They lost their primary pass rusher, end Antwan Odom(notes), in a Week 6 loss to the Texans, but their pass rush remains strong. The offensive line is one of the best run-blocking units in the league despite the fact that their first-round draft pick, tackle Andre Smith(notes), hasn't played a down all season. They lost running back Cedric Benson(notes) in today's game and simply rolled on with rookie Bernard Scott(notes) in the backfield. If there's one thing that's marked the season of the 2009 Cincinnati Bengals, it has to be their ability to overcome any manner of adversity with confidence. This was never more evident than in today's 18-12 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers. In sweeping the Steelers and Ravens, the AFC North's two longtime bullies, the Bengals haven't just put the NFL on notice -- they've established a repeatable culture of winning that they can use going forward into the nearly inevitable postseason berth this gives them.
Despite their 6-2 record, few gave the Bengals a shot at taking the Steelers in Pittsburgh. The winning tradition was clearly on Pittsburgh's side, and most assumed that Cincy's bubble would have to pop at some point. What the naysayers didn't expect was a Bengals defense that held up all day to the challenge, allowing a mere 80 rushing yards, and 16 of those came on Ben Roethlisberger(notes) scrambles. Big Ben was on the run all day, getting sacked four times, and hit and hurried all day. Roethlisberger is usually able to outrun and outgun those who seek to stop him, but not in this game. The Bengals limited the Steelers to three of 15 third-down conversions, and their defensive backs were able to hang with Pittsburgh's receivers even when blitzes left them on an island. The cornerback duo of Johnathan Joseph(notes) and Leon Hall(notes) deserves more recognition as one of the league's top tandems.
On offense, the Bengals took what they could from a Steelers defense that played very well despite the loss of Troy Polamalu(notes), who left the game with a knee injury in the first quarter. Carson Palmer(notes) could only lead his offense into the Pittsburgh red zone on three of 12 drives, but kicker Shayne Graham(notes) booted four of five field goals, and the aforementioned Bernard Scott made the difference with a 96-yard kickoff return. Scott almost outgained his offense on kick returns alone, with 206 return yards and 218 for the offense.
At this point, anyone not taking the 7-2 Bengals seriously is just not paying attention. With games against the Raiders, Browns, and Lions in the next three weeks, this could be a 10-2 team before anybody knows it. Should Cincinnati residents start thinking about home playoff tickets for the first time since 2005?