In the Andy Dalton/A.J. Green era, the Bengals have the eighth-best regular season record in the NFL at 27-17 (full details at the bottom).
Yes, I am well-aware of the fact that they have not won a playoff game (yet) and the goal obviously isn’t to finish eighth out of 32 teams. But when you keep in mind that Andy and A.J. inherited a 4-12 team with an angry fan base, their first three seasons have been pretty remarkable.
Sunday’s win in San Diego gives Cincinnati a two game lead in the AFC North with four to play. Winning two of those games would likely mean a third straight playoff appearance and the Bengals remain in the hunt for a first round bye and home field advantage. Three of the remaining four games are at home (where the Bengals are 5-0) and only one is against a team that currently has a winning record.
“We just have to keep taking care of business,” said offensive tackle Anthony Collins. “One game at a time. One day at a time.”
Admittedly, it’s not always pretty. When Dalton ended the first half against the Chargers with 41 passing yards, one interception, and a QB rating of 21.2, I’m sure that Twitter was an angry place.
“I expect perfection and we’re always going to strive for it, but it’s hard to get,” said offensive coordinator Jay Gruden. “You look at the numbers and look at what Andy did – the interception and a couple of other things here and there – we just need to clean things up and keep moving forward. But any time that you go on the road in the NFL and play against a team like this and come away with a victory, you have to be proud of all of the guys.”
In the second half, Dalton was 9-for-13 for 149 yards and a touchdown and finished the game with a passer rating of 83.6 (better than the 80.0 posted by Philip Rivers). In the third quarter he joined Peyton Manning as the second quarterback in NFL history to pass for 3,000 yards in each of his first three seasons. And while nobody is suggesting the Andy has reached the level of Brady, Rodgers, Roethlisberger, Stafford, or Rivers, he has led the Bengals to wins over all of those quarterbacks this season.
With a ton of help from the defense of course.
“It starts with Mike Zimmer,” said defensive backs coach Mark Carrier. “Mike’s done a great job all along and he loves going against quarterbacks like this because it’s a challenge to our defense.”
“And yet it’s still a surprise to people,” said defensive lineman Wallace Gilberry. “We come out here and do our job and it’s still a surprise. We pride ourselves on rising to the occasion.”
The formula in San Diego was a stifling defense and a strong running attack.
Despite playing most of the game without starting guards Kevin Zeitler and Clint Boling, the Bengals rushing for 164 yards – many of them on power plays led by a pulling Andrew Whitworth after switching from tackle to guard.
“Whit is going to come out ‘beasting’ at any position he plays,” said Collins.
On one run on the final play of the first quarter, Whitworth received a compliment from an unlikely source.
“The umpire ran up to me to find me and said, ‘That was a hell of a block.’” said Whitworth. “He said that he enjoyed that one. Whenever you impress those guys, I guess it’s a good one.”
“We’ve got some depth on the line and it showed,” said Marvin Lewis. “Anthony Collins did a great job with Andrew sliding in at guard – just an impressive day.
“That was the key to the game – we needed to be physical up front. I told both groups up front, ‘You guys have to go win the football game.’ They did a great job of running the football on offense and then defensively, I thought that we played our tails off. Just bit, fought, and scratched the entire way and that was awesome.”
It was 77 degrees at Qualcomm Stadium on Sunday, but if you look at the teams in the AFC playoff race, the Bengals are not likely to play another game in mild weather this year.
Did the bruising win in San Diego bode well for December and beyond?
“It’s got to,” said Coach Lewis. “We don’t know how the conditions are going to be and we have to keep building on that. It was a nice job today and we have to keep building and growing.”
Refresh my memory. Where is the Super Bowl this year?
I’ve had the pleasure of calling eight sporting events in San Diego and Cincinnati has won all of them.
2001: Bearcats beat BYU and Kent State in NCAA Tourney to advance to Sweet 16.
2005: Reds sweep a 3-game series vs. the Padres.
2007: UC football team beats San Diego State 52-23.
2012: Bengals beat Chargers 20-13.
2013: Bengals beat Chargers 17-10.
I can’t wait to return.
One of the most enjoyable things about the trip to San Diego was seeing old friends Josh Lewin (the radio voice of the Chargers) and Ken Levine (on the right).
Ken is an Emmy Award-winning screenwriter who has written for such shows as M*A*S*H, Cheers, Frazier, and The Simpsons. His episodes of M*A*S*H included a famous one told from the point-of-view of a wounded soldier, while his episodes of Cheers included the classic in which Frazier and Lilith’s son Frederick speaks his first word. It was “Norm!”
His episodes of The Simpsons include one where he named a character after me. I wrote about it in a previous blog post.
Ken has also been the play-by-play voice of the Baltimore Orioles, San Diego Padres, and Seattle Mariners and we got to know each other as minor league broadcasting partners with the Syracuse Chiefs in 1988.
If you’re interested in movies, television, baseball, or just like to laugh, I highly recommend checking out Ken’s blog.
Best NFL records since the start of the 2011 season:
New England 34-10
San Francisco 32-11-1
Green Bay 31-12-1
New Orleans 29-14
I’d love to hear from you at Dan.Hoard@Bengals.nfl.net
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