Cincy#039;s years of bad drafts, hire decisions finally turn into success

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 14, 2005

PITTSBURGH (AP) - The Cincinnati Bengals spent 15 years trying to overcome bad drafts, bad hires and bad personnel decisions, and a reputation for being the last place many NFL players wanted to play.

The missteps were many, Akili Smith and David Klingler among them. The records were awful, with eight seasons of five or fewer victories. Meaningful games past mid-October were almost nonexistent.

But those were the Bengals' bad old days, and those days - at long last - look to be gone. These Bengals are winners, with a big lead in the AFC North and the playoffs awaiting, if only they can avoid turning back into the Bengals with a championship so near.

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Even as they beat the Bears and the Vikings, the Texans and the Titans, they were looking for a signature game to certify their credentials. Now, a decade and a half since their last winning season and playoff appearance, they have it.

Bengals 38, Steelers 31. In Pittsburgh.

Finally, the Bengals have beaten the team that beats them like no other, one that had won 20 of their last 27 against them and had claimed eight division titles since Cincinnati last won one. As wide receiver Chad Johnson said, there's been a changing of the guard in the AFC North.

‘‘They're like black and white TV,'' Johnson said. ‘‘We're like color TV.''

In other words, the Steelers (7-5) traditionally win the old way, with a running game and a solid defense. The Bengals (9-3), at least lately, are the ones with the flash and the dash, the end zone dances, the attitude.