CINCINNATI — The Bengals sought flash and firepower.
They wanted to expand their game. Division champs a year ago, their physical style didn't translate to the post-season. One and done. To fix that, they re-tooled their view, grabbed Terrell Owens, drafted with an eye toward the sky, picked up some secondary support, planned for the future.
Then they blew the debut. First week at Foxboro was a fantastic flop. New England played racehorse football. Cincinnati felt the dirt in its face. Bengals defensive boss Mike Zimmer took the blame afterward. Said his unit got embarrassed. Said it wasn't Bengal football.
So Sunday, back at Paul Brown Stadium, the home team returned to its roots, or at least the roots of a year ago. Baltimore was in town. Big, bad Baltimore. The Bengals fastened their chinstraps. They narrowed their focus. They forgot about flash. And they won an important football game.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Lexington Herald-Leader
"A physical football game," Marvin Lewis, the head coach, said afterward.
In 2009, The Bengals beat Pittsburgh 23-20 and 18-12. They beat Cleveland 23-20 in overtime, then 16-7. They beat Baltimore 17-14 in Maryland, then 17-7 at PBS.
Sunday, in the first AFC North game of 2010, they beat the Ravens 15-10.
Forget flash, remember fortitude.
"We're good at playing in this division," quarterback Carson Palmer said.
Make it eight straight division wins for the men in the striped helmets, a streak dating to 2008. Only this victory might have been the most important, given the 38-24 pounding Cincinnati took last week at the hands of the Patriots.
The Bengals could not just afford to be 0-2 with a home loss to Baltimore. And they could not afford for the Ravens to be 2-0.
"We went back to basics," said Leon Hall, the cornerback who had one of Cincinnati's four interceptions. "We played fast, and we played hard, and we played within the division."
"The defense saved the day," Chad Ochocinco said.
"A lot of the talk this week was about the Baltimore defense, and they are great," Palmer said. "But our defense outplayed them."
Baltimore gained 259 yards, Cincinnati 253. But Joe Flacco tossed those four picks. The Bengals moved inside the red zone on four possessions. The Ravens snapped the ball inside the Cincinnati 20 just once, and settled for its only field goal. The Bengals settled for five.
"The game is going to look like whatever you have to do to win," Lewis said.
Not that the Bengals' off-season shopping was a bad idea. By last season's end, they were too run-heavy. Their passing game was non-existent. They couldn't stretch the field. Battle of the Big Uglies, the Bengals did just fine. A beauty contest, forget it.
In the AFC North, they drink their milk straight from the carton. Baltimore just wants to hit you in the mouth, then mouth about it afterward. (Has anyone ever been miked up more than Ray Lewis?) Pittsburgh has made its living chewing iron nails.
"Even Cleveland plays us tough defensively," Palmer said.
Last year, the Bengals learned how to hit back, excelled at it, and went 6-0 against the membership. That's how they won the division, even if that turned out to be their lone accomplishment.
This year, they want to expand the plan, and maybe they will.
"It's not flowing the way we want it to flow," said Chad Ochocinco, with Terrell Owens standing at his side.
But in this division, "You've got to settle, be OK with kicking field goals, and put your faith in your defense," Palmer said. "And we have tremendous faith in our defense."
Sunday, faith rewarded.