The League

Dave Goldberg
Sports Reporter

Dave Goldberg

Covered the NFL for the AP for 25 years and now is a senior NFL writer for Fanhouse.com

Winning pardons all

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When the Bengals drafted Abilene Christian running back Bernard Scott last April with the last pick of the NFL draft's sixth round, some Cincinnatians rolled their eyes and muttered "not again'' about a player who had been kicked off his high school team after a fight and booted from the team at Central Arkansas after hitting a coach.

In other words, a typical Bengals pick. Another troubled player for a troubled team that won four games last season and appeared to still be in the habit of filling its roster with rogue players.

All seems to be forgotten. Scott's 96-yard kickoff return was the only touchdown in Sunday's 18-12 win in Pittsburgh, a victory that gave the Bengals a 7-2 record and control of the AFC North race -- they are 7-2, 5-0 in the division with two wins each over the Steelers and Ravens.

Winning cures everything, even the memories of the years when a Bengal seemed to be arrested every weekend. In 2006, 10 different players were arrested in 11 different episodes and Chris Henry and Odell Thurman were suspended for the season by new commissioner Roger Goodell, who used the team as the focal point for his crackdown on miscreant players.

So while the Bengals still have dubious characters -- Henry was brought back this season and was the third wide receiver until he was lost with a broken arm -- no one has paid much attention. The team has become 2009's feel good story, a tribute now to team president Mike Brown's long-standing policy of drafting and signing troubled players because, he has said, he wants to give them second chances.

The latest is Larry Johnson, released by Kansas City after two suspensions in a year, the latest after Twittering a gay slur, insulting coach Todd Haley and generally being the malcontent he's been since his years at Penn State. He will be, in the words of the British Sky Sports "fourth choice'' behind Cedric Benson, who injured his hip on Sunday; Scott, and Brian Leonard, the third-down back.

The calm reaction is probably as it should be.

Winning allows Marvin Lewis, the coach, to preach the virtues of staying in at night and focusing on the goals -- the playoffs and (amazing) the Super Bowl.

It allows Carson Palmer, the quarterback, to assert his natural leadership after years of frustration. It allows lesser-known solid citizens like middle linebacker Dhani Jones, a 10-year journeyman who is playing very nicely, to assert himself on defense. And it relegates "Chad'' (Ochocinco or Johnson or whatever) into the sideshow he is. In fact, when he was fined $20,000 last week for brandishing a dollar bill on the sidelines as a fake bribe to an official, a lot of folks thought Goodell had lost his sense of humor over a harmless joke.

Can things revert to the old ways?

Sure. One arrest might do it.

But winning makes that arrest a lot less likely.

By Dave Goldberg  |  November 17, 2009; 3:03 PM ET  | Category:  Cincinnati Bengals Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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