Posted: 5:15 p.m.
If you want to know how good Kyle Cook has been in his first nine games as a starting NFL center, all you have to know is that three of the Bengals wins have come at one of the league's six toughest places to play over the last decade.
Coming into 2009, the Ravens had the third-best homefield record stretching back to 1999 at .700, followed by the Steelers at .669. The Packers were in a clump of teams at sixth at .650.
And not only that, the Bengals offensive line graded out with no mental mistakes and didn't have a penalty last Sunday in the din of the second biggest crowd ever at Pittsburgh's Heinz Field.
"You have to know how to keep your wits about you when everything else around you is going crazy," said Bengals offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski. "That's pretty much the job of a center. The assignment errors and mistakes in the blocking schemes are down to a minimum. He's very poised in the heat of battle."
Guys like quarterback Carson Palmer, right guard Bobbie Williams, and left tackle Andrew Whitworth have been saying since the spring that Cook provides the same kind of stability Rich Braham did before a knee injury ended his career in the second game of the 2006 season.
The roadkill has proven it and now another hostile venue looms. The Black Hole, otherwise known as the Oakland Coliseum, where the Bengals have never won but where the Raiders are seven games under .500 this decade. The Bengals have started 4-0 on the road for the first time since 1975 and are bidding to go 5-0 for the first time in extending their franchise-best road winning streak to six.
"The Oakland fans are crazy, intense. They're all about the Raiders," Cook said. "Raider Nation. We'll check it out, we'll see it. OK, that's Raider Nation. No big deal, let's go play."
Offensive line coach Paul Alexander said the crowd's energy last Sunday at Heinz was "intense," and that he told Cook and the line to handle the first few waves with poise. It was the second straight game the line didn't have a penalty against a defensive front that pushed them around last year.
"It looks more poised and polished and right and that's because of the type of guys we have," Alexander said.
A guy like Cook, a bright Michigan State product making the calls up front. He would fit right into Raider Nation with his biker motif, long hair and a penchant for wearing anything black.
"You don't even realize you're playing in front of 50, 60, 70,000 people," Cook said before Thursday's practice. "You can hear it, but only as background to what Carson is saying. I make the calls (to the guards) and they don't close their mouth. They make sure to pass it down the line."
So far Baltimore is the loudest building in which Cook has snapped. "Pittsburgh was similar, but I just didn't feel like I did in Baltimore. Maybe that was because of the way the game went," he said. "Sometimes it's hard to hear Carson when he's right behind me, but I'm not going to be yelling at anybody 15 yards away. It can get communicated down the way."
For the first time in head coach Marvin Lewis' seven seasons the Bengals are traveling to the West Coast on Saturday morning instead of Friday. He indicated he's trying to shake it up after a 1-5 record leaving on Friday since he arrived in 2003.
"I haven't been in this situation before, but we'll be ready," Palmer said. "It's a big game for us. We're coming off a big game, but we realize how big of a game this is. The jet lag thing won't be an issue. We'll show up in Oakland."
Lewis also said he's never left on Saturday for The Coast.
"But that's the way I've decided to do it," he said. "A lot of teams do it this way, there's less time away. You're supposed have less time out of your bed, your environment. We're basically going to play it like a 4 p.m. game, like we've had many times this year. So we'll be out there in plenty of time on Saturday morning and do our thing the way we do it. We'll just make it a nice, tight, business trip. We'll try it this way."
The Bengals are scheduled to arrive in the Bay area about noon Saturday West Coast time, 25 hours before kickoff. Of the 10 teams that have the six best home records over the previous 10 seasons, only Seattle is on The Coast.
TOP 10 NFL HOME RECORDS FROM 1999-2008
» Indianapolis 60-20
» New England 58-22
» Baltimore 56-24
» Pittsburgh 53-26-1
» Denver 53-27
» Minnesota 53-27
» Green Bay 52-28
» Seattle 52-28
» Tampa Bay 52-28
» Tennessee 52-28