CINCINNATI -- A happy and indefinable alchemy has pushed the Cincinnati Bengals to four wins in five games. That's how they see it, anyway. "Talent is overrated'' the players tell their coach. Maybe so.
Pro football players don't dwell on feelings, because pro football is a business. Emotion, though -- emotion is different. It can last a play or a quarter or until something goes wrong. Or maybe, it can last longer than that. The Bengals have won three games in the last minute, seemingly on faith.
"We all just believe more in each other,'' kicker
On a rainy Tuesday morning, five days after
"Tragic but uplifting'' was safety
They wanted to do right by Zim, a tough, tart guy who tells his players they stink. He reminds them nobody wanted them. Then he picks them up, dusts them off and tells them he wouldn't want anybody else. "Hard on us, man,'' Crocker said. "Cusses us out. But always lets us know what we mean to him.''
All summer, Zimmer told his players they were rejects and second-chancers. That was partly true: Desperate for linebackers two years ago, the Bengals signed
A player can take that one of two ways: Stuff his head into his shell, or come out swinging. Those boulders on Crocker's shoulders? Rocks for a slingshot.
Last Sunday, the Bengals defense dominated a Baltimore offense that had been the talk of the league. The Ravens averaged 413 yards in their first four games; they had 257 Sunday. Other than rookie
For two days last week, Zimmer's players had hugged their coach, dipped into his well of grief. Then on Sunday, they paid their respects the best way they knew. Zimmer's extended family, the players nobody wanted, wanted him. They protected him from hurt for three hours.
Vikki leavened her husband's personality. She was the den mother of the defense, baking "victory'' brownies and offering encouragement that her husband unfailingly passed along. Said coach
Roy Williams simply called her "a saint.''
And the brownies? "Fudge, I think,'' Dhani Jones said.
When did you have them, someone asked.
"Whenever Zim decided we deserved it.''
Jones arrived at Vikki Zimmer's Mass wearing a bow tie and a bowed head. "It was a time to reflect on life and the blessings given to you by those around you'' he said.
Long the pooch of the NFL, Cincinnati has found something. Said Graham, "These close games have pulled us together. It's better than if we're winning by 20 every week.'' When you're winning on a tightrope, every footstep matters. Each close win builds upon the next and before long, a feeling happens.
"Every time something tragic happens to your team or people you associate with, you pull together or you fragment,'' said Jones. "We're not a team of fragmenters.''
The Bengals are testing NFL theories, clichés really, about the mysteries of team chemistry and its part in winning games. It could be as simple as a resurgent Palmer, playing confidently, or a defense making up for perceived slights. Or, you know, it could be the brownies. At the moment, the Bengals dwell in the land of Anything's Possible. Who's to say it's not?