* Andy Dalton bounced back yet again Thursday.*
Andy Dalton continued his MVP-type season Thursday night in the 31-10 victory over Cleveland with a season-best 139.8 passer rating and isn't that just like him?
Remember last season, when he followed up the 2.0 Thursday night debacle a year ago ten days later in New Orleans with a career-best 143.9? This time it took just four days to bounce back from Sunday's season-low 64.7 in Pittsburgh.
Cincinnati Bengals host Cleveland Browns in week 9 of the regular season.
Certainly Dalton remembered the 24-3 loss to these Browns on Nov. 6, 2014 in Thursday night's postgame.
"We were even in the black uniforms. It was real similar and it was the Salute to Service Game, too," Dalton said. "A lot of it was similar to last year, but I wasn't worried about last year because I feel like I'm in a much better place and I'm a better player than I was last year. It feels good to be sitting here now rather than how I was last year."
So far this season, Dalton has taken the criticism and wrapped it around the precious narrative. He came into the game with a 3-7 record in prime-time compounded by 11TDs and 11 picks for a passer rating of 69.3 on top of his 0-4 postseason of 57.8.
But maybe the narrative is beginning to melt in with some numbers and it is starting to get a little more balanced. In his last three prime-time games, the Bengals are 2-1 and he's got a rating of 102.1 with seven TDs and three picks. One win, over Denver, put the Bengals in the playoffs. Thursday night's win gave them command of the AFC North at 3-0 with eight games to play and kept them in the mix for a potential playoff bye.
More numbers: the win also gave Dalton 48 victories since he came into the league in 2011, most by a quarterback in that stretch except for Tom Brady's 56 and Aaron Rodgers' 49. It also ties him for fourth place on the Super Bowl era list of quarterbacks with Brady and Dan Marino for most wins by a quarterback in his first five seasons.
And he's battling Brady and Rodgers in the NFL passing race. Brady (115.8) leads, but Dalton (111) slipped into second ahead of Rodgers (110.9).
"I think everybody around him played like they need to and he doesn't have to go through that," said left tackle Andrew Whitworth. "We've said it over and over again. We need to play well around him. It can't just be on him. Whatever reason, prime time, playoffs, he takes the rap for that. We have to play better. That's why I say, it's good, we won, that's great, but we can play a lot better and we can give him more time to throw the ball."
Wide receiver A.J. Green agreed.
"I didn't play well. Everybody didn't play well," said Green of the past, but he played well Thursday with two of his five catches going for third downs to ignite touchdown drives. "Now you see the way we're playing. We have the confidence about the way we're playing. We have the swagger and everything is working right now."
Green hears the criticism, but it's just not in Cincinnati.
"That's the nature of quarterbacks. I'm sure everyone hates Tony Romo when he loses a game," Green said. "That's the nature of being a big-time quarterback and he's definitely a big-time quarterback."
Cornerback Adam Jones is just one of the guys that makes Paul Brown Stadium a tough venue for passers.
Let's hit a re-set on the Bengals' defensive stands in this 24-game stretch at Paul Brown Stadium that is now at 20 -3-1 after Thursday night's victory.
They are holding foes to a 69.5 passer rating and have forced 35 interceptions compared to 25 touchdowns. They've got 66 sacks, or nearly three per game, and are holding foes to 33 percent on third down. It's not quite up to the 2013 PBS numbers, when the Bengals went unbeaten at home holding foes to 23 percent on third down with 24 sacks while allowing just nine TD passes and intercepting 15.
But they're getting there. This year in four PBS games the Bengals are 37 percent on their down in their building, but they've allowed just four TD passes, and two in the last three games (to go with two picks), while ringing up 16 sacks for four per game. Simply put, it has been a hard place come in and throw.
Cincinnati Ben-Gal Cheerleaders perform during the Cleveland Browns vs. Cincinnati Bengals game 11/06/2015
The defensive line loves playing here and after Thursday's game defensive tackle Domata Peko called the sellout of 65,816 the loudest in his 10 seasons.
"The front was unbelievable in the second half," said cornerback Adam Jones "When you've got guys covering in the back end and guys up front rushing, it really works out. And when the play broke down (Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel) still didn't have anywhere to go. Kudos to the guys up front and the team."
Maybe the numbers are starting to look like '13 because the familiar faces from that NFL third-ranked defense look like they're finding their groove. Defensive tackle Geno Atkins is back to his Pro Bowl form of the first part of that season before he tore his ACL and right end Michael Johnson is back after one-year hiatus in Tampa. And WILL linebacker Vontaze Burfict, who led the NFL in tackles while going to the Pro Bowl that season, appeared in his first PBS game in 53 weeks Thursday night. He left briefly after he limped off on his surgically-repaired knee in the first quarter, but he came back and still played 70 percent of the snaps for a total of 40. That's four more than he played in his '15 debut on Sunday in Pittsburgh.
"I think he brings a lot of spark to it," said head coach Marvin Lewis Friday. "There's a bit of a rotation now also. Guys aren't getting as extended. We have guys coming in and out, and that's good. (Emmanuel) Lamur is spotting playing, and Vontaze is taking more reps, so it helps with our depth."
But Lewis let it be known he wasn't happy with Burfict's actions in the end zone during the first half Thursday night. After he teamed with safety Reggie Nelson to successfully cover Browns tight end Gary Barnidge in the back of the end zone on third down that forced a field goal, Burfict's momentum brought him near a camera platform and when he and Nelson stepped up on it Burfict appeared to knock over a camera held by veteran stadium cameraman Jim Strickler.
"Vontaze was asked to reach out to Jim. Jim has been spoken to this morning (by the Bengals front office)," Lewis said. "And he was saying: 'Oh, he (Burfict) doesn't have to do that, I understand those things happen.' But Vontaze is waiting for him to be finished with his shift. I guess he's a hard working person and did an early shift today at his other job (Channel 5) as well. Vontaze was asked to reach out and say he's glad Jim wasn't injured any more severely."