NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Just a Red Baron throw away from the team hotel, Bengaldom arrived in full force Saturday night to invade the bars and restaurants of Broadway. “Who Dey” could be heard above the who done somebody wrong songs as their Bengals stalked their first five-game winning streak since the last Super Bowl season.
Just more evidence that the Bengals have one of the more diehard fan bases around the NFL. They’ve lost some along the way, but there always seems to be a close-knit, damn-the-torpedoes following no matter the season or venue.
They are at a fever pitch this trip at 5-2 and the Steelers leering at the Bengals next week at Paul Brown Stadium. And the reason is as clear as that tiger-striped pocketbook or those orange and black necklaces, and that old Boomer Esiason No. 7 jersey that made the rounds in the Nashville night.
Likeability. The likeability factor of this team is through the roof. They don’t swagger, they persevere. They don’t boast. They grind. They don’t celebrate. They commiserate like Adam Jones chest-bumping Brandon Tate after his punt return touchdown last week in Seattle.
A much warmer and fuzzier team than the 2009 AFC North champs. After all, there’s nobody on this team that told them to go pound salt.
And this team doesn’t play with that lumbering here-we-go-again burden of the past, when opposing coaches used to tell their teams, “Just stay close. The Bengals will find a way to blow it.”
A 10-game losing streak against Buffalo? Four Bengals were born after it started. A shot at the first five-game winning streak since ’88? The Red Baron was less than a year old.
There are too many guys like safety Reggie Nelson around now. If you’re looking for a face on this faceless team, his is as good as the next. Sentenced as a first-round bust, Nelson was traded before he got cut before the 2010 season and in this his fifth NFL season he’s playing with first-round impact.
Nelson’s day in Seattle is a microcosm of why this team is 5-2. He made a huge play on the last snap of the first half when he prevented a touchdown and he sealed it with 35 seconds left in the game with his first NFL touchdown on a 75-yard interception return.
But before that, in the first quarter, he was struggling. He dropped an interception and his unnecessary roughness penalty ignited Seattle’s only scoring drive of the half.
Plus, he had to deal with head coach Marvin Lewis crawling all over him after the penalty.
“That’s football. I’m not worried about penalties. I moved on as soon as he threw the penalty,” Nelson said. “There are a lot of penalties. If everybody worried about penalties, this would be a messed-up game. Of course Marv got on me. You’ve got to accept that. Everybody’s got a job to do.”
And Nelson moved on in time to make the biggest play of the game. With 14 seconds left in the half on fourth-and-two from the Bengals 3, all Nelson knew is the Bengals had to stop the Seahawks. So when he penetrated the middle on the surprising run play and stopped running back Marshawn Lynch at the 1, he wasn’t caught up in anything but the moment.
He wasn’t even sure it was fourth down or that Seattle got the first down on the play but failed to line up on the ball and let the half run out with no points.
“That was a big play for the defense because they were going to get the second half kickoff, too,” Nelson said.
All Nelson was worried about was the play and he saw that Seattle quarterback Tarvaris Jackson thought the Bengals were in one look when they were actually in another. And when he saw Jackson check at the line, Nelson also saw a gap open on the line and his instincts took over.
“I just went through the gap,”’ he said. “I was focused on just executing the defense.”
But if he didn’t, he would have moved on. Which seems to be one of the many reasons for the likeability factor of these Bengals.
Before it all began in September, the pundits said the Bengals were the worst team in football. No past to haunt. No future to fulfill.
Tags: bengalls fans, Reggie Nelson, who dey
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