The Cincinnati Bengals played short-handed against the best team in the NFL and didn't back away. They played with uncommon nerve and weren't afraid to take risks. They played to win, too, when they could have played it safe.
Those are the most obvious indicators of how Marvin Lewis, a head coach for the first time in his life, has effected change in the Bengals this season.
The change is noticeable to everyone who sees them, but especially to those who've endured the misery the longest.
"You can see it in everybody's eyes," said wide receiver Peter Warrick, a four-year veteran. "We want to win, we're tired of losing. Lots of people were here that aren't here now; I know they're feeling like they wish they were still here."
The Bengals sent ripples of shock through the NFL in Week 11, trading punches with the heavyweight Kansas City Chiefs until the heavyweight went down. But Cincinnati's 24-19 victory said more about where the team is headed than where it has been.
The Bengals have won five of their past seven games since starting 0-3. They have lost to some pretty bad teams, too: Oakland, Buffalo, Arizona. There wouldn't be a first-place tie with the Ravens in the tepid AFC North if the Bengals (5-5) had taken care of business earlier in the year like they are now.
That's what Lewis, a former Ravens defensive coordinator, has been preaching since he arrived in Cincinnati in January: take care of what's in front of you. That's what he told his defense at the start of the fourth quarter on Sunday, too. Lewis demonstratively went face-to-face with as many of his defensive players as he could reach, walking almost out to the hash mark to talk to some, pointing fingers along the way.
"We just have our jobs to do," Lewis said later. "We got a little bit ahead of ourselves. We were trying to do too much. 'Just go back to doing your job.' I told them all week long, our thing was to play with our head down and don't worry about the score, [because] the score will take care of itself."
Winning four straight home games has jacked up long-suffering Bengals fans. A record crowd watched them beat the Chiefs. Better yet was the way they beat the Chiefs:
Punter Kyle Richardson gave the Chiefs' offense a short field in the first half, but the Bengals' defense forced three-and-out on four of Kansas City's first six possessions. (Richardson also later made amends.)
The Bengals went into the game without tight end Reggie Kelly and cornerback Jeff Burris, both starters, both hurt. By halftime, they lost another tight end and were down to just one healthy player at the position. Not good when you consider they wanted to run from the two-tight end formation.
Artrell Hawkins replaced Burris on the corner, where Kansas City felt the Bengals were soft to start with. And still the Chiefs couldn't hurt the Bengals on the perimeter until late in the game.
The Bengals answered Kansas City's big-play offense with salvos of their own. Warrick had a 68-yard punt return and a 77-yard catch for touchdowns. Running back Rudi Johnson had runs of 38 and 54 yards. When the Bengals faced a third-and-three with two minutes left, Johnson burrowed into the line for the 3 yards. Cincinnati ran out the clock.
Nerve? How about the Bengals throwing the ball deep on their first play after Kansas City narrowed its deficit to 17-12 with six minutes left? Quarterback Jon Kitna normally looks for Chad Johnson on a crossing route on the play called, but saw Warrick open in man coverage down the field and hit him for a touchdown.
Kitna said he wasn't surprised at the bold play-call in that situation.
"Not if you know [offensive coordinator] Bob Bratkowski," he said. "He has been waiting to work with a head coach who allows him to be the aggressive play-caller that he is."
Lewis lets Bratkowski be Bratkowski.
"I had my back turned until I saw the ball go up in the air; that's a good thing," Lewis said, drawing laughs. "Even there at the end, if they had been in the right defense, we would have thrown the ball."
Kitna was asked what the win meant to Lewis. The quarterback fairly glowed.
"I think it meant everything," he said, "because he's seen the fruits of his labor. There isn't a guy on our team who has worked harder than Marvin Lewis. He fights for us and gets things for us that we never had in the past. ... You can't help but feel like he is one of us. You can't challenge his authority, but you feel like he's in it with you.
"I love that guy."
Best and worst
Highlights and lowlights from Week 11:
Best answer: OT Chad Clifton, Packers. Nearly a year after he was blindsided and badly injured by Warren Sapp, Clifton and the Packers launched a 98-yard touchdown drive to beat the Bucs, 20-13.
Worst idea: Guarantees. It was special when Joe Namath did it, but when it's almost a weekly event, it becomes boring and childish. Vikings coach Mike Tice should know better and Bengals receiver Chad Johnson does know, now.
Best return: QB Jake Plummer, Broncos. After a four-week absence, Plummer returned to light up the Chargers for 253 passing yards and three TDs in a 37-8 rout.
Worst reversal: Chargers. After blistering the Vikings for 458 yards and 42 points, the Chargers had just 96 total yards against Denver.
Best breakout game: WR Peter Warrick. A former No. 1 pick, Warrick spurred the Bengals' upset of the Chiefs with a 68-yard punt return and a 77-yard catch for touchdowns.
Worst offensive slump: Bills. They haven't scored a touchdown in three weeks.