victory had to do with their defense. Just like the Lions, who finally got their first sack on the Bengals' second-to-last drive of the game, Cincinnati finally got the third-down stand that had been eluding it for much of the day on its last defensive series. After Detroit got pinned deep in its own territory by a Kevin Huber punt, the Bengals' defense held firm when safety Reggie Nelson came around the blindside edge on third down with less than 40 seconds remaining. His pressure flushed Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford out of the pocket and forced him to throw an incomplete pass. The Lions had to punt. Bengals.com's Geoff Hobson discusses the late-game defensive stand and other key plays from the Cincinnati defense.
As the Enquirer's Paul Dehner Jr. notes in this sidebar from Cincinnati's win, special teams have proven to be quite special indeed lately. In Sunday's game, the Bengals got big lifts from Carlos Dunlap's blocked punt that ultimately was recovered by Nelson and Dre Kirkpatrick, Huber's late-game punt that forced a 28-yard Detroit punt that eventually led to the game-winning drive, and Nugent's big 54-yard kick. This is the second straight week that special teams have been as important as any other unit to a Bengals victory.
Here's a quick, analytic look, in picture form, at the Bengals' win from the Enquirer's Joe Reedy. This is called "Four Quarters."
Finally, we close with Fox Sports Ohio's Kevin Goheen, who writes about how this third consecutive win for the Bengals feels a little more special. Not only did everything go the Bengals' way in the end, but they escaped with the type of win that not only made them want to say "Whew" as a way of letting out a sigh of relief, but it also made them say "Whew!" excitedly, as a way of letting everyone else know how big a win this really was.