Nobody really expected the Cincinnati Bengals to do that much going into the 2009 season. Maybe if their defensive draft picks panned out and the Carson-to-Ocho combo found wings again, they'd be good enough to separate themselves from the terminally awful Browns and wind up 8-8 or so behind the inevitable Ravens-Steelers AFC North championship brawl.
Nobody expected anything different -- except the Bengals. After going into Baltimore and pulling out a 17-14 win, the Cincinnatians are a full game up on the Ravens in the division, and that "immaculate deflection" play in the season opener against Denver away from an undefeated season. They did it against Baltimore in the same way they've done it all year -- with the power running of the surprising Cedric Benson(notes) (who became the first back to gain over 100 yards against the Ravens defense in 40 games), strong performances from both lines, and a fully healthy Palmer zinging the ball around to targets old and new.
The game was a defensive battle early on, and the Bengals gave as good as they got -- the Ravens were up, 7-3, at the half and the only touchdown was on Ed Reed's(notes) 52-yard interception return in the first quarter. Cincinnati gained the lead late in the third quarter on a 28-yard run by Benson, and the Ravens came back with an incredible 48-yard after-catch performance by halfback Ray Rice(notes) on a short pass. But with 22 seconds left in the game, receiver Andre Caldwell(notes) beat his man up the middle and caught a bullet from Palmer for the go-ahead touchown. All three of Palmer's primary receivers -- Ochocinco, Caldwell, and Chris Henry -- came up with big plays. The Ravens' defense continued to look surprisingly vulnerable against the pass, and Cincinnati's defensive players did their very best for coordinator Mike Zimmer, who lost his wife to an undisclosed cause of death this last week and still made the trip.
it's a bit early to start any coronations, but this Bengals team has exceeded everyone's expectations -- everyone's except their own.