Let's get right to the ESPN Magazine cover photo, how did it come about?
"I did it one morning, don't know if it was last week or two weeks ago. Didn't take that long -- it was like 30 minutes or something. They took a bunch of pictures and I guess they decided what was the best. I thought it looked all right."
What kind of feedback have you gotten over it?
"I think everybody's talking about my hair in the picture. I think that's the one thing that everybody seems to be focusing on this year is my hair, for whatever reason. I understand the color, I've gotten that one a lot. But now I've got the style down and everybody wants to talk about it. It is what it is. It's been a lot of fun."
What's the wildest comment you've gotten about the hair?
"Oh I don't know. There's a lot of people, wanting to figure out how I do my hair and wanting to copy the style, which is a cool thing."
How do you keep it looking that way even after you take your helmet off?
"It's a secret. It's what I do. I think it's just the product that I've got. It just works. I don't know."
Have you seen "The Year Without A Santa Claus?")
"I haven't, but I'm sure I've seen some pictures on Twitter or something that people have put me next to. Usually I get put next to anybody with red hair, but then somebody with hair that's standing up"
Is this the year without a playoff loss?
"I think our focus right now is getting to nine wins. We'll handle the playoff things whenever that time comes. We've done enough so far to win every game, and our goal is to keep doing that."
Does your wife Jordan ever show you some of the tweets?
"We talking about the hair now? What are we talking about?"
The new hair look … .
"The funny thing is, people will say, 'Oh, this is the new hairstyle,' and then they'll post a picture of me from last year. I kind of had a similar hairstyle last year, but now all of a sudden it's become a big deal."
Why do you have a hat on covering it today?
"Well, it doesn't look good right now. I didn't get it ready for today."
Is it tough to keep a sense of rhythm with big gap between games?
"Yeah, the schedule's been different but for us, the focus has been the same. We feel good about where we are. We didn't feel like there was any kind of lull coming out of the bye. For us, we just got to keep playing the way we been playing and push to be better."
Regarding Tyler Eifert in the red zone, how long does it take you to get comfortable and trust somebody?
"I think it just come with reps. For him, a guy that's got a great feel for the windows and knowing when to go up and make catches. I think it takes a little bit of time to get used to each other but when you've got a guy like that who's doing it right all the time and has such a good feel for the game, it makes it easier."
Does it alter your thinking when you see where J.J. Watt is lined up each play?
"He's such a good player, you've got to know where he is. He does so much, He runs down running backs on the backside of runs, he jumps around and makes big plays. Even in the pass game, when he's not getting to the quarterback, him sitting back and knowing when to time jumps and bat balls down. A lot of stuff that he does is really good. He's a dominant player, one of the most dominant players in this game. We understand that. We know what we're going up against."
Watt says he doesn't really focus on the QB that much, but evidently you pay close attention to him?
"Yeah, it's a little different. He has to just come at me. The defensive line knows the spot where the quarterback's going to set up, and so he moves all over the place and does a lot of different things. I definitely have to take notice of what he's doing."
Are you aware there's a podium-fashion power ranking about how quarterbacks look postgame?
" I'm not aware of that, no. I understand that usually people dress up for their postgame. Is there a ranking?"
There really are people who rank these things
"Yeah? Where did I fit in? You've obviously seen this. Was I up there?"
You were OK, but not up there with Brady …
"Well, that makes sense."
When you come into the league, do you become aware that what you wear to these things gets talked about?
"Yeah, especially here. On the road, I'm going to be dressed up probably a little more than I am at home, just the natural thing: You can be more comfortable and relaxed at home. But on the road, we have specific rules for how we need to dress."
It seems like on the road, guys try to out-dress the other ones?
"There's a lot of people that have a good sense of fashion. So the weeks that you travel, I think people try to bring it out as much as they can. It is what it is."
How has your fashion sense evolved?
"I think my clothes are fitting a little bit better than they did my first year. I think it's gotten a little bit better. Who would have thought of these conversations we'd be having Week 9 or Week 10, talking about my hair and the clothes that I wear. Is this all right? They're Bengals issued."
Was beating Houston last year meaningful for you?
"It was cool last year because not only the win in Houston, I had all my family there, but it was also my dad's birthday. So after the game I gave him the jersey and everything, which was a cool moment. So that one was special just from all the different things that had gone on."
Have you done that before?
"Once. I've got plenty of jerseys that they've got but after a game when he was right there to give it to him in Houston, it was pretty cool."
Does he wear it around the house?
"He doesn't wear it, no. It's been framed."
Is there something special to beating Houston here on Monday night?
"Obviously I grew up in the Houston area and I watched the Texans ever since they came around. We've had a lot of different games against them. To get the win last year was big just because we'd never beaten them before. This one's big. It is Monday night, it's the next one on the schedule and it's going to help us with our future goals."
Does winning a few in prime time help you get past those questions about struggling in prime- time games?
"Yeah I think so. I think we're starting to silence that one. I don't think we're getting that question as much. I think we've covered it all."