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Hidden heroes


Tight end Ryan Hewitt grabbed his first catch of 2015 and helped keep Andy Dalton clean

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. - At 6-0, the hidden game isn't so hidden.

The Bengals offensive line stepped out of the shadows Sunday and short-changed the Bills' famed "Quarter Billion Club," front four when they allowed no sacks and just one hit on quarterback Andy Dalton in a rich display of pass protection that may be unrivalled in the Marvin Lewis Era.

No one holds a Rex Ryan defense sackless at home, right?

Not only did the line not allow a sack, but they also managed to grind out four yards per carry on the ground in neutralizing feared tackles Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams. Williams left with a knee injury late in the game during an effort that was so complete the Bengals' work in the trenches left a lot of muttering in Ralph Wilson Stadium.

"To go into their stadium and be able to shut them out and kind of take them out of the game and keep Andy clean, that's a good statement, I think," said left guard Clint Boling. "It's just not us. Its Andy making the points, (center) Russell (Bodine) making the right calls and obviously getting rid of the ball. It's definitely something to be proud of."

And then there were the hidden yards in the kicking game. As in the Bengals allowed no return yards, contributing to the stunning average drive start of the Buffalo 15 for the Bills and their own 41 for the Bengals. Take another bow, Kevin Huber, who is punting his way back to the Pro Bowl. This time he drilled three darts that put the Bills on their 11, 13 and 4.

Throw in cornerback Darqueze Dennard's first NFL interception in place of injured slot cornerback Leon Hall (back), and the Bengals keep doing the quiet things that win championships.

Dennard, the Bengals' first-round pick of 2014, has been patiently waiting and Sunday he played the most of his career with 47 snaps for 67 percent of the plays. Last week during film study he saw the clip of Bills wide receiver Chris Hogan catching a 46-yarder deep down the field in the Bills' winning touchdown drive in Tennessee.

Cincinnati Bengal travel to face the Buffalo Bills in week 6 of the regular season

"(Hogan) No. 15 was the guy that ended the Titans game with a deep ball and he gave me the same release," Dennard said. "So I was looking for him to go. Then when I saw the ball in the air, I went up attacked it."

Backup Bills quarterback EJ Manuel underthrew it and Dennard had the position to play it.

"I'm still kind of shocked from it to be honest," Dennard said. "How many people can say they have an NFL interception?"

What isn't so hidden is the Bills defensive line appears on the verge of revolt. After the game left end Mario Williams sounded surprised he dropped into coverage so often and the contingent that supported Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson for the Bills head coaching job last offseason in part because he was going to keep Jim Schwartz as defensive coordinator is starting to grumble after just six Rex games.

But the Bengals had enough of their own problems to worry about coming out of the locker room after halftime. Despite dominating field position, the Bills had the momentum after scoring a late touchdown to cut it to 17-14. Yet the Bengals' decision to defer when they won the coin toss proved to be huge because they put the game away with back-to-back TD drives to open the half.

Four of the first eight plays came out of no huddle as they jump-started the momentum back in their favor, including the 42-yard ball to wide receiver Marvin Jones. Then on the next drive they went quickly on seven of the 12 plays for the TD that made it 31-14 with 1:42 left in the third quarter.

"They try to give confusing looks and when you go hurry-up, it takes those things away," Boling said. "Obviously tempo is a big part of our offense. Whenever we're able to do that, we're playing a lot better I feel like."

Another reason for the unease at the half came out of that startling gap in field position. They knew they should have scored more points. But when in years past they let bad karma envelop them, this year they're cutting through it.

 "The first half wasn't good at all. We could have done better," said left tackle Andrew Whitworth. "That end (at the half) where we didn't  take advantage of those opportunities, you could sit there and say you squandered a bunch of opportunities, this team is going to make a run, it's going to cost you. But we answered the bell in the second half and I think that kind of eliminated the 'Oh, we lost some opportunities there.'"

When the Bengals would go toe-to-toe with Ryan's defenses in Baltimore ten years ago, the Bengal that gave him the most fits was tight end Reggie Kelly. Kelly not only blocked like a tackle, he was smart enough to defuse a lot of the crazy blitzes by sorting people out.

Talk about hidden heroes. Tight end Ryan Hewitt isn't as big as Kelly, but he played a lot as the Bengals went with double tight ends a little more than they have with Hewitt taking nearly 40 percent of the snaps. Plus rookie tight end Tyler Kroft worked 14 snaps as the Bengals had no problems playing three tight ends at times and giving Ryan plenty of riddles to solve himself.

Hewitt even had his first catch of the season, a 16-yarder over the middle, but head coach Marvin Lewis praised him for multiple plays in the pass game.

As might be expected, the hidden heroes low-keyed the 6-0 start.

"Six-0 hasn't won us a thing," Whitworth said. "We've been better for six straight games at the end of the day. It doesn't win us anything."

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