- Coley Harvey, ESPN Staff Writer
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Whenever his team has played away from Paul Brown Stadium this season, it has tended to tense up and not play as well as it should.
"I would say I get a sense or a feeling in the room that when things don't go how they're supposed to go right away, I don't want to say we panic, but there is a sense of "Oh [no], here we go,'" Iloka said.
There certainly is evidence of that being the case. In the only two games the Bengals have played on the road this season, a respective confluence of uncharacteristic events have taken place to preserve their winless away-from-home mark. On Sunday, when the Bengals face Buffalo at Ralph Wilson Stadium, they hope to put an immediate end to their road woes.
During the season opener at Chicago, a possible Bengals comeback drive was snuffed out when, at the end of a third-down stop, Cincinnati linebacker Rey Maualuga was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct after shoving a Bears offensive lineman to the ground at the end of the play. The pair had been pushing and jawing from the moment they made contact on the play. The problem, though, was that Maualuga's shove came at a point when officials were looking, and it was bad enough that it caused them to rule he was in the wrong.
The play resulted in the Bears keeping the football instead of punting, and running down the clock.
Three weeks later, a loss at Cleveland came when the Bengals had difficulty establishing any semblance of an offense. Quarterback Andy Dalton's season-low 29.7 QBR was in part a product of the offense's inability get in the end zone. For an offense filled with playmaking weapons, the 17-6 showing wasn't indicative of the team the Bengals really can be.
" Just flat-out, offensively, we had a bad day," offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth said. "We didn't complete many passes and didn't move the ball much. It happens. It's going to happen."
What has happened this season in Cincinnati has looked much different than what has happened outside of it. The Bengals are 3-0 at home. After beating division rival Pittsburgh on a Monday night, they knocked off tough Green Bay and New England teams. In each game, their defense rose to the challenge and avoided costly late-game penalties, and their offense got production from multiple places. It has been through those wins that the Bengals still are widely considered among the early season playoff locks.
At home this season, Iloka believes the Bengals have best exemplified the type of team they can be. He wants that team to replicate itself this weekend.
"It's just coming out with that same intensity like we do when we play at home, knowing that we're going to win," Iloka said. "When we're home, we expect to win. They have to beat us. On the road, we feel like we have to beat them. That's the feeling."
Even though his team has seen different results depending upon the familiarity of the venue it has played in this season, Whitworth isn't completely sold on the notion that Cincinnati plays differently in those places.
"It's really no different. People make home and away a big deal," Whitworth said. "It's great to have the fans here and to have that environment, but there's really not a situation that changes much of what we do, home or away."
Still, the fact remains that the Bengals haven't yet won a road game. While that reality doesn't have coach Marvin Lewis in panic mode right now, he does know that his team better start winning all of its games, or the season could suddenly grow long. After the Bengals return from Sunday's game, they jump right back on the road next week as they head to Detroit. Two weeks later, they close out October with a trip to Miami. Sandwiched between the Lions and Dolphins is a home contest against the Jets. That makes this arguably the most important stretch of the Bengals' season.
"It's going to be important that we do well on the road coming up," Lewis said in a news conference this week. "I sat here and told you guys that's the way the season broke down. We had five games that were going to be physical and mentally testing, and then we had four out of five on the road. We've got to put our road warrior hats on and go to work."