NEW ORLEANS - This is why we call it the Green-Dalton Era.
With the Bengals all but pundit-ed out of the AFC North race ten days ago, they are back in first place in time for Sunday dinner after Green and Dalton took over the game early in the fourth quarter of the 27-10 victory over the Saints at the Superdome. Green converted two third downs for a total of 56 yards off a floater and bullet from Dalton and then fried the Saints' best cornerback when he ran past Keenan Lewis for a 24-yard touchdown catch that put it away with 11:29 left in the game.
In true Dalton fashion he followed up the 2.0 against Cleveland with a career-best passer rating of 143.9 on 16 of 22 dart-throwing for 220 yards and three touchdown passes. Green finished with 127 yards on six catches, his biggest output since he had 131 in the opener. In the last two games, he had a total of six catches for 67 yards.
Dalton thanked former Bengals quarterback Boomer Esiason for calling him last week and Green thanked offensive coordinator Hue Jackson for challenging him so openly and boldly that he couldn't remember the last time someone had spoken to him like that.
"He said, 'Go play your game,'" Dalton said of his conversation with Esiason. "'Get this thing going. Don't let that Thursday game mean anything. Get everybody going because we're talented.' It meant a lot to me. I'm glad he reached out. He's somebody I can talk to."
Green admitted he hasn't been himself since he came back from his toe injury on Nov. 2 against Jacksonville. In his third game back, he found him.
"Coach Hue wanted me to get back to the old A.J. Be great. Dominate my man every play," Green said. "Nobody has said that to me in a long time. I took that to heart. I came out there and worked my butt off last week and it showed today."
Jackson has challenged him before.
"But not like that," Green said. "I realy felt that one. I take pride in my work and winning. We didn't win last week and I didn't play well. I knew a lot of it was on my shoulders."..
That goal-line stand? Bengals linebacker Vincent Rey agrees. It could change a season. To puncuate their most brilliant effort of the season, they stoned the NFL's second best offense four times from the 3 early in the second quarter to wreck the Saints.
"This is a game of momentum, but it's a long season," Rey said. " I'll say, 'Yeah.' To go on the road and win in this stadium where a lot of people don't win, it can really catapult us forward. Especially going into this week of practice."
The Bengals defense was clearly sick and tired of being trashed. The four snaps reflected how the league's next-to-last rush defense shut down the Saints' No. 6 running attack on just 2.9 yards per carry on 26 tries. Saints running back Mark Ingram had just 2.9 despite 23 carries, so his 4.8 yard per average is going to take a hit.
"In our heads, we were just saying, 'They're not going to score. We cannot let them score,'" Rey said. "So we just got lined up and saw our reads and flew downhill for the ball. When we saw pass, we flew to our keys and got to our man. I just remember getting off the field and running to the sideline. Happy." ....
It took 46 years to do it, but running back Jeremy Hill did it. With his 152 yards on 27 carries coming two weeks after he went for 154 against Jacksonville, Hill became the first rookie to have two 150-yard games since Paul Robinson did it for the 1968 inaugural Bengals ...
Clearly the return of middle linebacker Rey Maualuga energized the run defense as he returned for the first time in four games from a hamstring injury. He teamed with safety Shawn Williams to stop Saints fullback Erik Lorig for a one-yard loss on the fourth-and-one when quarterback Drew Brees had to throw it in the flat.
"No. 1, it was great just having him in the huddle. Having his face in the huddle," Rey said. "And No. 2 I think everyone who watched the game saw how much he comes down hill. He's s a great anticipator. He sees the ball, goes. He can lay the wood, man. I know other team really felt it."
Rey and his mates thought a harder practice week where they went full speed in pads and did everything but put the ball carrier on the ground was a big reason for how crisply and well they played.
"We don't (usually) treat practice like that because you won't be ready for the games," Rey said. "But this week we said we're going to treat practice like a game. I think that's what we'll do this coming week, also." …
The Bengals' two kids responded on defense when injuries took out right end Margus Hunt with an ankle injury on the last play of the first quarter and cornerback Leon Hall went out with a sore Achilles in the fourth quarter.
Third-round pick Will Clarke basically ended the game when the rookie right end hopped on a fumble forced by left end Carlos Dunlap at the Bengals 33 on the first play after the two-minute warning. With the Bengals already down starting cornerback Terence Newman, they fended off Brees in the fourth quarter with first-round pick Darqueze Dennard in the slot and Dre Kirkpatrick teaming with Adam Jones on the outside. Dennard, who came into the game with just 34 snaps from scrimmage, defended wide receiver Marques Colston deep down the middle on third-and-12 to force a punt with 7:51 left. On the previous play Kirkpatrick covered Colston on an incompletion.
Hall has had two ruptured Achilles in the last three years, but the Bengals said he could have gone back in the game and didn't return because the coaches chose to rest him. He came off the field in socks, but didn't look to be limping or in pain...
Although backup defensive tackle Devon Still didn't play for the first time in eight games Sunday, he got one of the loudest cheers of the day. The Saints showed a video honoring him and daughter Leah Still's efforts for pediatric cancer during the first half. Still, in Bengals sweats on the sidelines, waved to the crowd when the video ended in a wall of cheers.