While right tackle Andre Smith had a breakout game, quarterback Andy Dalton shattered the Colts game plan with 78 percent passing as the Bengals young guns blazed their way to a 4-2 record and into the bye week with a 27-17 victory over the Colts at Paul Brown Stadium.
"What their game plan was was dare us to throw it, and the defensive ends will win, Andy Dalton will feel the pressure, and he won't be able to," left tackle Andrew Whitworth said. "But that's not how it worked out."
In large part because Whitworth and Smith took the NFL's most dangerous pass-rushing tandem of right end Dwight Freeney and left end Robert Mathis and handled them most of the day one-on-one, an unheard of concept for most offenses that prefer to use backs and tight ends to help block men who have combined for 176 career sacks, eight this season.
But not the one run by offensive coordinator Jay Gruden on this Sunday that blanked Freeney and Mathis. He relied on his tackles and the quick, smart throws of Dalton in order to get as many receivers into patterns as he could.
"They had some help some of the time, but not very often. They did an outstanding job," Gruden said of his tackles. "Those guys are starting to come into their own. I think it's about time people take notice. Those are two of the best pass rushers in the league and they did an excellent job."
There was finger-pointing all-around. The good finger-pointing.
Whitworth pointed to Dalton.
"And this guy right here made the plays," Whitworth said. "Dalton had a heck of a day. It's all on him. It's Andre and I's job to keep people off him. He executed and he did what he had to do and that's what he continues to. He comes in with a game plan and if things don't go exactly right he stays with the game plan."
Dalton, who hit a triple-digit passer rating for the third time this season, pointed at the tackles after he point-guarded the ball to nine different receivers on 25-of-32 passing for 264 yards.
"The offensive line played great today," Dalton said. "To play against those two guys and not get sacks and not even get touched ... I got hit maybe a couple of times, but hats off to them."
Head coach Marvin Lewis pointed to Gruden, the man he hired back in February to rescue an offense that had been diva-d to death as well as left without a quarterback. He feels that way about all three of his coordinators.
"The players know that, and they respond to that because they know ultimately that guy is in charge and it's his deal and they have to get it right," Lewis said. "There is a reinforcement that goes beyond mine with that. It's been good. The quarterback, he is our centerpiece, and we develop offense through Andy. Everything we do comes through Andy. People asked me, 'How are you going to be with a young quarterback?' Well, a young quarterback is going to be our offense and he is going to be what our offense is. You can see what we do and we do through it him. That's why we felt so good about this guy."
But Smith got the biggest praises of all as he continues to blossom in his third season and first full one healthy. After being a punch line for his weight and the foot he broke twice the past two seasons, Smith is now making the Bengals feel good about that sixth pick in the 2009 draft. He's always been known as a big-time run blocker, but on Sunday he eased concerns about his pass blocking against the cat-quick Mathis.
"Awesome. Awesome. Awesome. Awesome," right guard Bobbie Williams said when asked if Smith had proven something Sunday. "If not, I don't know what else he can do. He shut down a multiple Pro Bowl player out there in (No.) 98. Come on. That's nothing but upside for that guy."
Smith couldn't help but hear it.
"That's my guy there," Smith said. "He keeps it honest at all times. I don't want to talk about myself, but it makes me feel good. To compete against a phenomenal player and do well, it's a big game for the team and myself. He's got a lot of moves. I just tried to play smart and play with good technique."
As well as the tackles played, Gruden put together a superb game plan against a defense based on speed rushers. Quick throws. Screens. Play-action.
Like Gruden indicated, the Bengals tried to make it as easy as possible for the tackles. "We didn't have any 10-step drops and Andy didn't hold it for 12 seconds," but the coaches told the tackles on Wednesday they would go one-on-one.
"That's a great confidence-builder for Andre who has obviously had his issues and I think he's going to build from here," Gruden said. "Whitworth has put up these types of performances that nobody notices but us."
But it came back to the trigger man. Gruden's eyes lit up like the West Coast at night. But he couldn't help a good-natured tweak.
"Twenty-five of 32. Not bad," Gruden said. "How about that one hitch, though?"
"I know," Dalton said.
But Gruden knows he got another poised effort from his rookie. Ken Anderson, Boomer Esiason and Carson Palmer all had four losses before their fourth victories. It was Dalton's last game as a 23-year-old. He turns 24 on Oct. 29. Smith doesn't turn 25 until January. Of the nine receivers Dalton found Sunday, only 31-year-old Donald Lee was older than 28.
"Andy did a good job of not holding the ball for too long," Gruden said. "He made good decisions. He punted when he had to punt. I don't care what anybody says. That's a good defense with a good scheme. I'm just glad to get out of here."
Wide receiver Jerome Simpson, who had six catches for 101 yards in the fourth 100-yard game of his career, is 25. A.J. Green, who upped his rookie-leading touchdown catches total to four with a patented Kevin Garnett jump-and-snare boxout in the end zone, is 23. With the Colts gumming up the run and the box with eight men, Dalton was able to find them working one-on-one or against a soft Cover 2 zone.
"They were doing things to make us throw it, and they were trying to take A.J. away at times and that left 'Rome,' " Dalton said.
Dalton saw Green in a Cover 2 and he fired a jump ball.
"I feel like Andy and I have created that bond, and if there's only one guy on me, he's going to throw it up anyway and I'm going to go get it," Green said.
Why not? The Bengals were one-on-one all day and came out 4-2.