New England's Tom Brady is the only quarterback with more wins since 2011 than the Bengals' Andy Dalton.
They can gripe about the lack of a fourth Super Bowl in New England for head coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady, but the numbers still say they are the NFL gold standard. In the last decade the Patriots have compiled the NFL's best home record (.850) and best road record (.700) in pursuit of that one remaining Vince Lombardi Trophy.
But there is the pitter-patter of little feet in the AFC from the Green-Dalton Bengals. Since they came into the NFL in 2011, quarterback Andy Dalton has more wins (33) than any other quarterback but Brady (39) as the Patriots head into Monday night's game in Kansas City.
As Dalton steers the AFC's New Kids In Town into the next Sunday Night Football game against the Pats (8:30-Cincinnati's Channel 5) in the Foxboro firing line, his 15-10 road record is best among every active quarterback in the last 51 games but Brady's 17-9.
"The crowd is going to be into it, you have to know that. You can't let the nerves, the energy you have going into it affect too much," said Dalton Monday as the Bengals returned from their bye week.
"There's going to be more going on on the road, but you just have to go out and play your game and feel comfortable doing it. I don't know what my numbers are on the road, but at one point in my rookie year we (won) more games on the road (five) than at home (four). You can't worry about all the stuff around you, just focus on you."
That's the mantra as Bengals deal with the specter of prime time that has had more ghosts than HD. The past and the hype are dead to them. Since 2011 the Bengals are 2-4 on national TV and Dalton hasn't been the 1 p.m. Dalton. He's hit 56 percent of his passes, has as many TDs as picks (five) and is averaging just 5.5 yards per attempt.
But he's in a different offense now and being asked to do different things. His 8.6 yards per attempt lead the league, his 65.5 completion percentage is a career best and in the top half of the league, and his interception percentage is in the top ten.
And already this year Dalton has a road win against a team that has won more than 77 percent of its home games the last decade when his 77-yard touchdown pass to A.J. Green with just less than five minutes left in the opener silenced Baltimore's M&T Bank Stadium.
That's what left tackle Andrew Whitworth alluded to last week when he talked about a team that has wiped the slate clean and is building off the win against the Ravens.
"Over the last couple of years we've been winning the games like that, the ones we're supposed to win," Whitworth said of the 33-7 rout of Tennessee Sept. 21 that sent them into the bye. "It's more the big games we haven't shown up as well. We started our year in that game and we did show. That was taking another step and we have to be ready to take another step in New England."
A victory over the Belichick-Brady Patriots is one of the biggest for the Green-Dalton Bengals, a 13-6 slugfest last season that came 364 days before this one and knocked New England from the ranks of the unbeaten. The Pats were on the road and didn't have two of their best players in defensive tackle Vince Wilfork and tight end Rob Gronkowski. Now the world is a bit upside down. They're at home with Wilfork and Gronkowski and it is the Bengals that come in unbeaten.
Which fits into the Bengals mindset.
As if wiping the slate clean, head coach Marvin Lewis has tweaked his schedule this week and moved back the schedule a few hours to get his team into the rhythm of a night game. The Bengals usually go at 1 p.m., but on Monday they had a 3 p.m. practice and they'll go at 4 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday. They've moved their 11 a.m. Friday practice to 1 p.m.
"We're just trying to put our guys in a good position so they can play at their best between 8:30 and 11:30 p.m.," said Chip Morton, the Bengals head strength and conditioning coach. "We've talked to a lot of people smarter than us. It's not a drastic thing. It's adjusting the body clock with sleep. We're just nudging it."
Anything but turning the clock back for these Bengals.
"Last year doesn't matter,' said defensive lineman Wallace Gilberry, who led the charge on Brady last year with 1.5 sacks. "We're a totally different team and I'm sure they're a totally different team. That mindset (about the past) is gone. The guys now just do our job and when we do that, we have the coaching and the physicality to make something happen. "
Whitworth first played against Wilfork when he was a rookie in 2006 and he has seen some good teams melt against the professionalism of the Patriots. But he doesn't catch that this season.
"With the team we have this year, years before don't matter," Whitworth said. "I think this team sometimes worried about years before too much. Now, what we're focused on is having the best team on the field Sunday."
Dalton has put up numbers that would suggest these Bengals aren't as haunted by the past as they used to be. He has beaten guys like Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger and Joe Flacco and if he has yet to beat Peyton Manning, then he's right behind him when it comes to active quarterbacks with the best winning road percentages with at least 25 road starts. Brady leads at .680 (66-31), then there is Manning at .636 (77-34), and then there is Dalton at .600.
So he actually embraces the moment.
"It's cool to go into this game because 20 years from now I can say, 'Yeah, we went up to Foxboro and played Brady,' and talk about all the stuff that went on," Dalton said. "From that aspect it's cool to know you're getting to play against of the best to ever play the position. But at the end of the day I don't get to go against their offense.
"At the end of the day, you're not going against the quarterback, but everybody is going to compare you to the other quarterback. Anytime you can win against guys like that, it's big. It shows what this team is capable of doing. I've got a lot of confidence. You go into those games expecting to win."