* Andy Dalton's 107.4 passer rating leads the NFL.*
Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis plastered the locker room monitors last week with pictures of what would be a hit with Cincinnati school kids everywhere if they actually existed: lunch boxes adorned with a Bengals B.
The Bengals lunch bucket is a figment of Lewis' imagination but it has come to life so well in the personality of his team it could be their new logo. After Sunday's 37-3 demolition of the Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium, the Bengals have methodically built their record to the best ever in the history of the franchise at 10-2 and have burrowed into the AFC's first seed by keeping their head down and punching the clock.
That's right. In the wake of the Eagles' conquest of the 10-2 Patriots, if the season ended today, according to NFL.com, the Bengals would get a bye in the playoffs and then host the lowest seed in the playoffs.
"Our goals were a lot bigger than Cleveland," said left tackle Andrew Whitworth. "It's about us. What kind of standard are we holding ourselves to? How do we play? And those things take care of themselves."
The Lunch Bucket Bengals, who wear down teams with an assembly line of diverse offense and relentless pass rushers no matter the foe, are very much the Green-Dalton Bengals. Sure, Lewis is the embodiment of the AFC North as a Pittsburgh native, a Baltimore veteran, and Cincinnati's most successful head coach ever.
But the Bengals' personality is formed from the unruffled Dalton and the impassive Green. The Bengals are on the verge of making the playoffs every year they've led the team. That's five years now and it's no coincidence that the tie for the best record ever came on a day Dalton and Green reached several huge five-year milestones.
His 57-yard bomb to Green running down the left sideline to set up the first touchdown gave Dalton more than 3,000 yards passing this season. Only he and Payton Manning have done it in each of their first five seasons.
By the end of the first half, he had hit Green with a 23-yard touchdown pass and Green had his fifth 1,000-yard season. Only he and Randy Moss have done that in each of their first five years.
Punch in. Dalton 14 of 19 for 220 yards, two touchdowns, and his second best passer rating ever of 146.8 as he adds to his NFL-best 107.4 for the season, a point ahead of old friend Carson Palmer. Punch in. Green had five catches for 128 yards for his third 100-yard game of the season. Punch out. Green and Dalton. Punch in. Dalton and Green. Punch out. They abhor drama and embrace diligence.
"Randy Moss is definitely one of the people I look up to as someone who played the position," Green said. "It's great to be in the conversation with one of the best to ever play."
As usual, Dalton didn't have much to say after it was over. That's his style and it has become the style of his team. The only time you see them on NFL.com is when they have the AFC's top seed.
"We understand this team and understand the guys and guys are playing for each other. Which is a lot of fun to see. We have to keep it up," Dalton said. "For me to start right away and for him to be our No. 1 guy, it's what you set out to do. You want A.J. to have big numbers and catch touchdowns and that stuff. It's not about the stats, but it's cool that the work we put in and continue to put in shows up with stuff like that. To have our names with those two guys is pretty special."
Dalton just finds a way. Don't look now, but he joined the 3,000-yard club on the day he won his 50th game and became only the fourth quarterback since the 1970 merger to hit that number in his first five seasons. Just like he scored Sunday's first touchdown of the game, when he sent four receivers split to his left and as the Browns scrambled to adjust, he called his own number and went right up the middle to score a three-yard touchdown. Watch Pro Bowl safety Tashaun Gipson trying to get the perimeter guys squared away, only to see the snap catch him looking the other way when Dalton squirmed in behind his back.
Simply by coolly counting the number of defenders in the box.
"We had numbers and I got in there," Dalton said.
It also marked his 24th road victory, setting a record for all quarterbacks in the Super Bowl era in the first five seasons of a career, and reflects the kind of focus the two have brought to their job their team. The Bengals are 24-14 on the road since they arrived. In the previous five seasons they were 12-28.
"When we go one the road, we have that extra focus," Dalton said. "We have been able to do that since I've been here and we need to keep that going."
And then there is just Green's flat-out brilliance. He's so good he caught flak from Dalton for allowing Browns cornerback Tramon Williams to trip him up at the 22-yard line on the 57-yarder when it looked like he was going to take the go ball and run away and hide.
"I kept telling him I was mad at him. I told him I might not throw him another ball," Dalton joked. "It didn't take me long to go back to him. He made a good play, I wish he would have picked his feet up just a little bit more, but it was a big play."
His 20-yard catch that put the ball inside the one-yard line to set up the touchdown that made it 27-3 shows you their chemistry. Seeing that the struggling Williams was one-on-one on Green working down the left sideline, Dalton hung it up toward his back shoulder and Green leaped high, caught it, and somehow knifed his feet around so they would tiptoe in bounds.
"He just gave me a chance to go up there and make the play," Green said. "That's the trust we have. That's chemistry. That's the way it's been the last couple of years. It's grown ever year."
Dalton can only shake his head at the things No. 18 does.
"He has such good body awareness," Dalton said. "He knows when to get his toes down. That catch showed that right there. To go up and make that play and to get his two feet in, it was a big play."
Green thinks that the much maligned Dalton is going to get his due.
'He's a great quarterback. He's one of the best," Green said. "There's a not a championship yet, but that's all he needs to be labelled one of the best who ever played."
Remember when Dalton and Green came into the season with the most interceptions for a combo since 2011? Now they longer have to force it with other weapons around.
"What's nice is A.J. is not our only guy. We have some many other guys that can make plays," Dalton said. "Look at Marvin (Jones) today, he had a big (21-yard) touchdown catch. I have to understand that if he is covered, he is not really covered, but it's knowing when to take the chance."
Or, like Green says, "You can't key on just me."
Now the Bengals are one of the keys to the AFC playoff picture.
"It's a blessing to be 10-2. If Coach told us after 12 games we'd be 10-2 earlier in the year, everybody would raise their hand and say, 'Yeah, I'll take it,'" said nose tackle Domata Peko. "We're here now. We have to keep our eye on the prize and the prize is winning our division first and hoping we play for a championship.
"We're not going to let (Cleveland's) problems be our problems. We come into every game ready to win and going into the game thinking we're going to win. And our team is playing with confidence. That's what we want to see. It was great to take care of business."
Green says 10-2 gets them "nothing." Dalton would agree.
"10-2," Dalton said, "gives us a chance to be 11-2."
Cincinnati Bengals travel to Cleveland to play the Browns in week 13 of the regular season 12/06/2015