Anyone notice that since head coach Marvin Lewis challenged quarterback Andy Dalton and middle linebacker Rey Maualuga during the bye week that they've had three of their best games of the season?
While being named captains in all three games since the bye, Dalton has delivered touchdowns nine out of 12 times in the red zone while Maualuga has led the team in tackles in each game and the defense has allowed one touchdown in the last two games.
"Who's to say if it did or didn't?" Dalton asked back this week when asked if it has made a difference in his play. "That's one thing he's done. He's taken me and Rey and he's made us both captains ever since that. I think it's good. Obviously it was kind of crazy as soon as it came out, but he just challenged us to take control of this team and Rey and I have done a good job of that."
Maualuga agrees that the captaincies are tangible evidence Lewis believes he and Dalton have what it takes to lead, but he's not going to jump to the conclusion that's why he's played better.
"It's an honor to represent the team at the coin flip. At the same time it puts that leadership role on our shoulders," Maualuga said. "(As far as playing), it's more so what we're learning about in the defensive room. It's about us in believing in each other and having the trust that we can make plays."
Dalton says he hasn't changed his personality and he won't, but Lewis seems to like the way both have responded as game captains. He reiterated this week that he talked to both before he let fly publicly with the challenges.
"During the bye week, in my opinion, when I evaluated our team the guys I wanted to continue to empower to lead the team forward were those two guys and they've taken it and run with it," Lewis said. "I just told them, 'You have the ability to be great,' and they're doing good things. 'Keep doing it.' "
GRESHAM LOW-KEYS IT: Last week, tight end Jermaine Gresham made the play of the game in the red zone when he carried three tacklers five yards inside the 1 on third down to set up a fourth-down touchdown.
The week before that he made a leaping catch on third down to give the Bengals one of their seven red-zone TDs the past two weeks.
And the week before that he became the first Bengals tight end in 17 years with 100 receiving yards in a game. In his third season, Gresham seems to be on the verge of breaking out after patches of up-and-down play.
"I'm just trying to be more consistent as a player," Gresham said before Friday's practice.
Gresham played extremely fired up last Sunday in Kansas City after he and safety Eric Berry got into it jawing and pushing after the whistle early in the game.
"No, it was just playing football. Just doing what I love. Just out there having fun," Gresham said. "That's the way I was brought up. University of Oklahoma, you play with that kind of passion."
With 517 yards this season, Gresham is just 80 yards from his career high and says, "You have to feel like you can score every time you catch it." As for the three-man run he says, "Just living in the moment. Trying to make a play for your team."
REVIEW OF REVIEW: Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis, member of the NFL Competition Committee, felt badly for his good friend and Lions head coach Jim Schwartz on Thursday. But rules are rules.
Schwartz cost his team the game against Houston when he illegally threw the challenge flag on a Texans TD run that the refs clearly missed because the runner was down. Because he threw the flag, the play couldn't be reviewed even though the play clearly would have been reversed. All scoring plays and turnovers immediately go to the booth.
"If you throw the flag on an unchallengeable play, you would slow down the progress of the offense and gain a timeout," Lewis said.
"Don't do what you're not supposed to do," he said. "And they make it very clear in the pregame meeting. Very, very clear, and that's the thing."
Lewis said the NFL opted to look at all scoring plays and turnovers as a way of putting back "another challenge in the coach's pocket. They're the two most controversial plays that occur and can decide a game."
But Lewis has a pet peeve that he thinks decides just as many games.
"A holding penalty on your 20-yard line when you run for eight yards on first down," Lewis said. "To me, that's the thing that is killing the league right now is these penalties that aren't really holding penalties. The team runs for eight yards on first down, you overpower the nose tackle, and because he goes down, there goes the flag. That's wrong. To me that decides the game as well and we have to fix that process."