Each week we come to the stadium expecting a leak or a crack or a sign of a relapse, and each week we are wrong. "Same Old Bengals" has assumed such a different meaning, we wonder whether we missed a highway exit and ended up in Pittsburgh. Or, you know, Baltimore.
The New Same Old Bengals (NSOBs) play exacting team defense and score when their quarterback believes it's required. The Same Old Bengals were fractured and ego-driven. Even when they were good in 2005, they were immature. "Young and dumb," in the words of Carson Palmer.
The New Same Olds believe in the hokey power of trusting one another. They offer without apology that they're better in 2009 because they, well, they like each other. They get along. They want to do well for the player next to them.
"The camaraderie in here is like nothing I've ever seen," safety Chinedum Ndukwe remarked.
"I wasn't here last year," rookie linebacker Rey Maualuga said, "but I know a team when I see it. Everyone expects a lot from each other."
No longer young and dumb, the NSOBs are loaded with second-chancers, last-dancers and people who know the playoffs are not cyclical. They don't just invite you every other January. This isn't Christmas. "We have veterans here who appreciate the game" was how guard Bobbie Williams put it.
That's a long, not-quite-tangible explanation for why the Bengals whacked the Ravens on Sunday. You like your teammate, you get to know him. You get to know him, you trust him. You trust him, you don't worry that he's going to do his job. That frees you to do yours.
You do all that, you start a game with 22 near-perfect minutes, and they are more than enough to dominate a pretty good opponent. Cincinnati's 17-0 lead after a quarter and a half ended in a 17-7 coast. The Ravens were never really in the game.
This is what coach Marvin Lewis hoped to inspire with those "Do Your Job" shirts a few years back.
"So much more trust," Ndukwe said. "I know what Dhani Jones is going to do every single play. I know what Chris Crocker's going to do. If I have to take a chance, someone will have my back. You can't coach it, you can't teach it, you just know it's there."
Said the normally praise-challenged Lewis: "Our guys are a football team, and that's key."