Bengals bad, still win

Joe Kay and Joe Kay

At least they won it.

In the Cincinnati Bengals’ long-awaited return to national television, their offense failed to reach the end zone, their defense blew a late lead and their special teams gave up a pivotal return.

Sound familiar?

There was one significant difference this time. The team known for cracking under pressure did something totally out of character.

A slick drive in the closing minutes set up a 16-13 victory over the Miami Dolphins on Sunday night that was more significant than satisfying. The Bengals got to show everybody that they’ve changed in a fundamental way.

They’ve got some spine.

“What we’d done throughout the day wasn’t our best, but we were able to rally late to win the game and that’s what matters,” tight end Matt Schobel said yesterday.

It really matters around these parts.

The Bengals (1-1) get few invitations to appear on the NFL’s center stage because they usually wind up embarrassing themselves. They hadn’t played a nationally televised home game in seven years.

This one won’t be remembered for much. Two inexperienced quarterbacks looked the part — Cincinnati’s Carson Palmer and Miami’s A.J. Feeley both struggled to string a few first downs together.

The Bengals’ offense never got in the end zone; linebacker Brian Simmons returned an interception for Cincinnati’s only touchdown. The defense played well until the closing minutes, when it eased up and gave up 10 points.

Then, Palmer led his first game-winning drive. He didn’t have to do anything spectacular — five of his throws were low-risk passes to Schobel. Palmer was 7-of-8 on the drive for 53 yards.

Shayne Graham completed the comeback with a 39-yard field goal with 2 seconds left. In the past, the Bengals wouldn’t have been able to pull off such a drive.

“In the time I’ve been here, you can definitely see a change,” said Schobel, in his third season. “Guys were saying, ‘You know what? It hasn’t been our best day, but let’s go win this thing.’

“That was the attitude in the huddle. Not a whole lot was said. Everybody just kind of had a look on their face like they were going to do what we needed to do to get it done.”

Changing the team’s mind-set has been a priority for coach Marvin Lewis, who watched it crumble under pressure during his first season. He has remade the roster and preached the importance of not letting one bad play snowball.

“If you sit there and dwell on it, you’re not going to make the next play,” Lewis said Monday. “That’s the underlying thing all the time. You’ve got to move on. We don’t want to let what happened a play ago cloud the next play. I think our guys have some resiliency.”

The defense certainly showed resiliency. After getting pushed around by the Jets in a season-opening loss, the defense limited the Dolphins to 25 yards rushing and kept constant pressure on Feeley.