CINCINNATI — All wins count the same, but not all wins are the same.
"This was a huge win for us," Andy Dalton said.
This was the Cincinnati Bengals not being the old Cincinnati Bengals. This was the Bengals trailing two-time defending NFC champion Seattle Seahawks by 17 points heading into the fourth quarter and not blinking, or wilting, or conceding that they were not the superior team. Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium, this was something new.
In one of those games that just might define a team and a season, the unbeaten Bengals rallied from 24-7 down to tie the Seahawks on the final play of regulation. Then they watched Mike Nugent's 42-yard field goal hit the left upright and bounce through for a thrilling 27-24 victory.
"We needed it," said Dalton, who completed 30 of 44 passes for 331 yards and two touchdowns with one interception.
Why did the Bengals need it? Weren't they already 4-0? Well, yes, but with the Bengals there's always been reason to believe that when the stakes are raised, the Bengals will buckle.
And let's be real here; the Bengals looked beaten Sunday. This wasn't just any foe. This was Seattle, participant in successive Super Bowls, boasting the No. 2 defense in the NFL, with household names like Russell Wilson and Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor. And don't forget Pete Carroll.
"It's difficult to come out of the game with this outcome after playing so well," the Seattle coach said.
Seattle did play well. It made a couple of great plays to turn a tight game into a comfortable Seahawks lead. Thomas Rawls, subbing for the injured Marshawn Lynch, scored on a 69-yard run. Less than two minutes later, linebacker Bobby Wagner scooped up a Rex Burkhead fumble and scored from 23 yards out. A tight 10-7 game became a 24-7 game.
It was over then, right? No way that Andy Dalton, of all quarterbacks, would bring the Bengals back from that kind of deficit against that kind of team. No way the Seattle defense opens even the slightest crack in the comeback door.
"I know what you guys were writing in the third quarter," said Bengals cornerback and ace punt returner Adam Jones. "It didn't go that way, did it?"
No it didn't.
Carroll had never lost a 17-point lead since he became the Seattle coach in 2010. He did Sunday. Thanks to its defense, Cincinnati got the football three times in the fourth quarter. Thanks to its offense, Cincinnati scored all three times.
Two plays stick out. A 35-yard Jones punt return started the first drive at the Seattle 33. When the Bengals cashed that in for seven points, suddenly there was a sliver of hope. Then in the final regulation drive, tight end Tyler Eifert made a diving, rolling catch of a Dalton pass for a 25-yard gain at the Seattle 20 which basically set up the field goal that required more football.
For those trying to identify a difference in "these" Bengals, Eifert is a good place to start. Injured early last season, the former Notre Dame star caught eight passes for 90 yards and two touchdowns on Sunday. He's caught five touchdown passes on the year. In the biggest win of the year, the made the biggest catch of the year.
"He's just so talented," Dalton said. "That diving catch was such a big play."
Face it, this was such a big win. Never mind that Seattle is now 2-3. For Cincinnati, this was a prove-it game against big-time competition on a big stage for a team that has lost its first playoff game each of the last four years. Given that history, surely Bengals fans needed something inspirational to show them this year could be different.
"This team started with a different intent," said Andrew Whitworth, the veteran offensive tackle. "We want to be great. We don't think today was our best. We're proud of how we fought back, we're proud we showed resiliency. But we think our best is yet to come. We believe that."
Surely after Sunday, there are more Bengals believers.