Bengals on roll ... but can they sustain it?
October, 28, 2013
By Coley Harvey | ESPN.com
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesThe Bengals have won four in a row and are all alone in first place in the AFC North.CINCINNATI -- By virtue of their opponent, the Cincinnati Bengals were streamed live Sunday afternoon into millions of televisions, computers, tablets and mobile devices within the largest media market in North America.
Many New Yorkers may have been thrown off by what they saw. The team some still know as the Bungles wasn't bumbling and fumbling its way up and down the field at Paul Brown Stadium. Instead, they were defending their home turf for a fourth time from another solid conference opponent.
If you haven't paid attention to one of the league's hottest teams, maybe now you will. With a 49-9 thumping of the New York Jets, the league's best-kept secret suddenly is out.
After such a performance, the Bengals surely will be more closely scrutinized. Can they handle the increasingly brighter lights they'll see in the coming weeks? Can they handle being front and center this Thursday when they play on one of the league's biggest regular-season stages at Miami? Can they handle the added pressure that comes with being a team that, for now, just doesn't know how to lose?
More importantly, can they handle being declared an elite team?
"We got to," Pro Bowl tackle Andrew Whitworth said.
At 6-2 and in the middle of a four-game winning streak, the Bengals are an elite team. If last week's win was a "grown-man" win, this one was a Herculean victory. It was the ripped-up, muscled-up version of the nail-biter they pulled out seven days ago.
It was something else, too.
"It's a huge confidence builder," nine-year veteran cornerback Chris Crocker said. "There aren't many games like this. You don't get a complete victory when you just smother the team. In all phases, we played very well. The thing that I'm most proud of is when we came out into the second half, we really put the pedal to the metal and we didn't allow them to get back into the game. I'm not really worried about how fast we're going to play at the start of the game.
"It's about when we do get up, how we're going to play. Because that's been the thorn in our butts this year."
Until Sunday, the Bengals weren't able to close out a victory this easy. Aside from the 10-point win over Pittsburgh that wasn't much in doubt, the Bengals have won games this year that needed some sort of heroics at the end of regulation or in overtime. The ability to pull out such contests should help once the postseason begins.
Part of maintaining what has so far been playoff-caliber football is to maintain the focus that has led them to this point in the year.
"When the schedule came out and before we started OTAs, they knew what this season was going to be about," coach Marvin Lewis said. "We're at a five-game stretch where four of them were on the road. We had to really buckle down and go at it."
Marc Lebryk/USA TODAY SportsBengals QB Andy Dalton has thrown for at least 325 yards and at least three touchdowns in the past three games.
Lewis credited veterans such as Crocker and Whitworth for keeping his mostly young team on task.
That youth is the combination of second-, third-, fourth- and fifth-year players who are making major contributions. It's players such as quarterback Andy Dalton, who threw for 325 yards and a career-high five touchdowns. It's others such as receiver Marvin Jones, who set a franchise record by catching four of Dalton's touchdown passes en route to a banner eight-catch day.
What may come as a surprise to those who caught the Bengals for the first time Sunday is the play of Dalton, a former second-round pick long derided nationally for his apparent weak throwing arm, and Jones for much of the past month. Jones now has a touchdown reception in each of the past three games, and Dalton has become the ninth quarterback since 2001 to pass for 300 yards and three touchdowns in three consecutive regular-season games.
The more the Bengals can get this type of production from their youngest stars, the more attention they will garner.
"We're very good. But we have to play like that," Crocker said. "We can't just go out there and know that we're good. Teams aren't going to to lay down. We have to take it each week. If we come out here with this type of mindset that we did [Sunday], and play with this type of effort and energy, and play together in three phases, good things will happen for this team."
Good things have been happening, all right. But a few more Herculean wins are necessary for the Bengals to hold on to this elite status that the rest of the country is beginning to see.