Bengals take giant 'leap' forward

Posted by ESPN.com’s James Walker

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Last week, Leon Hall was among the most dejected Cincinnati Bengals players after his deflection resulted in a miraculous, last-second loss to the Denver Broncos.

But on Sunday, Hall took a 180-degree turn. The cornerback was giddy and playful in the locker room after the Bengals' 31-24 upset of the Green Bay Packers.

Hall poked fun at safety Chris Crocker for getting dressed too slowly. Hall later tried to interrupt receiver Chad Ochocinco’s postgame media interviews.

"He won’t look over here," Hall said to a large group of reporters. "I don't have a question. Do you have a question for him?"

Hall was just one example of the difference seven days can make in the NFL.

Last week the Bengals were goats in defeat. Sunday they experienced the glory of winning.

The difference between 1-1 and 0-2 is huge in this league. And those words couldn’t be any truer for the Bengals after the first two weeks of the 2009 season.

"The win does so much for this team, especially when you start the season the way we did," Crocker said. "We really felt like we could beat [the Packers]. They were talking all week about how good they were, and how they were going to make corrections from the Chicago game.

"But our whole mindset was 'OK, but they’re going to have to worry about us.' Everybody was talking them up while we’re just like stepchildren. We took that as an insult."

The Bengals indeed were treated harshly in the media last week.

Despite heightened expectations and a higher national profile thanks to HBO’s "Hard Knocks" series, the Bengals were quickly being written off after Week 1. ESPN.com’s power rankings had Cincinnati at No. 26 after one game, and the final highlight against Denver was played over and over on every national broadcast.

The lesson learned is that respect has to be earned on the football field. Cincinnati made strides in that department Sunday against Green Bay (1-1).

Cincinnati’s win was a total team effort. Its offense put up 31 points on the road thanks to three touchdown passes by quarterback Carson Palmer and a strong running game by Cedric Benson (141 rushing yards). The Bengals’ defense also held the Packers to three points in the second half, while backup receiver Quan Cosby had several good punt returns.

"You look around this room and you have so many guys today that had some kind of contribution," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said. "I think that is big anytime you play a football game that way."

Once the Bengals took the lead in the second half, starting defensive end Antwan Odom took over the game. He recorded a career-high five sacks against the Packers. In 12 starts last season, Odom had three sacks, and the Bengals had only 17 sacks in 16 games.

Odom simply manhandled whoever was in front of him. He was effective against Packers starting tackle Chad Clifton early. But Odom really took over when Clifton went down with an ankle injury and the Packers moved left guard Daryn Colledge to left tackle.

The combination of Colledge's shift and Odom bringing the rush with the lead in tow made for a career performance.

"I still think it’s a dream," Odom said afterward. "I’m wondering when I’m going to wake up."

The Bengals were full of surprises Sunday.

As advertised, Bengals receiver Chad Ochocinco made his Lambeau leap. Ochocinco scored on a 13-yard reception in the third quarter and found a smattering of Bengals fans who welcomed him into the stands. He pretended for a moment that he was going to jump into the sea of Packers fans but called an audible.

"It was fun," said Ochocinco, who led the Bengals with four catches for 91 yards. "I had a little indecision about where to jump at first."

It was a fun day all around for Cincinnati, which has a marquee AFC North battle upcoming against the Pittsburgh Steelers next week. The Steelers have won five in a row in this series, including the last three in Cincinnati.

The Bengals took a giant leap forward in Green Bay. But next week’s game against the defending champions will be an even larger measuring stick of where the Bengals currently stand during their interesting start to the 2009 season.

"They’re coming into our home and we feel like we got something to prove," Crocker said. "They beat us up five in a row. But now we feel like we can do some things to hurt them. We respect them, but we feel like we can make plays also."