|Bengals’ team of extremes in control of AFC North|
|Friday, November 22, 2013 9:07 PM|
By JOE KAY
CINCINNATI — No dull moments with this Bengals team. There’s always something big going on.
Big lulls followed by big comebacks. A Hail Mary pass that ties the game followed by a loss in overtime. Andy Dalton setting club records for touchdowns one month, throwing interception after interception the next month.
And maybe that’s the personality of a team that seems to play its best after putting itself behind. As coach Marvin Lewis put it, “I guess we will continue to major in thrilling at this point.”
The real thrills — or yet another huge disappointment — are still to come.
The Bengals (7-4) have taken control of the AFC North with the toughest stretch of their schedule behind them. They’ve got a 2-game lead in the loss column over Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Cleveland, all 4-6 heading into the weekend.
They have a late-season bye that should get them closer to full strength for the final push. Only one of their final five games involves an opponent that currently has a winning record — Indianapolis — and they’ll get to face the Colts at home.
Three of the last five will be at Paul Brown Stadium, where the Bengals are 5-0 this season.
All they need is a few more wins and they’ll not only be headed to the postseason for the third year in a row — something the Bengals have never done — but they’ll be in the running for home-field advantage deep into the playoffs.
They were in very good shape heading into the bye-week break.
“We’re first in the division and we’ve got more than a 2-game lead and the truth is you’ve done something obviously pretty good to be to this point,” offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth said. “So I don’t think there’s any point to putting ourselves down.
“Let’s find out where we can be even better and finish this thing the way we need to and we’ll be right where we want to be.”
The Bengals’ two defining traits so far have been inconsistency and resiliency.
They got off to a 14-0 lead against Green Bay, fell behind 30-14 then rallied for a 34-30 win. They’ve gone to overtime three times, losing twice. Against the Browns last Sunday, they fell behind 13-0 in the first quarter and scored a club-record 31 points in the second quarter to win going away.
A focal point in the last five games will be third-year quarterback Dalton, who has epitomized the theme of extremes.
Dalton was the AFC’s offensive player for October, leading the Bengals to a 4-0 mark in the month. He completed 68 percent of his passes and threw for 11 touchdowns in a 3-game span, something no other Bengals quarterback has accomplished.
By comparison, he’s been dreadful in his last three games. Dalton has completed only 53 percent of his passes with five touchdowns and eight interceptions, two of which were returned for touchdowns.
During a 41-20 win over the Browns on Sunday, Dalton threw for only 93 yards and had a passer rating of 62.7, which was still his highest in the last three games. The Bengals lost two of the three.
On Dalton’s first interception against the Browns, receiver A.J. Green turned inside and Dalton threw it the other way. Lewis said some of the problems the last few games were the result of how receivers ran their routes.
“The quarterback’s got to play care-free where he can deliver the ball and know where the receiver is going to be,” Lewis said. “It can’t be happenstance. He’s got to know it. We’ve got to get back and do it right, and we’re going to push hard at that.”
With a defense that’s been ranked in the Top 10 all season and special teams making an impact each week, the Bengals don’t need for Dalton to be great, just steady.
In his first two years, Dalton struggled at the end of the season when the games meant the most. He had two of his worst games during playoff losses at Houston in the first round each of the last two seasons.
Those losses left the Bengals 0-4 in the postseason under Lewis. They haven’t won a playoff game since the 1990 season, which is the longest current streak of postseason futility in the league and tied for seventh-longest in NFL history.
Getting to host a playoff game would be an advantage. Getting a high seed in the postseason pairings would help, too. Both are possible with five games left.
“We’re in a good position right now,” Dalton added, “being in the lead in the division and having a bye right now with a chance to get some rest.”