Bengals aren't kidding around at 3-2

Bernard Scott

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The nerveless kids all of 23 years old are rubbing off on Marvin Lewis.

And that kid only a year older than the Jaguars punter, Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden, had a big day as well running when the Jags thought the Bengals would be passing.

As one Bengals fan texted postgame, "To quote The Who, The Kids are Alright."

With rookie quarterback Andy Dalton coolly sifting 11 of 16 passes for 94 yards and two touchdowns on third and fourth downs throwing to the picnic baskets of rookie wide receiver A.J. Green and second-year tight end Jermaine Gresham, it would turn any rocked-ribbed conservative NFL head coach into a riverboat gambler.

Two fourth-down throws added to the growing Dalton legend here Sunday when they paved the way for his second straight fourth-quarter comeback and the Bengals' third in the first five weeks of the season in a 30-20 victory here at EverBank Park.

The Red Rider has now shot down two teams in the fourth quarter with the placid calm of a professional hit. Throw in the Denver comeback that fell short and the second half has been as improbable as The Christmas Story.

"They just don't want to be told no; they keep playing," left tackle Andrew Whitworth said of the kids. "We continue to stay in games and not fall out of them. I told you before that some of these young guys don't know what it means to lose a lot of games in a row. You don't need that feeling. They just win games. They honestly believe they can win."

Lewis was left to shake his head over how Dalton has owned his first season. 

"I wish his demeanor would ever change, but it doesn't as you guys know," Lewis said. "He never changes. He's got some specialness about him that way."

Forget The Who. You may want to quote The Eagles. Are you sure they didn't have an NFL quarterback in mind when they penned that long-ago ode to the Dalton Gang?

"They were duelin', Doolin-Dalton / High or low, it was the same."

Dalton is now two wins away from the most wins ever by a Bengals rookie quarterback and in five starts he's already matched the two fourth-quarter comebacks Carson Comeback generated in his first season as a starter.

"His poise and his confidence just oozes out of him," said right guard Bobbie Williams, witnessing it for the first time in the regular season. "I'll pat him on the back, but we're going to keep him humble and hungry."

Green is on pace to have a better rookie year than Larry Fitzgerald and Calvin Johnson with 77 catches for 1,286 yards and 10 touchdowns and, yes, after five games he already has more yards than Chad Ochocinco had as a rookie with 402 after grabbing 90 more Sunday on five catches.

Gresham caught another touchdown and five more balls, including the gamebreaker on fourth-and-six in the game's winning drive, putting him on pace for the most TDs ever by a Bengals tight end with 10 as well as the most catches by one since Dan Ross' legendary 71 in 1981.

The man throwing them the ball doesn't have any numbers like that. He's on pace to throw as many interceptions as touchdowns and to throw for less than 3,500 yards. But he also is on pace to do what only Bengaldom's Holy Trinity of Ken Anderson and Boomer Esiason and Carson Palmer did and that's have a 10-win season.

What is fast becoming clear about Dalton is that he doesn't have to end up with the gaudy numbers of his receivers to get the quarterback stat of Ws.

"He's not playing like a kid," said Williams, the Bengals' oldest player at 35. "He's more like a vet."

In fact, Jaguars rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert looked prettier in the pocket, but he folded down the stretch on 4-of-8 passing in the fourth quarter with the only ball going longer than 10 yards a 74-yard touchdown on a blown coverage.

In fact, Dalton's biggest play of the game might have been his touchdown-saving cut tackle at the Bengals 2 on safety Dwight Lowery after Lowery picked him off. The Bengals held for a field goal to keep it at 10-7.

"That's the kind of attitude this team has," Dalton said. "A whatever it takes attitude. We don't care what happens early on. We just go out and play."

Gresham calls Dalton "gritty. He just gets the job done."

Gresham should know. After helping Dalton get out of trouble last Sunday in the fourth quarter on a third-and-eight when the play broke down, Gresham did it again on third-and-three with 21 seconds left in the half and the Bengals trailing, 13-7. Again Dalton had to scramble out of the pocket to the right. Again, Gresham broke off his route so he could get into Dalton's field of vision. Dalton pump-faked on the run with Gresham sliding into his third touchdown catch of the season.

"That was a good job by Andy; that was just him being a ballplayer," Gresham said. "You look back at the quarterback and if he's moving, you have to stay in the quarterback's vision. I was just being an outlet for him."

No such rescue job was needed on the mega fourth-and-six play from the Jags 19 with 3:53 left and the Bengals trailing, 20-16. Dalton saw that Gresham had outside leverage on the defense in the middle of the field, Dalton led him to the right and Gresham secured a nice catch with a leap.

Three plays later running back Bernard Scott scored on a two-yard run with 1:56 left and Lewis didn't have to get second-guessed. Before he made the fourth-down call, Gruden had been in his ear.

"Jay reminded me that even if we kicked the field goal at the end, we had to stop them," Lewis said. "He felt good about it and felt good about what we were doing offensively and we were able to convert it."

Gruden made a gutsy call himself on that Scott touchdown run, given that it was on third down. But he cleverly spread the field with three receivers and by putting both third-down backs in the game, Scott and Brian Leonard, plus Dalton in the shotgun. He had the Jags thinking pass on what turned out be an inside zone run in which the left side of the line allowed Scott to walk in.

Another Gruden brainstorm got Green open on the other huge fourth-and-six conversion, this one on the last drive of the first half from the Jags 34 with 1:56 left. This one wasn't much of a gamble since the swirling winds would have made Mike Nugent's 52-yard field goal virtually impossible.

But Gruden put Green in a semi-bunch formation in the slot and anything is possible.

"They were playing Cover 2 and they got me the ball and I was able to work the middle of the field," Green said. "My job is I have to go work the middle of the field a little bit."

But this is the first time, seemingly, since Browns safety Brian Russell drilled The Ocho into a concussion in 2006 that Cincinnati's top receiver has been so aggressive over the middle. Green doesn't mind. What-me-worry? He stands 6-4, runs like a watch and has the hands of a dream.

"He's a cut above most players in the league," Lewis said. "Nothing A.J does surprises the people that watch him every day."

The rapport with Dalton is cozy as evidenced by their 37-yard connection on third-and-17 that put the Bengals on the board in the first quarter. Green did his part with a double move through a zone and Dalton did his by getting enough time from the offensive line to pat the ball and patiently wait for the safety to get out of the play.

"We've got a lot of confidence in him," Dalton said. "He's done an outstanding job. If you get the ball close to him, he's going to make the catch. He makes my job a lot easier."

Green has been talking about the poise of Dalton and his team ever since he arrived. Sunday was another day. He shook his head and smiled as the media asked about another comeback.

"We don't flinch. It's amazing how young this team is and how we fight for each other. We see it every day in practice," Green said. "Everyone does well for their age. Andy handles himself so well in and out of the huddle."

Williams, playing his first regular-season game after serving a four-game NFL suspension, looked revived instead of gassed. Kids will do that to you.

"It's good to be back. It's priceless. Words can't describe it," said Williams, the only player left from Carson Palmer's offense that got those first two comeback wins in the first 12 games of 2004. "The only thing you can say is just build on it.

"It's a great feeling. It's different. It's fun."

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