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Object lesson


Leon Hall

Go back to last year's Oct. 7 game against the Dolphins and look what the Bengals have done.

They've knocked off Super Bowl-winning teams with quarterbacks ranging from Tom Brady last week and reigning Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning last year, and in between they've gotten Aaron Rodgers once and Ben Roethlisberger twice.

But the Bengals have also lost to retooling Miami and Ryan Tannehill in his fifth NFL start and rebuilding Cleveland and Brandon Weeden in his sixth and Brian Hoyer in his third. A nice object lesson for Sunday (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 12) at Ralph Wilson Stadium against Buffalo and Thad Lewis in his second NFL start.

Any resemblance between the Cleveland scenario two weeks ago (a heavy favorite in a road game against an inexperienced quarterback and first-year coaching staff following big home win over a perennial contender) is purely coincidental.

"It's a chance for us to prove that we're over that stage and that we have to go every week and win," left tackle Andrew Whitworth said before Wednesday's practice. "Hopefully playing physical and keeping that attitude we had last week."

It is a bit mystifying to guys like cornerback Leon Hall how the Bengals can beat the big names and lose to the guys trying to make their names.

"I don't know what it is. I kind of look at it as I can't tell you why but sometimes we don't play as well as we should in those situations," Hall said. "It's a letdown on our part when we're watching the film and realize we didn't play as well as we should with the outcome of that game. When you look at the film it's hard to be proud of those situations."

The Bengals will have a big lift if Hall (hamstring) can get back. He's optimistic and has gone limited in the last two practices after missing the game in Cleveland and last week against the Patriots as the defense tries to get a handle on Lewis.

"We can't let ourselves down like we did against the Browns," said defensive tackle Domata Peko. "We've got to keep playing at a high level like we did at the Patriots. Do our jobs and we will be just fine.

"It just shows we can play against anybody. We played a great game against Tom and had another great game against Aaron Rodgers. Those are two of the better quarterbacks in the league. We know what we can do. If we can just execute our game plan, attack the line of scrimmage, stop the run and get after this quarterback and we should have a good day."

There seems to be a split view on Lewis. He has the rep for being a pocket passer, but the word out of Buffalo is he's an excellent athlete that can run it as well as throw. He's no E.J. Manuel, the man he's replacing, but he also ran the zone read for the Bills when he arrived late in the preseason.

The zone read doesn't mean the QB always runs it, since Manuel has carried it just six times this season after reading. All his other rushes are on scrambles. The Bills usually hand off but, who knows with a new quarterback? In his one NFL start for the Browns in last season's finale against the Steelers, Lewis ran once for three yards and threw it 32 times.

"That's what Buffalo loves to do: that read option. They selected this dude Thad to run because he's more of a running quarterback," Peko said. "We don't have much film on him but we are just going to read our keys and execute the game plan and we should be fine.

"We've got a little bit of tape on him there but any quarterback we go against the key to the game is stopping the run, getting to the quarterback's feet, getting him on his back, putting pressure in his face. With a young quarterback like this that's inexperienced we get after him, get all these different looks we can confuse him. I don't even think we need to confuse him, we've just got to get after him, attack him and get him on his back. I think we'll be all right."

But a lot of the talk coming from the coaches is that in order to avoid a Cleveland replay is to focus on the Bengals and not the Bills.

"We don't know all what he can do, but it really just comes down to us, basically," said cornerback Adam Jones. "We have to play well. If we play well, we win the game, point blank. That's the main thing Coach (Mike Zimmer) is stressing and Marvin (Lewis). Let's play our game and everything else will play out.

"We need to win this game. We can't really worry about those guys. We have to worry about us and make sure we play to the top of our ability and not get comfortable. I think everybody is focusing. Everyone has the mindset like, 'We have to win this game.' It's just making sure the Xs and Os are crossed. Stop the run first, make him throw the ball, play good in the back end."

After what happened in Cleveland last week, Marvin Lewis said he held practices with a training camp-like workload and intensity. Jones knows what's coming now.

"I don't know if that energized the defense, but it did help. We practiced very well last week," he said. "And I know they stressed that again, and this week because the result was good. Just practice hard. Be smart while you're practicing. Make sure you're ready to go on Sunday.

"I already know it's going to be a tough week. They already said it."

The Bengals are also emphasizing winning on the road after an 0-2 start. That's one area they have played well since revamping in 2011. They came into the season with an 11-5 road record and last year tied a franchise record with six away wins.

"Everybody just has to keep their nose down and just play like you play at home," Jones said. "Some guys say it's not the same because they can't wake up. But this one is the same because it's a must-win game. Hopefully everyone brings their A game and everything will work out."

This is how it works in the NFL. Whitworth is the only player left from the offense the last time the Bengals played in Buffalo in 2007. The last time they won in Buffalo, none of the Bengals wide receivers were born. Nothing means nothing.

"We take a lot of pride in that here lately in the last couple of years," Whitworth said of the work on the road. "We've been trying to work hard on creating an atmosphere here at home where it's tough to try to come in and beat us. But you also want to be known as a team of road warriors. You want to be able to go on the road and come back with wins. Because every road win you pick up, you almost feel is a bonus. Every road win you pick up really helps you get to the postseason."

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