Closing in on North; Dalton leaves it all; Too many men just enough; '06 revenge; Race is on

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TAMPA BAY,  Fla. - Straight from the Voice of the Bengals Dan Hoard after the Bengals went to 8-3-1 to secure a fourth straight winning season:

If the Bengals win two of their last four games,the other three teams in the AFC North would be eliminated from winning the division title with one loss.

DALTON LEAVES IT: Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton confirmed it after the game. It was the sickest he had ever taken the field and he had the stats to match in the wake of Sunday's 14-13 victory over the Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium.

But with the 8-3-1 Bengals in first place and 1.5-game up on the rest of the AFC North after everyone else lost, he never stood taller with an 18-12 road record.

"He was puking his guts up all over the place," said left tackle Andrew Whitworth. "Up until the point we walked out of the locker room, he was over a trash can. I think hats off to him for bowing his neck and being there for his team.

" That's why he's the guy. Most guys would chalk that one up to a day they couldn't play."

Dalton, who ended up with 176 yards passing on 19 of 27 passing and a 60.6 passer rating , didn't blame the three first-half interceptions on the 24-hour flu bug.

But he was gutsy enough to score on a five-yard TD run and his 13-yard TD pass to wide receiver A.J. Green late in the third quarter was enough to win it.

He said he felt fine until he left his hotel room Saturday night for meetings and he ended up getting very little sleep.

"I wanted to make sure I got everything out before I went on the field," said Dalton of his stop at the garbage can.

TOO MANY: The Bengals knew the Buccaneers  had too many men on the field even before Bucs quarterback Josh McCown threw a 21-yard completion to the Bengals 20 to wide receiver Louis Murphy with 12 seconds left to set up what looked to be the winning field goal.

"We were trying to match up the personnel and there was one of too many," said head coach Marvin Lewis.

Up in the booth, linebackers coach Matt Burke screamed it out and on the field left end Carlos Dunlap was screaming at the official.

"They tried to get on the ball quick and they still had 12 men," Dunlap said. "Our sideline was yelling it. I told the first ref I could see."

Lewis, a member of the NFL competition committee, threw the challenge flag knowing he couldn't challenge it because it was in the last two minutes, when a play can only be challenged by the replay officials upstairs. But he also knew the rule had been changed and wouldn't be penalized, but would only lose a timeout.  

As more than one Bengal said in the locker room, "I guess we're living right."

RACE IS ON: It was the anti-Bengaldom win. The screwy game that always seems to go the other way.

But….

Of course Whitworth had a sinking feeling when the score was 14-13. That was the score of the 2006 loss here when he was a rookie, one of the most sickening losses of that season, when they missed the playoffs by a game. That's when an end-of-game sack of Bruce Gradkowski by Bengals right end Justin Smith was called roughing the passer in the last minute and the Bucs scored a TD on their last snap to win it.

Like '06, the Bengals are trying to run through the NFC South with games in New Orleans and Tampa. This year they swept them. For the first time in club history Sunday, they won their third straight on the road in three weeks and head coach Marvin Lewis has now beat every team in the NFL but the Bengals.

"I had a bad feeling," Whitworth said. "But this year has been a kind of a year that's the same season as my rookie season.  It's a year for making up for things that have happened to us.  I did have that feeling something would go our way."

The Bengals were told after the game they were the only AFC North team to survive Sunday.

"That's what I heard. That's amazing. That's another, 'Whhw," said right end Wallace Gilberry, heaving his second big sigh of the day. "It creates a little breathing room for ourselves. But at the end of the day, Pittsburgh is coming in this week. That's going to be another battle in the trenches."

"That tie hurt us," Dunlap said. "Now we're flipping it. To win three straight on the road is huge."

PEKO CHECK: Defensive tackle Domata Peko says his elbow will be fine after he missed the second half. He left the locker room wearing a sling.

TIP TO MIKE: Remember when former Bengals defensive end Michael Johnson ended last season's win over Green Bay with a fourth-down tipped pass of Aaron Rodgers. With Johnson on the other sideline Sunday, one of his best friends, Dunlap, knocked down Josh McCown's third-down pass with 4:11 left and just a few yards away from the winning field goal at the Bengals 42.

Told that was Michael Johnson-esque, cornerback Leon Hall said, "No, that was Carlos Dunlap-esque. Go back and look at the games we've won and he's made some huge plays."

Dunlap and Johnson and all the rest spoke before the game and had the obligatory picture taken at the end of it. The two re-affirmed their sacks challenge and, for the record, Dunlap and defensive tackle Geno Atkins split the only Bengals sack, and Johnson had none. Dunlap had the one pass defensed and Johnson had none.

"I couldn't get a rush and he was about to throw it," said Dunlap of a play the Bengals' had an all-out blitz. "I did the next best thing I could do."

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