While rookie running back Jeremy Hill paid homage to Ickey Woods Sunday, Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson saluted Sam Wyche with a prolific offense now on pace to join some of the best in franchise history.
After the best offensive day in seven years, the Bengals are pace on to rack up 6,352 yards this season, the second most all-time next to Wyche's 1986 team and more than his juggernauts of 1989 and 1988 that are second and third on the list. With Sunday's 37-37 tie to the Panthers, after five games the Bengals are averaging 429 points for the season, one fewer than last year's team that finished third on the all-time list behind the '88 and '85 clubs.
"But we needed 38," Jackson reflected Monday. "Our job is to do whatever it takes to win.
"I am not going to tip my hat because we had 513 yards. We won the game, I feel real good but we didn't win the game…How we go about adjustments that are made, it's the right process. Because if it wasn't, we wouldn't have the opportunity to do those things against a very good defensive football team. Our guys, coaches are really zeroed in on the right process. That is the good part. The other part of it is let's find a way to win in everything we do. Every situational thing that happens in a game we have to continue to find a way to get better at it."
Jackson's philosophy of having a multiple enough scheme to challenge defenses but easy enough to replace moving parts was on full display at Paul Brown Stadium. Without starting wide receivers A.J. Green and Marvin Jones, starting tight end Tyler Eifert, and starting right guard Kevin Zeitler, the Bengals put up their most yards since Carson Palmer and the gang went for 531 in the 51-45 loss in Cleveland on Sept. 16, 2007.
"The defensive coaches are too good and the players are too good that if you just line up and do one or two things, you're going to get exposed," Jackson said. "I think you have to have a variety of things you can do within the structure of your system, and I think our players have done a really good job. You can do only as much as your guys can handle and again, kudos to our guys, they handle a lot. And it starts with the quarterback, if he can handle it because then he's the orchestrator of it all. He orchestrates it to everybody else and we go out and do it."
Jackson's stewardship of quarterback Andy Dalton appears to be unfolding close to his vision. Dalton is throwing it less with more efficiency as he's on pace to set personal highs in completion percentage (68.2), yards per attempt (8.3), passer rating (98.4), and fewest interceptions (10).
He's also on pace for his fewest touchdown passes (19), but he's also averaging enough passing yards for 3,998, close enough to just the fourth 4,000-yard season in Bengals' history and his second. It would be the Bengals' second best completion percentage in a season (behind only Ken Anderson's impeccable 70.55 in 1982), tie Anderson for second highest passer ranking, and fifth most yards per attempt.
And just for kicks Sunday, he had the longest run of his career Sunday off a zone read for 20 yards to go with his touchdown catch of last month. He also steered his team down the field Sunday for go-ahead points in regulation and overtime as he stalked his 12th game-winning drive in his career in his 53rd start.
"He's accepted the challenge," Jackson said. "He ran the ball a couple of times yesterday… (one) time he pulled out of the grasp of a guy to get the ball to Jeremy. There was a another time it was third down and two he dropped back, turned and ran and got a first down…He threw some sensational passes in the game…He's in the game and playing well. He'll be the first to tell you just like I am, all those things are great but it's the wins that matter. His position is about winning. My position is about helping him win and score enough points to win. We haven't done that in two weeks. That's not good enough…
By any stretch of the imagination I am not disappointed in him."
But he's disappointed in the lack of punch in the red zone (tied for 17th in the NFL scoring touchdowns inside the 20) and turnovers. Jackson is uncomfortable with Dalton's first two-interception game of the season. But he says his first one, a killing 80-yard return by cornerback Antoine Cason that changed the texture of the game on the second half's first drive, was tough to avoid since it was a blind-side blitz from linebacker Thomas Davis that caught his arm and forced a flutter ball.
"They had two middle cross blitz type stuff they hadn't really shown," said left tackle Andrew Whitworth. "It's kind of hats off to them. They had two late rushes that were just tough because we hadn't seen…We'll learn from it."
But Jackson is certainly encouraged how Dalton is on pace to cut last year's 20 interceptions in half.
"Believe me, I don't ever want to take his aggressiveness away because he was very close to throwing a touchdown pass on that play, too," Jackson said. "You can look at it one way or the other. I love the fight in him. You also have to make sure you make a great decision based on what we're trying to accomplish at that time. And he did what he thought was right at the time, but I'm sure me knowing him, he'll look back and say, boy, if I knew the guy was that close, maybe next time I'll put that thing away.'
"There's not much he can do about it. When I say all this I'm not blaming him. We all have a hand in it. Turnovers are just not him. He's the guy throwing the ball and the first thing people think, the quarterback threw a bad ball. He couldn't have seen that. No way. Now, can you feel certain things? You hope you can as you move forward. That's the next growth you feel in understanding situations and where you are."
But Jackson also felt his team took a step back when it came to penalties on Sunday. The biggest one, of course, was the hold on right tackle Andre Smith that wiped out Hill's 22-yard touchdown run.
"It was close. But Andre probably thinking the ball is going the other way," Jackson said. "Blocking the guy and the ball is supposed to head left and Jeremy seen something which is what good runners do. He saw something, he took it, made a sensational play. It goes back to fundamentals and details and you just finish it doing it right because those are the things that can happen."
Jackson also got tight end Jermaine Gresham's best game of the year with 68 yards, but he also had two motion penalties, one that wiped out a 32-yard pass.
"He was trying to hear the call from Andy," Jackson said. "That's not something I'm blaming on him. When you're on the end of the line sometime and you play no-huddle, you can't hear. It's a whole offensive unit issue. We've got to communicate it out, the quarterback's got to make sure everybody's set before we put anybody in motion. It's not just an individual player problem."
There were also big individual plays, such as running back Giovani Bernard's 89-yard touchdown run, the second longest run in team history, and wide receiver Mohamed Sanu's 34-yard touchdown catch.
"The guys for the most part of done a tremendous job _ until you have an illegal procedure at an inopportune time," Jackson said. "Here it is, a (32)-yard big play that gets called back because a guy didn't have his hand down on the ground. That's unfortunate. There was a couple of other plays we wish we had back, if the communication was better. It's those things that bite you. You give up something to get something that way in creativity and you don't want to have it go too far the other way because then you're hurting your offensive football team."
But no surprise to him they got 513 yards even if everyone was taking the under without A.J. Green.
"A lot of people probably wouldn't take that bet," Jackson said, "but I might."