The Bengals record book is beckoning Tyler Eifert.
After Sunday's stunning 27-24 victory over Seattle that was defined by Tyler Eifert's equally as stunning diving catch to help get them into overtime, the Gronk references were flying in the locker room. High praise for the Bengals' third-year tight end who believes New England's Rob Gronkowski is the best tight end in the game.
"When we were watching Seattle on tape we were looking at some clips from the Super Bowl," Eifert says. "You can't help but watch some offense. Especially when you see a guy like that who is such a great player."
But Eifert isn't looking to re-make himself into a Patriotic icon.
Marvin Lewis Community Fund host Hometown Huddle event at William Howard Taft Elementary School in Cincinnati, OH. 10/13/2015
"I don't look at a person and say I want to be that person or player," Eifert says before Wednesday's practice. "I have confidence in myself and I just want to be the best player I can be for the team."
So they may not have "The Gronk." Maybe "Zonk."
Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson lines up Eifert everywhere, including at the Z receiver. He has zipped up the seam to catch most of his five touchdowns, which leads all tight ends, one ahead of Gronkowski. And it turns out he catches everything including Zs.
"A big napper," says left tackle Andrew Whitworth, who should know because Eifert lived with his family for a good portion of his rookie year.
What exactly do we have here?
"He's a great kid. Real respectful," Whitworth says. "He stayed pretty much from the draft to almost midseason. He's from a family of four kids and I think he liked being around all that. He still comes over and visits and gets something to eat and all that good stuff. The kids love him."
If Gronkowski is the TMZ tight end, Eifert is The Middle's tight end via Fort Wayne and Notre Dame. If Gronkowski is caught on camera dancing shirtless with hard core bands and women, Eifert is hanging out with friends like country music promoter Brian O'Connell and the women are wondering what he looks like without a shirt.
As one teammate said after a pre-game set of calisthenics, "You wouldn't believe what they say to him from the stands."
"He's always on TV. It seems like it's a pretty crazy life. Looks like a lot of fun," Eifert says of Gronk. "I like to have fun. I haven't been in the spotlight. I don't have people following me around taking pictures when I'm out. I'm a normal dude that likes to have fun, but who can also be serious at the same time."
What they've got here is something else. Here's a guy on pace to have the best season of any Bengals tight end ever, a position festooned with ten Pro Bowls. With five touchdowns he's looking at Rodney Holman's nine in 1989 and with 24 catches for 312 yards he's looking at the late great Dan Ross' 71 for 991 in 1981.
There are no surprises here. Jackson has said he's arguably the best tight end he's ever been around. Quarterback Andy Dalton has been referencing his high-flying days at South Bend ever since Eifert got here with the first pick in 2013. Whitworth remembers the stories out of the draft room that year when they were virtually dancing on the tables when they got Eifert with the 21st pick.
It is not an overstatement to say he has single-handedly changed the character of this offense. Maybe not as much as when four-time Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green arrived in 2011, but he has certainly made life easier for Green.
Just look at Jackson's dizzying revolving door of formations and Dalton's 9.5 yards per attempt. He's never come close to that but, then, he's never had a tight end like Eifert.
"Tyler's such a special player, so he allows us to do a lot of different things," Dalton says. "He matches up well against a lot of different players that they try to put on him. Sometimes it's a corner, sometimes it's a safety, sometimes it's a linebacker, you never know. But we feel like just his presence out there can change things up. It showed in the game on Sunday. He was able to get open in the seam a couple times for two big scores that we needed to have."
And they just seem to be scratching the surface with him. Bengals radio analyst Dave Lapham believes he can be a factor this week in Buffalo (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 12) with Rex Ryan's crazy blitzes looming.
"This is his first year where he's the man at that spot, so he's really just getting started," Whitworth says. "He's got a great personality, but I think the more he plays, the more you'll see his personality. He handles the spotlight really well. He gets it."
His teammates love his sense of humor, which he admits borders on "wise ass." He's the best golfer on the team with drives that threaten 300 yards and a needle just as long.
Like the time he was playing in Cincinnati with his cousin and they waited the appropriate 10 minutes to tee off at a blind green. Long enough, they figured, so that they didn't have to ring the bell to warn the group ahead of them. But when Eifert nearly drove the green, they were met by a stern lecture. Eifert promptly went back to the tee box and rang the bell for a good 15 seconds.
But he's easy-going enough that Whitworth calls him "a surfer dude."
"Yeah, some people say I've got some Cali in me," Eifert says. "But I'm a Midwest dude. I'm a grounded person. We make our own fun. Hunt and fish. Golf. Hang out on the lake with my family. That's my life."
When he's not going to concerts. They range from Luke Bryan to Darius Rucker, performers he's met through O'Connell.
"Darius is a great guy. Marvin (Lewis) knows him, too, so it's been fun to get to know him,' he says.
But if the first five games have shown anything, Eifert is far from easy going on the field. He's a tenacious competitor and has the knack for the jugular. Safety George Iloka calls him one of the top tight ends in the league who gives him a great look in practice when he's preparing for the enemy tight end.
"My favorite Eifert story is from his rookie year," Whitworth says of the day in Detroit he was lined up as fullback at times blocking ferocious Pro Bowl linebacker DeAndre Levy.
"Levy is just livid at Eifert for cutting him," Whitworth says. "Tyler comes back to the huddle saying, 'He's so mad at me right now. I don't understand why this guy is so mad . . .'"
What do we have here?
If Eifert is learning about the league, so too the league is learning about Eifert.
"He loves to play. He loves to compete," Whitworth says. "And he's really good at it."
For now, Eifert is content to watch Gronkowski on tape and on TV.
"I wouldn't be a fan of getting followed everywhere," Eifert says.
But defenses are going to start to have other ideas.