Originally posted on NESN.com  |  Last updated 11/26/12
With three straight losses in the rear view and more than half of the season still left to be decided, Marvin Lewis knew the Bengals’ season was at a turning point. At the time, the Bengals were just 3-4 and staring down a potential return to the AFC cellar, just one year after making a triumphant march into the playoffs. With so much riding on that next stretch of games, Lewis issued a challenge to the leaders of his football team. “We’re looking for our quarterback and our middle linebacker to take hold of our football team, and I think that’s important for us,” Lewis said to reporters. The challenge, if you weren’t already aware, was for Andy Dalton and Rey Maualuga to step up and be, well let’s call it “jerks.” The move was intended to inspire those leaders and ultimately spark their teammates. The move is apparently working, as there’s been a renaissance in Cincinnati in recent weeks. Both Dalton and Maualuga have become more vocal in the Bengals locker room, pushing their teammates to be more aggressive and focused. But even more important than the verbal leadership has been their ability to lead by example on the field. Since Lewis’ motivating remarks, Maualuga has led the Bengals defense to be one of the stingiest units in all of football, allowing just 60 points and forcing nine turnovers over the past four games. As for Dalton, he’s guided an offense that has put up 116 points and trounced opponents by double digits in three straight wins, including an 18-point rout of the New York Giants. At the time of Lewis’ call for leadership, Dalton had thrown just 11 touchdowns and 10 interceptions through seven games. Since, it’s been an entirely different story. Dalton has thrown 10 touchdowns, and even ran for one, compared to just one turnover since being called upon to take a more proactive role on the team.  That production out of the passing game has been crucial for the Bengals, but Dalton’s ability to protect the football has been even more important. After starting the season with one of the worst turnover ratios in the league (a minus-six before Lewis’ speech), the Bengals have held a plus-seven advantage during their current stretch and are finally in the black on the season — even if only at plus-one. That sort of careful and consistent football has seen the Bengals rise from the edge of destruction back into the thick of the playoff race at a much more respectable 6-5. If the season were to end today, the Steelers, who are also 6-5, would hold the deciding tiebreaker, but this is a very different Bengals team than the one that fell 24-17 to Pittsburgh in Week 7. The post-rant Bengals are dedicated, focused and confident. They are excelling in nearly every aspect of the game, even getting solid production in the kicking game with Mike Nugent and in the kick return game with Adam Jones and Brandon Tate. Cincinnati hasn’t been a legitimate Super Bowl contender in nearly 20 years, since last year’s playoff team was considered more of a pretender than a championship-caliber squad. But the fortunes of the long troubled franchise appear to be shifting. The Bengals are on the hunt, and if their recent stretch is any indication, they’ll be prowling their way into the playoffs in just a few short weeks. And that’s one team nobody will want to play on wild card weekend. Have a question for Luke Hughes? Send it to him via Twitter at @LukeFHughes or send it here.
MORE FROM YARDBARKER:
One Gotta Go: NFL legends bring the hate for our favorite football movies
GET THE YARDBARKER APP:
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45
MORE FROM YARDBARKER

Dwyane Wade’s cousin shot and killed in Chicago

NFL tries to reduce kick returns, promptly causes more kick returns

San Francisco Giants inching closer to a record they really don’t want

Clint Dempsey undergoing testing for irregular heartbeat

Troubling details emerge from Jeremy Jeffress' DWI arrest

LIKE WHAT YOU SEE?
GET THE DAILY NEWSLETTER:

Chargers would welcome Joey Bosa if he signed contract

Falcons rookie Keanu Neal needs surgery on knee

Jerry Jones unhappy with Ezekiel Elliott's dispensary visit

Texas Tech using fake Twitter accounts to track players

Nike creates custom Air Jordan shoes in tribute to Craig Sager

Browns wanted ‘second-round pick and then some’ for Gordon

Heading into the homestretch: 2016 ROY favorites

Premier League notebook: The love affair at Man U

One Gotta Go: NFL legends talking comedians is no joke

It's all about timing: The evolution of the clock in sports

Predicting the unpredictable: Your MTV VMAs rundown

10 great moments in the career of Roberto Duran

Marshall’s first impression of Fitzpatrick: ‘He was terrible’

One Gotta Go: NFL legends bring the hate for fast food

What you need to know about the Champions League draw

Six worst quarterback situations in the NFL

Can the San Francisco Giants bust their teamwide slump?

A look at 2016 college football conference changes

NFL News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

By clicking "Sign Me Up", you have read and agreed to the Fox Sports Digital Privacy Policy and Terms of Use. You can opt out at any time. For more information, please see our Privacy Policy.
the YARDBARKER app
Get it now!
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45

Premier League notebook: The love affair at Man U

Heading into the homestretch: 2016 ROY favorites

One Gotta Go: NFL legends talking comedians is no joke

It's all about timing: The evolution of the clock in sports

Predicting the unpredictable: Your MTV VMAs rundown

10 great moments in the career of Roberto Duran

The 20 best boxing movies of all time

One Gotta Go: NFL legends bring the hate for fast food

What you need to know about the Champions League draw

Can the San Francisco Giants bust their teamwide slump?

Today's Best Stuff
For Publishers
Company Info
Help
Follow Yardbarker