Bengals ignore the 3-0 numbers

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Domata Peko is urging his teammates to ignore the noise surrounding the 3-0 start.

If the numbers don't lie and the pundits don't fib, then the Bengals are the best team in the NFL when it comes to the all-around game.

 Go to the last page of the NFL's weekly stat sheet where the league keeps the 34 major categories on offense, defense, and special teams and the Bengals are the only team that has at least one No. 1 ranking in all three phases as they head into this weekend's bye.

 On offense, they lead the NFL in yards per pass and fewest sacks allowed. On defense they lead in points allowed and in special teams they lead in defending net punt average and field goals.

Plus, they rank inside the top ten in 18 of the 34 categories to lead the league.

Throw in No. 1 rankings from national powerhouses like Sports Illustrated, USA Today and CBS Sports, and the veterans, at least the guys who were rookies the last time the Bengals were 3-0 in 2006, aren't buying a decimal point of it.

"We were supposed to be 0-16 three years ago,' said left tackle Andrew Whitworth. "For good or bad, those people aren't always right."

"There's a sign in our defensive meeting room that says, 'Ignore the noise,' and that means anything negative or positive," said defensive tackle Domata Peko. "We have to keep working, keep grinding."

Whitworth recalls how '06 ended and Peko remembers how it smelled.

"Even though that's the best start we've had," Whitworth said, "we needed the same kind of finish and we ended the year with three chances to make the playoffs and didn't get it. That's why myself and Domata and Rob (Geathers) are here. Make sure guys don't forget that."

Peko won't forget they needed just one win in the last three games of '06 to go to back-to-back postseasons and they lost three straight and only went to the drawing board. It is not lost on Whitworth that the 3-0 start faltered the next week against New England's Bill Belichick and Tom Brady and that the first game after the bye this season is a Sunday nighter (8 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 5) in Foxboro.

"We were smelling ourselves too much," Peko said of a team that handled success so badly it failed.

As impressive as this start has been (and you don't get any more impressive than a NFL-leading margin of 80-33 with 44-3 in the first half), a Marvin Lewis team has been here before.

Try '06, when the margin of victory in the first three games was 85-47 with a 49-13 spread in the first half. The Bengals have a plus-six turnover differential and its defense leads the league in passer rating at 56.9. Back in '06 the Bengals were at plus-five while holding quarterbacks to one touchdown and six picks for a 55.9 rating.

Quarterback Andy Dalton has been more efficient than he's ever been, second in the league with 8.6 yards per attempt with a career best completion percentage of 65.5. Back in the day in '06's first three games, Carson Palmer averaged 7.9 yards per throw while hitting 64.7 percent of his passes.

But the differences are apparent.

That was a gun-slinging team where Palmer has a thrown 23 more passes, been sacked 11 more times, and thrown three more interceptions after three '06 games. The mark of a good defense is third down, where the Bengals are fourth in the league at 31.7 percent while the '06 club, on its way to finishing 30th in defense, weighed in at 35 percent after the first three games.

The vets also know this isn't the '06 team beyond the Xs and Os, particulalry when it comes to professionalism and focus.

 "It's big-time different. The mentality, our chemistry is a lot better," Peko said. "And as far as both sides of the ball, they're both playing well. Back then, we were all about offense. Now it's offense, defense, and special teams."

Just like in the '14 home opener, the '06 Bengals suffered a spate of injuries. But everybody bounced back this time. In '06, center Rich Braham (knee), SAM linebacker David Pollack (neck), and wide receiver Tab Perry suffered career-ending injuries in Week Two.

And, after the 3-0 start, one of their best receivers, Chris Henry, was suspended two games for an off-field incident. This time, the Bengals figure to be getting back one of their best receivers, Marvin Jones, for the first time all year at 3-0.

"We were so beat up," Whitworth said. "I just watched tape of that New England game and there was nobody the same on the offensive line from the opener. That just goes to show you. You have to stay healthy and you have to keep playing well all year. You can't let up. October is a month for adjustments. Teams begin to find out who they are and you can't go off what you see in September. October is a big month. And then you have to take it to another level in November and December."

Despite last year's 4-1 record, October is Lewis' only losing month at 19-25.  He's 20-16 in September, 24-18-1 in November, and 28-24 in December.

"This is nothing more than having a good quarter," Whitworth said. "If you play lousy in the second, third, and fourth, it doesn't matter."

Dalton and the Bengals are going to have to answer the big-time questions this week about losing in prime time and the playoffs. He is 2-7 combined in both. But he's 33-18 in the regular season after Sunday's win over Tennessee, the second-winningest quarterback in the NFL next to New England's Tom Brady (39) since 2011. They also think the Opening Day win this year in Baltimore qualifies as a big game because it is the Green-Dalton's era first win in Baltimore.

"Over the last couple of years we've been winning the games like that, the ones we're supposed to win," Whitworth said of last Sunday's yeoman effort against Tennessee.  "It's more the big games we haven't shown up as well. We started our year in that game and we did show. That was taking another step and we have to be ready to take another step in New England."

But it sounds like the vets won't let them smell the roses.

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