Doc's Morning Line: It starts with Joe Mixon. Ten things from Bengals' win over Steelers.

Paul Daugherty
Cincinnati Enquirer

The Verge Season went into a higher gear Sunday. Those of us hardened by watching close to four decades of Bengals football have learned the valuable skill of skepticism. Hype has never worked with The Men. They’ve always had too much Charlie Brown in ‘em.

Now?

After Sunday?        

Credit where it’s due. It starts with Joe Mixon, for whom I’ve held my share of contempt and cynicism from the night the Bengals drafted him. A 1st-round talent taken in Round 2 by the bottom-feeding Bengals, to whom character meant nothing. You don’t punch women, OK?        

It wasn’t that Mixon didn’t deserve a second chance. It was that he deserved it elsewhere.

That seems a lifetime ago.

One of the cool things about doing this job is the chance to see players evolve, not only as talents but as men. Kenyon Martin went from a shy, stuttering freshman to the frontman for the best team in college basketball. He epitomized everything Bob Huggins stood for as a coach.

Joey Votto’s personality bloomed right before our eyes. Desmond Ridder seamlessly shifted into respected adulthood. I don’t know Mixon well, but I have eyes and ears. He has done nothing as a Bengal but prove my skepticism wrong.

Now, in his fifth season, Mixon is everything the Men want to be and everywhere they want to go. It has been building since his rookie season and on Sunday, the wave hit the beach.          

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin even said his defense would emphasize putting the brakes on Mixon. 28-for-165 later, they haven’t touched him yet.

Mixon’s irresistible force changes everything for the Bengals offense. It keeps Joe Burrow out of the ER, it gives the offensive line heavy confidence, it makes the Bengals a bitch to defend. And Mixon has done it all while also being a soul engine for the entire team. Always excited, always rooting for everyone else, entirely accountable for everything.

He scored twice Sunday. Each time, he made sure his linemen were in the center of the post-TD choreography. I have no idea what possessed him to strike a woman that night in Norman. I only know that he has done everything possible since then to strike that incident from his character and personality. Second chances work, when those blessed with them take advantage.

Without further ado. . .

TEN THINGS FROM 41-10. . .

1.     “I feed off his energy,’’ Zac Taylor said of Mixon. Mixon usually gets better as the game progresses, because defenders lose some zeal when it comes to tackling him. Sunday, the Steelers had no zeal. In the Bengals opening possession, he carried seven times and caught a pass in a 10-play steamroll that set the day’s tone.

2.    Taylor has shown he can adapt depending on situation and performance. This is the same team that started the season in five-receiver, empty backfield sets. “We’re allowed to improve as coaches,’’ he said afterward.

3.     No one was complaining Sunday. Taylor has been consistent in his message. So have his players. They sounded the same after Sunday’s W as after the Ls to the Jets and Cleveland.

4.    The Steelers are in deep. They looked old from jump. Old players, old play-calling, an old guy’s unwillingness to summon something extra. Down 28, still ramming Najee Harris up the middle. Ben’s not their only issue.

5.     “We feel like we can play a lot of different ways,’’ Taylor said. No team in the North comes close to the Bengals offensive versatility. Watching the Browns and Ravens bump into the furniture for four quarters Sunday night made that obvious.

6.    Can the Bengals maintain consistency? 5-4 followed 5-2. The Chargers will be an interesting test this Sunday. They play D as porously as Pittsburgh does, but their QB is not paleozoic, but rather a kid most believe is better right now than Burrow. Justin Herbert has all of Saint Joe’s gifts, and moves better outside the pocket.

7.    Because I root for me, a tiny part of me enjoyed the ease of covering bad Bengals teams for lots of years. Start with pre-game traffic. Many years during the Lost Decade of the 90s, I could leave my palatial Loveland estate at 12:15 for a 1 o’clock game, and be in the pressbox 10 minutes before kickoff. Sunday, I left the estate at 10:30 and didn’t get to the box ‘til a little after 12. Winning can be such a pain.

8.     And soon enough, the league will start flexing the Bengals out of that cozy, 1 p.m. Sunday slot and into prime-time moments that will disrupt my sleep patterns. Oy.

9.      The Bengals have shown that even in a league with a hard salary cap, it’s possible to remake a roster quickly. Not only with better players, but better players who bring a winner’s vibe. Take a bow, Mike Hilton.

10. Because I don’t root for the Men, or against them, I will miss Ben Roethlisberger. Never dynamic like a few of his contemporaries, lacking the sex appeal of Brees, Brady, Manning etc., Ben merely won. Smart, tough and fearless, he was the perfect QB for the Steelers organization. Maybe that’s why they held on to him for too long.

Moving right along. . .

PKING SAYS THE BENGALS are the 12th-best team in the NFL right now. Not as good as the 7-4 Cowboys, who are 8th and just lost at home to the Raiders, a team the Bengals beat 32-13 in Vegas a week earlier. The Cowboys have supposedly been great since 1996.

. . . behind the 49ers who are 6-5. And the 7-4 Rams who have lost 3 in a row.

Of the Bengals, King writes, “I thought Burrow would be this generation’s Dan Fouts, and the Bengals have the kind of bombs-away attack that could beat anyone, home or away. You better have a healthy secondary if you want to compete with this offense in January.’’    

Bombs away attack? That doesn’t sound like the team we’ve been watching lately.

Par for the national course, yeah?

MAYBE THE BEST FOOTBALL WEEKEND EVER. . . Starting at 12:30 Thanksgiving Day, non-stop great stuff, from the comic relief of the Lions to the satisfaction of watching Dallas lose at home, to UC’s 2nd-quarter demolition of ECU to the incredible Auburn-Alabama game to Sunday, the long weekend was a living ad for the passion and power of the game.         

There have been lots of years when I’d have traded covering a football game for a drive in the country. Not this year. Meanwhile. . .

I’VE GIVEN UP TRYING TO FIGURE what the CFP committee is thinking. I do believe UC wasn’t hurt at all by the weekend’s games. Notre Dame cruised at Stanford, and it would be no shock if the cmte shoved the Irish into the top 4. Never forget who we’re dealing with here.

Michigan is in, OSU is out. Probably. Does ‘Bama slide to No. 4?

UC did its part, beating a 7-4 team on the road. Ridder showed why he has a chance to be a pro QB, somewhere.  

The more the Bearcats win, the more frustrating it becomes to know their fate belongs to a bunch of people more interested in ratings than achievement.

CHAMPIONSHIP BASEBALL. I will give ownership credit for this. It seems to be taking tanking seriously. No piece-mealing it this time. Michael Lorenzen is leaving for the Angels. A good guy who never really found his groove, or his place, with the Reds. Nevertheless, a versatile and valuable bullpen piece.

But the Reds can’t be paying him $7 mil, the way the Angels will.

Keep it goin’, Reds. There’s a lot of work to be done if you want to be Pittsburgh. Gray is desirable, so are Castillo and Mahle. If you’re gonna make a beeline for the basement, then do it.

Fans can’t wait for the next 5-year rebuild. Think of all those prospects!

Even if “prospect’’ is just a sanitized word for “ain’t done nothin’ yet.’’

The loneliest people in the city now are the folks in the Reds season ticket department.

BECAUSE TV IS MY LIFE. . . Nothing beats Succession right now. Catch it while you can. The writing is superb, the actors all fit their roles perfectly. It’s too good to last much longer.

You was very good its first season. It has jumped the shark in Season 3. Watching Dopesick now. Very good and very depressing how Big Pharma can put big profits over people’s lives.

TUNE O’ THE DAY. . . My favorite Marvin Gaye song of his Motown period. He never made a Motown album that approached What’s Going On or Let’s Get It On, but he was still fabulous.