To Carlos Dunlap, the relentlessly-athletic Bengals left end, the officials in Seattle on Sunday seemed to be as concerned about his uniform as they were making sure Seahawks right tackle James Carpenter wasn't holding him.
They kept telling him to pull up his socks and tuck in his jersey, and in the end Dunlap pulled down Seahawks quarterback Tarvaris Jackson to tuck away the game late because his first sack of the season set up Brandon Tate's 56-yard punt return that sealed the 34-12 victory with 3:22 left.
"Four of those five guys are first-rounders, right?" Dunlap said Monday of Seattle's offensive line. "I guess we wanted to show they should have drafted us first."
This was the anti-Mel Kiper Jr. game. The only players in the deep, talented and fast becoming notorious Bengals eight-man defensive line rotation drafted before any of Seattle's starting offensive line were Dunlap and right end Michael Johnson. Only right guard John Moffett, taken with the 75th pick in this year's third round, isn't a first-rounder or second-rounder on that Seattle line.
Carpenter went with the 25th pick this year, left tackle Russell Okung went sixth the year before, and left guard Robert Gallery went second in 2004. Center Max Unger went in the second round of 2009 at No. 49, but they were all taken ahead of Dunlap, the game's most dominant man in the trenches Sunday that came to the Bengals in the 2010 second round with the 54th pick.
Certainly Carpenter didn't have a very good day in which Dunlap emerged with five pressures as well as his sack. Bengals radio analyst Dave Lapham openly wondered why Carpenter wasn't called for holding more than the one time the officials nailed him.
And the mid-draft Bengals linemen, along with seventh-rounder Jon Fanene, handed it to the higher draft picks all day long. Along with Dunlap, the line got sacks from end Frostee Rucker, the 91st pick in the 2006 third round, and tackle Geno Atkins, fourth-rounder last year, while holding Seattle to 3.1 yards per rush.
(If it was the anti-Kiper game, it was also the classic Marvin Lewis game. It doesn't matter where you're drafted but what you do when you get here.)
"When you're a defensive lineman and you see stats like that," Dunlap said of Seattle's next-to-last ranking in allowing sacks per pass, "your mouth waters."
The 6-6, 290-pound Dunlap, still growing at age 22, thinks the relative anonymity of this unit as well as his entire team has helped change the character of a team that went winless last October and is now in the playoff race at 5-2 after a perfect one.
"The fact we're all young and no one has a name for themselves, everyone wants to make a name for this team," Dunlap said. "All the young guys, which (are) the core of our team right now, we all come from winning universities. We know how to win. All we want to do is just bring that aspect to help this team become one of those winning teams. I feel like we're starting to get everything into place."
After picking up all 9.5 of his sacks in the final eight games last season playing primarily on third down, Dunlap decided things would be a lot easier for him if he could also play on running downs since teams would have a tougher time game-planning for him.
The numbers say he's done it. Heading into Sunday's game he and Michael Johnson led the Bengals ends in snaps played for a defense ranked second in the NFL allowing rushing yards and average per rush. That didn't change after Dunlap figured he played about 40 of the plays in Seattle, where not only did the Bengals hammer the quarterbacks for 12 pressures but they made big Marshawn Lynch run sideways on 16 carries for 24 yards.
"One of my goals this offseason was to become an every-down guy," Dunlap said. "We've got a strong eight-man rotation where everybody can play the pass and run. I worked on it a lot more. I got more knowledgeable at it, seeing the veterans do it, working at that a lot more. Not that I didn't work at it before, but I strive to make a big difference on that than I did the year before."
Now the Bengals have a huge chore Sunday in Tennessee with 2,000-yard back Chris Johnson leering at them on the ground. Johnson has done virtually nothing this season compared to his past exploits and in years past the Bengals would be on the defensive about him breaking out against them.
Now, they're just playing defense.
"We're all in it together; that's a big difference from this year to last year," Dunlap said. "Everyone is playing for one another. We're worried about letting the man next to you down. That's how you have a great football team."
Not that Dunlap is forgetting about sacks completely. He shook his head knowing that it took him 16 pressures before he got that first sack in the seventh game. But he also knows last year all his sacks came in that streak of the last eight games.
"Get that first one out of the way, that opens your eyes," he said. "I feel like now that I've got that out of the way the next few will come easier."