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Ace and eights


Running back Giovani Bernard and his first-team offense went on a 17-3 run.

It's almost as if the first 17 plays, 17 minutes, and 17 points of Saturday night's game at Paul Brown Stadium sprung from a Hue Jackson fantasy the day he became the Bengals offensive coordinator back in January.

Quarterback Andy Dalton was perfect, literally and statistically, in leading two touchdown drives on 8-for-8 passing for 144 yards. The offensive line that Jackson wants to be so tough and physical kept churning a stalemate against one of the NFL top run defenses into a third-down one-yard touchdown run, courtesy of Jackson's prized running back, Giovani Bernard.

And all the while Dalton fired darts at the arm-strength critics, capping it off with a 46-yard touchdown arrow to Mohamed Sanu across the middle off of the play-action to Jackson's cherished running game.

"That's what happened on the touchdown," Dalton said. "The safety and corner both bit on the action, and we were able to go over the top with it. Being able to run the ball helps that."       

Sanu called it "a dime."

"It was a 10 out of 10," Sanu said. "I looked up and the ball was right there. I was thinking, 'Gosh, it couldn't be any easier if I just put my hands up to catch the football.' He was Andy Dalton. He's a great quarterback and he fits this offense to a tee. Everybody has to stay consistent and keep doing what we're doing."

Jackson, who was miserable about the 15-for-35 passing post Dalton, smiled briefly as he thought about that pass.

"Outstanding, wasn't it?" Jackson asked. "What a throw. That's the thing everybody says he can't do that he's doing… At the end of the day he's playing big-time football."

Before a gathering of 45,330, the night cut a stark contrast from that sold-out Sunday afternoon in January here when Dalton and his offense played so badly they managed just 10 points in a trap-door loss in the playoffs. Now with a six-year extension and Jackson's offense in hand, Dalton hopes he's riding a wave.

"I think the fans were into it. We had several big plays tonight. Hopefully they keep coming and see what this team can do," Dalton said of his reception. "I thought it was great. It wasn't any different from the way it's been since I've been here. I got a lot of cheers going out there. Hopefully we'll keep getting cheers when we're scoring touchdowns."

Of course, if he keeps playing like this they'll re- name Fountain Square after him. In two preseason games he's hit all but two of his 13 passes and is averaging an absurd 16.5 yards per pass for a passer rating of 144.4. Yes, it is preseason. But Saturday was also a Rex Ryan defense that can pick you apart and it was Dalton that did the picking.

The Jets were missing their top three cornerbacks, but the Bengals still had to give him time against their aggressive pass rushers. Against a defense where checks and calls have to be made liberally at the line of scrimmage, Dalton believes the third-and-five throw to wide receiver A.J. Green down a seam for 21 yards came off a check. On that play the coverage seemed to collapse on slot receiver Dane Sanzenbacher and left Green wide open, showing just how deadly is the duo of experience and opportunity.  

"There's certain things where I've got a lot of control at the line of scrimmage — getting us into the right play, getting us into the right look," Dalton said. "It's a big part of what we do. It allows us to really take advantage of certain looks we get."

Who wouldn't be having fun with all this? 

 "He's having fun," Jackson said. "He's leading an offensive team that he believes in and they believe in him. Guys are where they're supposed to be and guys are playing hard. When you're playing well and you're playing with confidence and assurance and you know how things are going to go, I think you play really well.  That's what you saw. I'm not surprised by anything he's doing because I watch him do it on the practice field.  The more the guys around him see how hard he works, they'll work harder for him."

Jackson thinks Dalton has got a kick out of training camp, where he's been able to dole out the ball to different guys. On Saturday his first four completions went to a running back (Bernard), a tight end (Jermaine Gresham), and two wide receivers in Sanu and Green.

"In training camp we started to see how fun and dynamic the offense could be with lot of different people in a lot of different places," Jackson said. "Jermaine Gresham, how about him making some plays? The ball gets spread around in our system. We don't throw the ball to just one guy and guys have a chance to make plays.  And when you get your number called, you have to make 'em. Mo Sanu."

Dalton says it's always been fun. But he admitted Saturday was pretty good.

"When you have a game like you did tonight, and you have teammates like I have, it's a lot of fun. It's not like it just started being fun; it's been fun since I've been here.," he said. "We're so close. That's why we're able to do certain things. Guys respect each other, guys trust each other. To be a really good offense and really good team, you need to have that continuity on the team. That's exactly what we have. We just have to keep building on it and keep having fun along the way."

One of those guys having a blast was left tackle Andrew Whitworth. After keeping him on ice for much of camp with a strained calf, the Bengals sent him out there for a quarter and he said it's the most he's played all summer.

"I enjoyed it," he said, and he was talking about the third-and-one touchdown in particular.

It was Whitworth leading the scrum on the left side and as Bernard gave a second and third effort against a Jets' front that allowed an NFL-low 3.4 yards per rush, so did the line that  kept driving enough not to get a whistle. He finally snuck in under left guard Clint Boling.

"That's about as ugly as the play could get. We just dug in and said there's no other option but getting into that end zone," Whitworth said. "That's got to be the kind of attitude and the kind of offense we're going to have to be to take this team where it needs to go."

Right tackle Andre Smith (concussion) was the only starter on the offensive line not in there, but it was Jackson's physical philosophy at the optimum.

"That's the mark of a good offensive football team. You find a way to get in," Jackson said, "Everybody punched in. Gio kept pushing, everybody finished in the end zone. Touchdown. That's what's it's all about."

Almost. Back in January, standing in the ashes of the loss to San Diego, Whitworth had said it wasn't all the quarterback's fault. He found himself a tad vindicated Saturday night.

"When other guys play well around him, he shines and sticks out," Whitworth said. "That's what we've said all along.  He carries a lot of weight, but the truth is, other guys have to play well for him to play well. When that happens, we're going to be good."

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