Cincinnati Bengals: Cincinnati Bengals

Undefeated Bengals notice empty seats

September, 23, 2014
Sep 23
11:30
AM ET
CINCINNATI -- When ESPN's NFL Power Rankings come out later Tuesday afternoon, there's a strong chance the Cincinnati Bengals will be among the top two teams.

They opened Week 3 of the 2006 season at No. 2, but that's as high as they have ever been ranked. And even if the Bengals fail to claim the top spot, there is no disputing the fact they are among the strongest teams in the NFL right now.

[+] EnlargeReggie Nelson
Aaron Doster/USA TODAY SportsNumerous open seats can be spotted during the Bengals' Week 3 home game against the Titans at Paul Brown Stadium.
But as good as the Bengals have been so far, on the surface, they don't seem to be getting the respect locally that they're starting to receive nationally. Empty seats have filled the upper reaches of Paul Brown Stadium the past two weeks, leaving the Bengals some 10,000 patrons shy of having sold out each of those games. The 65,500-seat stadium has had attendance figures of 58,574 and 56,743.

For a team that has gotten off to the start the Bengals have, the sight has been disheartening.

"We definitely notice it," receiver Marvin Jones said. "We're doing stuff right now to change that. That's on them. We're doing our job on our end."

Not only are the Bengals winning games, but they are doing so in convincing fashion. Cincinnati is scoring 26.7 points per game this season while its opponents are averaging just 11.0. The Falcons and Ravens, the first two teams the Bengals beat, have collected rather impressive wins in the wake of their respective losses to the Bengals. Atlanta last Thursday pounded Tampa Bay, 56-14.

The Bengals beat the Falcons 24-10, and could have had a more lopsided victory had kicker Mike Nugent's made his three missed field goals.

Optimism nationwide is high for the Bengals. In an ESPN.com poll after Sunday's 33-7 win against Tennessee, nearly 150,000 weighed in with their opinions about whether the Bengals are a legit Super Bowl contender. While just 48 percent said "yes," that's a higher number than most would anticipate. Remember, this also is a franchise that has come off three straight seasons of teasing its fans with a first-round playoff exit.

Closer examination of the poll showed -- perhaps unsurprisingly -- that the most optimism comes from Ohio and the states that border it. West Virginians and Kentuckians share the opinions of Buckeye Staters. Indianans are split 50-50, and football fans in Georgia apparently thought the Week 2 win against Atlanta showed how good the Bengals are. They, too, see the Bengals as a legit Super Bowl team.

So why doesn't it seem the local online optimism is manifesting itself in the stands on game day?

"You hear so much in the media about how the owners and the stadiums are really having to compete with DirecTV and everybody sitting at home watching TV," Bengals kicker Mike Nugent said. "It's easier to go to the restroom, it's easier to get a drink out of the fridge [at home]."

Those have been among the chief concerns Bengals fans have had in recent seasons. To address them, the club this offseason came up with a fan-experience strategy that was headlined by improvements to in-stadium wireless. The hope is to allow fans better bandwith to stream video and chat on social media, so they can have a home experience at the game.

Ticket prices also are concerning for fans. But Bengals tickets remain among the cheapest in the league.

According to secondary ticket site SeatGeek, the Bengals have the seventh-cheapest ticket, averaging $83 this season. That's $40 lower than the league average.

ESPN The Magazine also recently ranked the franchise as having the 15th-best bang for fans' buck in all of professional sports. The team was ranked fifth in that same survey among NFL franchises. The "bang for the buck" metric weighed wins during the past three seasons per revenue generated from fans.

While Bengals players have noticed the empty seats, they're growing weary of discussing the issue.

"Honestly, any other year I'd probably sit here and complain about it or whine about it, but this football team is so focused on winning," veteran offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth said last week, amid threats of a blackout. "We set out at the beginning of the year with the goal of trying to win the Super Bowl, and that's the only thing we really care about. I can honestly say that about this team. We don't care. We want to play and we want the people that want to be here to watch us play."
CINCINNATI -- Hours before Sunday's game, Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict let Vincent Rey in on his secret to success: get to the ball on the first play.

"It'll settle you down," Rey said, relaying the injured Pro Bowler's message to him.

Rey

With Burfict spending the afternoon under concussion protocol after suffering his second head injury in as many games the previous Sunday against Atlanta, the Bengals were forced to send Rey out to replace him.

He filled in quite nicely.

Rey finished with four tackles, including one on the first play of the game from scrimmage. As the Titans tried to execute a first-down run, Rey flowed right into the spot where running back Shonn Greene was trying to go and stopped him for no gain.

"I just happened to be there," Rey said. "The running back kind of fell, and I got on him. That did settle me down."

While Rey isn't as vociferous on the field as Burfict and isn't as intimidating as the starting weakside linebacker, he still packs a more-than-adequate punch as a backup. The former undrafted player out of Duke began making a name for himself in Bengals stripes on special teams, where he thrived through his first three seasons. Then last season, in Year 4, he earned the respect of Bengals fans after starting three straight games in the middle of the season, replacing middle linebacker Rey Maualuga.

Rey had 30 tackles, three sacks and an interception in those three games.

As one of the Bengals' smartest defenders, Rey is given the most opportunities to play all three linebacker positions. He knows each of the spots and has performed well in those positions throughout his career. He is viewed as a sort of a utility player at the position. When one starter goes down, regardless of what spot he plays, in comes Rey. And if he's on the field when Burfict and Emmanuel Lamur aren't, then Rey makes the calls in the huddle and presnap adjustments at the line.

Rey was credited with one of the four positive grades Pro Football Focus gave Bengals defenders after Sunday's 33-7 win over Tennessee. He had a plus-1.2 overall grade and a plus-1.3 grade against the run, according to PFF. The website also rewarded him with two quarterback hurries on the 49 snaps he played.

While it's clear Rey played well individually, he was quick to credit his teammates for performing well in Burfict's absence.

"When a guy like Vontaze is out, we all have to pick up the slack for him, not just one guy," Rey said. "We all raise our game."

Despite how well Rey played Sunday, Cincinnati hopes its defense will be at full capacity in 12 days when it travels to New England for a Sunday night game that comes after this week's bye. There is an expectation that the bye will give Burfict additional time to work through the symptoms of the concussion and eventually clear the protocol ahead of arguably the biggest game of the first half of the Bengals' season.
CINCINNATI -- When Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson was asked about the versatility receiver Mohamed Sanu has shown through three games, he said he has barely scratched the surface with ways he can use the do-everything wideout.

Royster
Sanu
"There are a lot of things this young man can do," Jackson said. "He's just very talented. He really is."

Sanu has already passed, ran with and caught the ball through three games.

The weirdly unique thing about the Bengals' offense, though, is that this time two weeks from now, the question may not be so much about what more Sanu can do. The question may be about what more Marvin Jones will do. That's because all signs point to an already potent Bengals' offense adding another dangerous and versatile playmaker when Cincinnati returns from its bye next week at New England.

"I can't wait," Jackson said when asked about getting Jones back soon. "I'm excited about him coming back because he's another one of our talented players. We will just add him to the mix of A.J. [Green] and [Sanu] and the rest of the guys and see how it fits."

Jones
Last season, Jones was the Bengals' second-leading receiver behind Green. He set career highs in catches (51), yards (712) and touchdowns (10). His four receiving touchdowns in the late-October game against the Jets last season set a franchise record for touchdown catches in a single game.

Cincinnati is banking on Jones picking up right where he left off, even if he hasn't caught many passes at live speed since January.

Jones participated in the Bengals' organized team activities (OTAs) and minicamp in the spring and joined some of his fellow receivers in Fort Worth, Texas, one weekend to work on routes with quarterback Andy Dalton near his offseason home. But when training camp started in August, Jones landed on the non-football injury physically unable to perform list with an ankle issue that he said had been bothering him throughout the offseason.

Once the ankle injury healed, he participated in three practices before breaking a bone in his left foot during a preseason practice. He was kept on the active roster, but sidelined until the foot injury healed. He's expected to return to practice for the first time since on Tuesday, the only day the Bengals are working out this week. He had been catching passes off to the side since after his surgery, and started doing more extensive running this past week.

"You have to get in there and practice at first and see how that goes," Jones said. "But knowing me, I can get ready pretty fast."

When he does get back on the field, expect Jackson to tinker with Jones in ways like he's toyed with using Sanu.

"How much can you not use him?" Jackson asked rhetorically about Jones. "He can run and catch. Not only does he take the top off here, he scores a lot of touchdowns, too. This is a fun part about our guys; that we have a multitude of different guys that you can use. When you have good players, you find ways to give them opportunities to make plays."

Could Jones' playmaking hinge on throwing passes like Sanu?

"I'd rather be on the receiving end of it," Jones said, smiling after saying he'd pass if asked to do that. "I'll let the professionals handle the throws, because Mo is a professional QB, as well -- perfect passer rating and all."

Sanu has a perfect career passer rating of 158.3. He's completed all four of his attempted passes, including Sunday's 18-yard touchdown pass to Dalton.

"I'm ready to play and do what I always do, and that's go on the field and make those catches and those explosive plays," Jones said. "Whatever [Jackson] asks, whatever he has planned, I"m OK will all of it."
CINCINNATI -- Hue Jackson had to avert his eyes.

When the Cincinnati Bengals' offensive coordinator called the now infamous touchdown pass from receiver Mohamed Sanu to quarterback Andy Dalton in Sunday's 33-7 Bengals win against the Tennessee Titans, he felt he had drawn the play up perfectly.

[+] EnlargeBlidi Wreh-Wilson
AP Photo/Darron CummingsTennessee's Blidi Wreh-Wilson failed to make a play on this pass to Bengals QB Andy Dalton in the first quarter. Dalton caught the ball and ran in for a TD.
Even if the Titans had practiced against that play, they still weren't going to be ready for it at that moment, Jackson reasoned. In his mind, he was going to run it regardless. All Sanu had to do was take his pitch from Dalton, stop, turn to his left and deliver a strike back across the field to the wide open quarterback. That's precisely the way he expected the play to go.

But it didn't.

As soon as Sanu let go of the ball, Jackson peered across the field and simultaneously saw what made Sanu dejectedly mutter to himself, "Oh s---."

It was Titans cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson, stepping up after originally dropping back in coverage, and sprinting back to the line of scrimmage.

Wreh-Wilson was making a beeline for Dalton. With the ball floating to the quarterback, all Wreh-Wilson needed to do was make one of two decisions. Either he was going to jump the route and intercept the pass for an interception return for touchdown, or he was going to light Dalton up with a blindside hit that would rattle the Ohio River Valley.

It was the latter that flashed quickly through Jackson's mind. So he turned away.

"The last thing you know, I'm talking to [quarterbacks] Coach [Ken] Zampese on the headset and I go, 'Oh no,'" Jackson said, reliving the play Monday afternoon. "The ball is thrown and Kenny says, 'He's going to score.' I quit watching. I turned around and was like, 'What's going to be the next call?'

"Ken goes, 'Hue, he's going to score.'"

Sure enough, Wreh-Wilson made the odd decision to pull up and completely avoid both Dalton and the ball, allowing Dalton to catch the pass without contact and sprint toward the pylon. With a dive across the goal line, Dalton completed the first touchdown reception of his career.

As the crowd erupted, Jackson looked back up and saw Dalton celebrating. He let out a sigh of relief.

"It's a calculated risk," Jackson said.

It's the type of risk that he'll repeat.

"We'll just keep spreading this thing around because the more versatile we are as an offense, the harder we are to defend," Jackson said. "We have several guys that when they touch the ball, a lot of good things can happen."

Behind the Bengals' Week 3 snap counts

September, 22, 2014
Sep 22
9:00
AM ET
CINCINNATI -- Only two Cincinnati Bengals played 100 percent of the snaps on their side of the ball in Sunday's 33-7 win.

That is a byproduct of a 26-point victory that was effectively decided in the first half.

Dalton
Dalton
Thanks to the lopsided win, the Bengals were able to give many of their starters a few breaks Sunday. Quarterback Andy Dalton, for example, played 87 percent of the offensive snaps. He and most of the starters left late in fourth quarter. Backup quarterback Jason Campbell entered and played eight snaps with the second-team.

It's very rare during the regular season for a team to have the luxury of resting its starters, so the Bengals were quick to take advantage.

There were no injury issues in Sunday's game that affected the way the snap counts broke down. The two injured contributors on defense who left the game late suffered injuries around the time they likely would have been replaced. After the game, coach Marvin Lewis intimated that Margus Hunt and Emmanuel Lamur would be fine to play in two weeks when the Bengals return from their bye with a Sunday night game at New England.

One regular contributor whose snap counts were considerably lower Sunday than they were last week was running back Jeremy Hill. He played 18 fewer snaps in Week 3 than in Week 2.

Cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick was one backup who received more defensive snaps than he has at any other point this season. They were mostly costly ones, too. Kirkpatrick had two personal foul penalties, one of which set up the Titans' lone touchdown. Both of Kirkpatrick's infractions came on the same drive.

Here are this week's complete snap counts with help from Pro Football Focus and the NFL's Game Statistics and Information System:

OFFENSE (62 plays)*
OG Clint Boling (62), C Russell Bodine (62), OT Andre Smith (60), OG Mike Pollak (59), OT Andrew Whitworth (54), QB Andy Dalton (54), TE Jermaine Gresham (49), WR Mohamed Sanu (48), WR A.J. Green (47), RB Giovani Bernard (40), WR Brandon Tate (33), H-back Ryan Hewitt (31), RB Jeremy Hill (15), WR Dane Sanzenbacher (14), OT Marshall Newhouse (12), TE Kevin Brock (9), WR James Wright (9), QB Jason Campbell (8), RB Cedric Peerman (8), OG T.J. Johnson (3), FB/DT Domata Peko (3), OT Tanner Hawkinson (2).

DEFENSE (71 plays)*
S George Iloka (70), CB Terence Newman (61), S Reggie Nelson (61), CB Adam Jones (59), LB Emmanuel Lamur (56), LB Vincent Rey (49), DE Carlos Dunlap (48), CB Leon Hall (46), DE Wallace Gilberry (45), Peko (43), DE Robert Geathers (42), LB Rey Maualuga (41), DT Geno Atkins (40), DE Margus Hunt (27), DT Devon Still (26), CB Darqueze Dennard (16), CB Dre Kirkpatrick (14), S Taylor Mays (10), S Shawn Williams (10), DE Will Clarke (8), LB Jayson DiManche (7), LB Marquis Flowers (2).

SPECIAL TEAMS (25 plays)**
DiManche (21), Williams (21), Flowers (19), Peerman (17), Mays (17), Kirkpatrick (16), Dennard (15), Hunt (14), Wright (13), K Mike Nugent (11), Nelson (10), LS Clark Harris (9), P Kevin Huber (9), Hewitt (9), Rey (8), Peko (8), Brock (7), Tate (7), Lamur (5), Newhouse (5), Gresham (5), Whitworth (5), Pollak (5), Smith (5), Bodine (5), Dunlap (3), Still (3), Jones (3), Newman (2), Hall (2), Maualuga (2), Clarke (2), Sanzenbacher (1), Sanu (1), Bernard (1).
*Counts come from PFF.
**Counts come from the NFL's GSIS.
CINCINNATI -- It was quite possibly the most complete win the Cincinnati Bengals have had this season, according to their head coach.

"It was a good effort in all three phases," Marvin Lewis said of the 33-7 win against the Titans. "Probably our best effort of the season."

That is saying a lot. After all, this is an undefeated team that has won each of its games in convincing fashion.

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Sanu
Sure, the Week 1 23-16 final against the Ravens might sound close and the two-touchdown win against the Falcons might not indicate a blowout, but the Bengals were clearly the better team in both games. But drives that stalled both weeks took points off the scoreboard, as did a series of missed field goals in the Atlanta game.

Sunday against the Titans, it all came together. The Bengals were better in the red zone, converting touchdowns in goal-line situations. The defense held firm on third down. The special teams contributed to sound field position, and scored points, too. That is considered a complete win.

"At the end of the day, if everyone on the offense, defense and special teams are doing their job, that's what you get -- team effort," defensive end Wallace Gilberry said.

The term "team victory" sounds cliche, but it fits for the Bengals, who return to action at New England in 13 days. As the lone undefeated team in the AFC, Cincinnati is entering its early bye as the unquestioned top-dog in the conference. The Patriots will be a good test to see just how poised they are to shake up the league this season.

One reason why it's easy to call these team wins is because each of the three have come without the services of multiple stars.

Receiver Marvin Jones has been out since the middle of the preseason when he broke his left foot during a practice. Linebacker Vontaze Burfict (concussion) was in and out of the rotation on defense the first two games and didn't play Sunday. Receiver A.J. Green played six snaps against Atlanta because of a toe injury. And tight end Tyler Eifert hasn't played since the first quarter of the opener with a dislocated elbow that won't be better for another seven weeks.

Without consistent work from each of these players, two of whom are Pro Bowlers, somehow the Bengals have managed to win.

That is where depth becomes important, as does the expectation that a team will receive quality play from backups. When Jones and Green were down last week, Mohamed Sanu stepped up at receiver. Even with Green back in Sunday's game, Sanu continued to fill in for the absent Jones, who should give the Bengals an added layer of offensive complexity when he returns in two weeks against the Patriots.

Defensively, Vincent Rey has been the addition that has eased the loss of Burfict.

On special teams, Kevin Huber has had punts in the past two games land at the opponents' 1, 2 and 4, respectively. That field position has helped the defense, which in turn has given the offense the ball in advantageous spots.

The Bengals are as well-oiled a machine as there is in the NFL right now. With injured stars coming back to form in the next two weeks, they could soon be operating even better.
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CINCINNATI -- When the ball left Mohamed Sanu's right hand, two words immediately popped into his head.

"Oh, s---."

After trying to sell the play of the Cincinnati Bengals' 33-7 win Sunday over the Tennessee Titans by pretending he was about to run the ball to his right, Sanu threw back across the field to a seemingly wide open Andy Dalton. The quarterback had just pitched Sanu the ball and was curling out wide for a screen pass on the left side of the field.

What Sanu didn't see when he prepared to release the ball was the 6-foot-1, 200-pound cornerback cheating up and lining Dalton in his sights. It was only after the ball left his hand that Sanu realized Titans corner Blidi Wreh-Wilson had the perfect opportunity to wreck his quarterback.

The Titans knew what was coming. They practiced defending the trick play all week. Like many of the other teams that will face the Bengals the rest of the year, they understood how complex Cincinnati's offense is under new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson. They knew they had to do everything they could to prevent a potential gadget play such as this one from burning them. So when Wreh-Wilson dropped out of coverage and started sprinting toward the line of scrimmage, it seemed someone had finally solved Jackson's scheme.

Sanu wanted to look away.

"I was thinking he was going to knock Andy out," Sanu said. "Then Andy just went up in front of him and made the play."

Wreh-Wilson slowed his sprint, pulled up and bizarrely avoided contact with Dalton. Surprised, the quarterback-turned-pass-catcher adjusted his body to avoid a collision, caught the pass and took off toward the corner of the end zone. With a dive into the pylon, he scored an 18-yard touchdown that put the Bengals up 10-0 early. The play completely pushed the momentum in their favor. From there, offensively and defensively, there was no looking back.

The rout was beginning.

"He's so creative in getting his playmakers involved," Sanu said of Jackson, who called a non-traditional play for the third straight game.

In the season opener, Jackson had his two offensive tackles flanked off the line and in the slot. The rare formation didn't yield much in the form of yards on what was a short Giovani Bernard run, but it gave defenses something to think about. Last week, Jackson had Sanu roll out and attempt a bomb to fellow receiver Brandon Tate, who caught the well-thrown pass 50 yards downfield despite drawing double coverage along the sideline by the end of the route. Then there was this week's play.

There's no telling what all exists inside Jackson's playbook, but there certainly is a lot more. When defenses play the Bengals the rest of the year, they won't only have to defend against the standard run and pass, they'll also have to pay attention to who is running the ball, who is passing it and where it's being passed to.

"It's tough when you have gadget plays and the defense starts second-guessing," running back Jeremy Hill said. "They start thinking. Defenses pride themselves on running to the football and not thinking and playing fast. When you've got gadget plays going on, it makes them sit back on their heels and run back."

They do something else for Bengals players, too -- give them reasons to curse joyously.

"Once Andy actually caught the pass, I was like, 'Oh, s---!'" Sanu said. "But this time, in a more exciting way."
CINCINNATI -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the Cincinnati Bengals' 33-7 win over the Tennessee Titans:

Dalton
Dalton
Dalton's TD catch his first: When reporters were allowed in the Bengals' locker room after Sunday's win, they flocked to receiver Mohamed Sanu's locker. The third-year wideout, who tossed an 18-yard touchdown pass to quarterback Andy Dalton early in the game, occupies the locker next to Dalton's. As Sanu offered his insights on the play, I chatted with Dalton, who told me it was the first touchdown catch he's had at any stage of his football-playing career. He added that he wasn't sure what happened with cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson, who had a chance to blow out the catch or intercept it for an easy pick-six.

Iloka's half-pick lobby: There is no such thing as a half-interception in football, but safety George Iloka wouldn't mind creating one. He joked with me after the game that he's going to lobby someone for crediting him with half an interception after contributing to Robert Geathers' second-quarter pick. On the play, Titans quarterback Jake Locker was trying to complete a pass to Delanie Walker when Iloka delivered a hard hit on Walker as soon as he touched the ball and turned around. The hit was so hard, the ball violently bounced several yards into the air, where Geathers grabbed it.

Shutout bid denied: The Bengals came within six minutes of their first shutout in seven seasons and their first home shutout in 33 years. The shutout bid was denied when Shonn Greene scored on a drive aided by Bengals penalties. Defensive end Wallace Gilberry said he and his teammates wanted the shutout. "We tried to pull it off, but it is what it is," he said. "At the same time, those guys are being paid, too. That's not a bad team we just played. They're going to beat a lot of people this year."

Staying humble: With the Week 5 game at New England on the horizon after next week's bye, coach Marvin Lewis isn't worried about keeping his team humble after the 3-0 start. Here's what linebacker Vincent Rey said when I asked him about that: "We're hunting excellence. We really want to be perfect in everything we want to do."

Rapid Reaction: Cincinnati Bengals

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
3:58
PM ET
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CINCINNATI -- A few thoughts on the Cincinnati Bengals' 33-7 win over the Tennessee Titans at Paul Brown Stadium:

What it means: This one's easy. Sunday's 26-point win means that the Bengals are the best team in the NFL on this side of the Mississippi River. The only reason I give that geographic identifier is because there are two teams out West -- the Broncos and Seahawks -- getting set to kick off who are very much in the conversation for best team in the league. But so are the Bengals, and this third straight win -- the most impressive in a string of early-season dominating victories -- proves that. At home these last two weeks, the Bengals have showed relatively few weaknesses. Their offense has been dynamic and explosive, their defense remains suffocating, and their special teams have been adequate enough, spearheaded by punter Kevin Huber. Sunday's win was also the Bengals' 11th straight at home in the regular season, setting a franchise record. It's the longest home winning streak in the league.

Stock watch: Missed tackles were arguably the most problematic issue for the Bengals. One week after they were credited by Pro Football Focus with missing just four tackles, the Bengals easily had four before halftime Sunday. It's possible they may have had four in the first quarter alone. Official numbers won't get tabulated until Monday. But unofficially, veterans like defensive end Wallace Gilberry, safety Reggie Nelson and cornerback Adam Jones were among those who struggled to bring down Titans offensive players throughout the ballgame. Many of the misses occurred early on drives when the Titans were showing signs of moving the ball. As much as the Bengals' tackling stock may have dipped Sunday, it wasn't enough to hurt a unit that allowed just seven points and has given up an average of 11 through three games.

Going over 100: When rookie running back Jeremy Hill spoke to reporters earlier this week in Cincinnati, he said the goal for the running backs was to hit 100 yards rushing each game. It would be ideal to get to 150, he said. This week, they at least hit the minimum threshold when they gained 116 yards on the ground. It's the second straight week they've gone beyond 100.

Game ball: Offensive coordinator Hue Jackson gets this week's game ball for the way he called another creative game. Each week it seems he has some new trick up his sleeve that he's willing to show in order to confound defenses that have to face him later this year. In Week 1, he trotted out various formations, including a set that put offensive tackles Andrew Whitworth and Andre Smith out in the slot as receivers. Last week, he called a successful receiver pass from Mohamed Sanu to fellow receiver Brandon Tate. This week, it was Sanu's 18-yard touchdown pass to quarterback Andy Dalton that caught attention. Jackson has two weeks to come up with a new wrinkle.

What's next? On deck for the injury-weary Bengals is a perfectly timed early bye week. While they were quick to curse the Week 4 bye when the schedule was released, the Bengals are thankful to have it now. It will give them an opportunity to rest a few of their banged-up stars like Vontaze Burfict and Margus Hunt, and a chance to get ready for arguably the biggest game of the first half of the season the following Sunday at the New England Patriots.

Andy Dalton catches TD pass from Sanu

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
2:55
PM ET
CINCINNATI -- Andy Dalton made Cincinnati Bengals history Sunday afternoon at Paul Brown when he did something no other quarterback had previously done in franchise history.

Dalton
Dalton
He caught a touchdown pass.

With six seconds left in the first quarter of the Bengals' Week 3 game against the Tennessee Titans, Dalton caught an 18-yard pass from receiver Mohamed Sanu to put Cincinnati up 10-0 early. By halftime, the Bengals led 19-0.

On the play, Dalton rolled right before pitching to Sanu as if the receiver was going to run the ball. As Sanu ran toward the numbers on the right side of the field, Dalton reversed course and ran left. He was wide open when Sanu turned and threw across field. As the ball glided toward Dalton, Titans cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson approached from deep downfield. It looked like Wreh-Wilson had a chance to either tackle Dalton right away or jump the route and intercept the ball.

Neither happened. Dalton contorted his body to avoid contact with Wreh-Wilson and caught the ball as the defender ran by him. Dalton then sprinted toward the pylon before diving for it and scoring.

In addition to it being the first touchdown reception by a quarterback in Bengals history, Dalton's grab also made him the fifth quarterback in team history to have a reception of any kind. Sam Wyche (1968), David Klinger (1994), Akili Smith (1998) and Ryan Fitzpatrick (2008) also caught passes.

Sanu, who completed a 50-yard pass to fellow receiver Brandon Tate last week, is now 4-for-4 with 166 yards and two touchdowns as a passer in his career.

W2W4: Titans vs. Bengals

September, 20, 2014
Sep 20
1:00
PM ET
CINCINNATI -- Below are three items to watch for Sunday when the Cincinnati Bengals host the Tennessee Titans:

All eyes on A.J: We'll be keeping a close eye on Bengals receiver A.J. Green during warmups Sunday, and you should keep a close eye on how he looks when he steps on the field to actually play. Green said all week that he'd play if his right big toe felt good after Thursday's and Friday's practices. By all accounts, it appears it has. He was listed as probable on the Bengals' pregame injury report, but it appears he will be making the start seven days after he was forced to leave the Bengals' home opener due to pain in his foot. Just six plays into last week's game he came off the field and didn't return because of the injury. When he cut without issue while running a pair of routes Thursday, it appeared he was feeling good enough to contribute this weekend. I'll be watching him in warmups, though, because that's when he said he felt the toe start nagging him last week.

Horton's tough defense: The Bengals' offensive line won't be taking its eyes off Titans defensive end Jurrell Casey, and you shouldn't, either. At 6-foot-1, 300 pounds, he's a large and athletic rusher who can line up both on the outside and inside of Tennessee's defensive line. He already has two sacks and has been a key reason behind the success the Titans and their league-leading pass defense have had so far. Casey fits well in the Titans' defense in part because his role mirrors a lot of what other linemen have done in past defenses coached by Titans defensive coordinator Ray Horton. The former Bengals player and one-time defensive backs coach spent last season with the Cleveland Browns, and had a seven-season stint as a secondary coach for the Pittsburgh Steelers. So the Bengals know Horton's coaching style quite well. Last year, in only his third season as a coordinator, Horton worked up a game plan that held the Bengals to just six points in a Week 4 loss at Cleveland. In the Browns' return trip to Cincinnati last November, though, the Bengals used their defense to blast the Browns 41-20. Keep a close watch over the Titans' defense, one the Bengals believe has very real Horton influences.

Nugent's bounce back: Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis said after last Sunday's game that he had the utmost faith in kicker Mike Nugent's ability to bounce back this week after a disappointing 1-for-4 showing in the 24-10 win over the Falcons. Wind didn't appear to be a factor as Nugent sailed kicks wide left, right and short. Kicks that he normally would bury with ease just weren't finding the goal posts. Keep an eye out this week when he trots out onto the field to see how well he responds to the miscues he had last week. Also be on the lookout for how often the Bengals use him. With red zone issues bugging them at times through the first two weeks, the Bengals are hoping not only to score once they reach the 20-yard line, but they'd like to start seeing drives end in touchdowns when they even get inside the 30. The offense has done an OK job of moving the ball into that territory. Now it just has to build off last week and continue to finish drives that way.
CINCINNATI -- Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill combined to run 42 times for 164 yards in the Cincinnati Bengals' win last week over the Atlanta Falcons. It was the first time the Bengals showed a portion of the vision they had back in May when they drafted Hill in the second round. Heavy with the run was offensive coordinator Hue Jackson's charge all offseason, and it was one that only got amplified with the selection of Hill. Last week's game appeared to send a strong message that when the Bengals believe they can exploit a team's rushing defense, they will. It's quite possible we'll see similar rushing numbers this weekend when the Tennessee Titans and their defensive unit that allowed 220 yards on the ground last week against Dallas Cowboys come to Paul Brown Stadium. That leads to a logical question: Is it possible to run too much? Specifically, is it possible to run too much with Bernard? That's the question we start off with in this week's Bengals mailbag: @ColeyHarvey: To answer your questions succinctly, Jim, I'll say no. Actually, your question reminded of something Jackson (who remember, was Bernard's running backs coach last year) said to a few reporters earlier this week. Asked if he was tentative about drawing up runs into the interior of the line for the smallish Bernard, Jackson was quick to say that Bernard would get mad at him if he ever took those physical carries away. That's they way I believe the coaches would answer your question here. They aren't worried about him wearing down, and neither is he. That's something he spoke with me about in the offseason and relayed even then that he had no reservations about being "the" player at running back. Besides, coaches want Bernard to be their bell cow, even if the bigger and younger Hill is in the rotation, too. The design is to try to get Bernard more than 300 touches -- both rushing and receiving -- if possible this season. We've already seen with some of the injuries to receivers and tight ends where his role has expanded in the passing game. So I'd say that mid-20s touches figure might not be so far off. Is it a little higher than I anticipated? Maybe, but not by much. Still, as you mentioned, don't rule out Hill. He's going to help relieve the stresses on Bernard's legs just enough.

@ColeyHarvey: For those who have no idea what Andre is talking about, here you go. Hill tweeted fans after last week's game to get help with a nickname for Cincinnati's new running back duo. So far, there is no finalized nickname, but if you look at social media, it's clear "Hue Live Crew" and the newcomer, "Hue-Tang Clan," are favorites. "Hue Live Crew" was my suggestion, but I'm impartial to the "Hue-Tang Clan" just because it lends itself to fans chanting "Hue-Tang, Hue-Tang" when either one of the backs carries the ball. Of course, that's a nod both to Jackson and the Wu-Tang Clan, a popular 1990s hip hop group. So to answer your question, Andre, the query is better suited for @BengalsDJ, but I must admit: I like your thinking.

@ColeyHarvey: I wouldn't read too far into the injury report designations this week, The wanderer. It seems like the "doubtful" players like defensive tackle Brandon Thompson and offensive guard Kevin Zeitler really are more along the lines of "out." Other doubtful players this week include running back Rex Burkhead, linebacker Sean Porter and linebacker Vontaze Burfict. None of the players under this injury-report designation practiced this entire week. Until Friday, Zeitler was on crutches. Burkhead and Porter are still rehabbing from preseason injuries. So I wouldn't say this report has much bearing on Thompson and Zeitler. As far as their timeframe, both certainly are out until October. It's just a matter of when in October will they come back. Reports indicate that Zeitler will be out a month with his calf strain, meaning perhaps he can return by Week 7 at Indianapolis. Neither has had a chance to get onto the rehab field just yet. The biggest benefit for both? Having a bye next week.

@ColeyHarvey: If you use my preseason predictions as a guide (which I'm not sure why anyone really would at this point; so much has changed since Labor Day weekend), I picked Cincinnati to lose at New England in Week 5, at New Orleans in Week 11, at Tampa Bay in Week 13, at Cleveland in Week 15 and against Denver in Week 16. I also had an "L" in the season opener at Baltimore, but of course that ended up being wrong. Also, judging from Tampa Bay's slow start including last night's drubbing at Atlanta, I'm rethinking that projected loss. If that becomes a win and you keep the rest of my projections, that would mean the Bengals go 12-4 and probably end up the 2-seed. But really, who knows at this point? It's very, very early. 
CINCINNATI -- As I watched the Atlanta Falcons recover turnover after turnover and score touchdown after touchdown Thursday night against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, I kept seeing Cincinnati Bengals fans chiming in on social media about how advantageous the blowout was for their team.

Personally, I think they're right.

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Discuss (Total votes: 1,867)

If the Falcons, a team the Bengals seemed to get by with relative ease without their best playmaker (A.J. Green), can perform as well against another team as it did in that game, then it has to mean that not only are the Falcons pretty good, but by association the Bengals are, too.

In now two of the three games the Falcons have played this season, their offense has rolled. In Week 1, they put up more than 500 yards of total offense in a 37-34 overtime win over a now 0-2 Saints team that is better than its record indicates.

On Thursday, Atlanta was even more prolific scoring-wise, beating the Bucs 56-14. They were 12 yards shy of 500 on the night and got out to such a large lead that quarterback Matt Ryan and the starters left early.

So what does this have to do with the Bengals?

Well, so far, Cincinnati has been the only team to tame the Falcons' high-powered scheme. Last week, the Bengals' defense held the Falcons to just 212 yards passing and fewer than 100 yards rushing. They also appeared to completely own Atlanta at the line of scrimmage and hounded Ryan to the point that he was sacked three times and knocked down twice as he threw. Two of Ryan's three interceptions in the game also were thrown in spots where Bengals safety George Iloka was in proper position to pick the passes off with few Falcons pass-catchers all that close to him.

The 24-10 final was actually a lot closer than the flow of the game indicated.

Can we then, take the Bengals' performance in that game and apply it to what the Falcons did to the Buccaneers? Can we consider the Bengals a top-3 team (they rank No. 3 in ESPN's Power Rankings this week) because of that? Or have this season's early results simply been a matter of consequence, and it's too early to say if they have any bearing on who the Bengals or Falcons (or Bucs, for that matter) will be this year?

Those are questions I'd like for you to answer in our SportsNation poll. As always, feel free to expand upon your vote in the Comments section below.

Let the voting commence.
CINCINNATI -- Vontaze Burfict should not play Sunday when the Cincinnati Bengals host the Tennessee Titans at Paul Brown Stadium.

There. It's been said.

Burfict
Because the third-year Pro Bowl player was listed as doubtful on the Bengals' injury report released Friday, chances already were strong that he wasn't going to suit up. Still, since he wasn't declared as "out" for the game, the possibility that he could play one week after suffering his second concussion of the two-week-old season exists.

It shouldn't.

Bengals coach Marvin Lewis told reporters Friday that Burfict was still under concussion protocol and that he would continue to get evaluated over the weekend. Although Burfict didn't practice at all this week, he could end up playing as long as he clears the protocol. He's one of those rare players who the Bengals would let play even if he didn't practice in the few days leading up to a game.

The fact Burfict wasn't allowed to take a step on the Bengals' practice fields seems to suggest he won't come off the protocol by 1 p.m. ET Sunday. But you never know.

It's one thing to have concussions. They are part of football. They are going to happen. But it's altogether when concussions come seven days apart.

On Monday, during his news conference following the Bengals' 24-10 win against Atlanta, Lewis said he couldn't be concerned with Burfict's status. At the time, it was still believed Burfict had a simple stinger. He left in the third quarter of last Sunday's game after his head collided with teammate Emmanuel Lamur's knee.

Specifically, Lewis was referring to how the team had to put more focus on preparing for life without the intimidating tackler instead of dwelling on his injury.

"We have to play with what we've got," Lewis said Monday. "Vontaze will have to overcome whatever he has, and we'll keep moving on. It's football."

But here's why there should be some concern about Burfict. Concussion science is far from exact, but at this stage it's better to err on the side of caution given how close together his concussions happened.

With the heightened focus the NFL has placed on its concussion policy, it just seems odd that a player on concussion protocol would even be able to entertain thoughts of playing the week after suffering a concussion.

The following is from a lengthy conversation about head injuries Friday with ESPN injury analyst Stephania Bell.

"When you suffer that type of injury a second time so closely after the first time," Bell said, "it raises the level of concern."

That makes sense. So does this in response to a question regarding the benefit of resting Burfict this week ahead of next week's bye.

"No doubt the bye week is beneficial, but it does not guarantee that he will suddenly be back in Week 5," Bell said. "These things evolve at their own rate and each one is unique. Even the same name of injury to the same athlete can have a very different presentation that second time."

Meaning, just because Burfict had a concussion in one spot of his brain at Baltimore in Week 1, it doesn't mean he suffered one in the exact same spot last week against Atlanta. It also means he's far from a lock to play Week 5 at New England.

Bell's best advice for us all, Burfict included?

"To sit back and see how it evolves."

If the Bengals care about having a comparatively healthy Burfict by the end of the season, they won't play him this week.

Lewis unfazed by high Power Rankings

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19
2:45
PM ET
CINCINNATI -- It's been a good week for the Cincinnati Bengals.

Not only have they been the envy of the NFL with the embattled league's biggest feel-good story of the moment, but they also have been playing good football.

The Bengals have been so good through the first two weeks of the season that they have earned a 2-0 record heading into Sunday's Week 3 tilt against the Tennessee Titans, and they have been declared one of the top teams in the league by a bevy of outlets with team rankings.

Just Tuesday, ESPN's group of writers, editors and television personalities ranked them third in the Power Rankings that followed last week's drubbing of the Falcons. Only the Broncos (No. 1) and Seahawks (No. 2), who are meeting this weekend in a Super Bowl rematch, outpaced them. It's possible that with a win Sunday, the Bengals could ease into one of the top two spots of the poll.

They actually did just that on Sports Illustrated's poll that was released mid-week.

For what is believed to be the first time in the history of Sports Illustrated's power poll, the Bengals were ranked No. 1 this week.

Asked Friday afternoon if that particular ranking or any of the other similarly high rankings meant anything to him, Bengals coach Marvin Lewis was predictably unfazed.

"I don't think it's worth anything to us, is it?" he rhetorically asked. "The key is to be No. 1 in the rankings in February -- the second week of February, not even the first week."

Of course, he was referring to winning the Super Bowl. He wants his team to be ranked first at the end of the final week of the season.

"Until now and then, it doesn't matter," Lewis said about the rankings.

In years past, he may have had to worry about his players possibly buying into the hype about their success and believing it. Lewis contends that with the veteran leaders he has in his locker room that he has no reason to be concerned about that this year.

"They realize we don't get anything for [being ranked first now]," Lewis said.

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