Marvin Lewis' 200th regular-season game as head coach and 100th at Paul Brown Stadium turned out to be memorable enough that they gave him the game ball from Thursday night's 31-10 victory over the Browns.
What caught the attention of defensive coordinator Paul Guenther is that the Bengals are the first 8-0 team to come out of the rough and tumble AFC North as well as the old AFC Central and so he handed the ball to Lewis, whose entire 24-year NFL coaching career has been spent in the division.
"It's not me. It's a great job by the team. I'm proud of them," Lewis said. "We know how tough and physical this division is and I've been in it for a long time. It's a great accomplishment for our guys."
Cincinnati Bengals host Cleveland Browns in week 9 of the regular season.
The Steelers of the '70s and '90s didn't go 8-0. The Bengals of the '80s didn't go 8-0. Lewis was the defensive coordinator of the record-setting Ravens defense that won the 2000 Super Bowl and they didn't go 8-0.
"It's cool," said quarterback Andy Dalton. "It's crazy the number of so many good teams that have been in this division and this is the first one. I'm happy for Marvin. He deserves everything that we're doing. It's not easy to get to 8-0."
Left tackle Andrew Whitworth, who was once 0-8 under Lewis, agreed.
"It's an awesome achievement," Whitworth said. "He's been here a long time and fought really hard for this."
They could have given Lewis the game ball on this night for his game calls alone. His challenge on the spot following Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel's scramble on third-and-12 in the first five minutes of the second half in a 14-10 game was sheer brilliance. It erased a first down, forced a 28-yard punt that may have been tipped by defensive end Margus Hunt, and started a skein in which Cleveland didn't get a first down in the second half until three minutes left in the game.
Plus, Lewis made two fourth-down calls that resulted in their two touchdowns in the first half and reflects the confidence everyone has in each other. Running back Jeremy Hill converted fourth-and-a-foot from the Browns 13 and on fourth-and-two Dalton's incompletion turned into a first down when Browns defensive tackle Randy Starks was offsides.
Lewis certainly had his guys ready for the national stage. They had no turnovers and four days after committing 10 penalties in Pittsburgh they had no penalties on offense or defense. Their two penalties came on special teams, where they also absorbed Kevin Huber's first blocked punt in five years.
"Coach Lewis stressed the point of us keeping our composure," said cornerback Adam Jones. "We did a good job of it."
D ADJUSTS: The Bengals have won 20 of their last 24 PBS games with a defense that has taken down six Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks and on Thursday night they added their second Heisman Trophy winner in that stretch when they held Cleveland quarterback Johnny Manziel to just four second-half completions for 40 yards while sacking him three times.
Cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick said they pretty much kept the same game plan they had for the Super Bowl winner they beat in the last game at PBS, Seattle's Russell Wilson. But it was quite a turnaround from the first half, when Manziel sifted 11 of 18 for 128 yards. Guenther adjusted to a zone after Manziel did his damage rolling out of the pocket.
"Same two guys in that we knew he was going to try and break the pocket," Kirkpatrick said. "I felt like early on he hit us a couple of times on the (shallow routes) . . . We went more to a zone-type coverage. That was the best call and Coach did a great job making that call. He didn't have the free access throws. He had to throw in holes . . . We wanted to keep him in our vision. When he was making plays, the secondary had its back turned. It was those break-down plays where they'd shake free of a guy and be wide open. Once we went zone it kind quieted up."
Manziel noticed the Cover Two as well as the fact the Bengals called off the blitz in the second half. It appeared as if the Bengals wanted to slow everything down in the second half to keep Manziel in front of them.
"They came out and played a lot of Cover Two. Looking back, there were a few times I could've checked down to a tight end or a running back," Manziel said. "Their coverage changed, but they didn't bring a lot of pressure like they did earlier in the game."
But Kirkpatrick has played plenty of games here to know what turned it.
"When the guys up front got going, the whole game changed," Kirkpatrick said.
In the four PBS games this season the Bengals have at least three sacks in all of them. With left end Carlos Dunlap getting two sacks for a team-leading 7.5 and Geno Atkins getting one for a league-leading six among NFL defensive tackles, they've got 23 sacks at the halfway point, three more than they had all last season.
EIFERT CATCHES TRUMPY:
Tyler Eifert's three touchdowns give him nine, tying him for most TDs by a Bengals tight end in a season with Bob Trumpy in 1969 and Rodney Holman in 1989. And he's the first Cincinnati tight end to score three in a game since Trumpy did it in that '69 season against Houston.
"We don't care who is having a big day," Eifert said. "We all want to have a big day, but at the end of the day we just want to win. It might be me one day, it might be A.J. (Green) or Marvin (Jones) or Mo (Sanu) or whoever... or maybe (Ryan) Hewitt. But we're just happy to be on a winning streak. We'll try to keep it going."
SLANTS AND SCREENS: When Bengals wide receiver Mohamed Sanu scored a touchdown on a 25-yard reverse, he joined his quarterback as guys who have thrown a TD pass as well as get one rushing and receiving. It was Sanu's first rushing TD since he was at Rutgers in 2010 . . .
It looked like the Bengals came out it relatively healthy. There was a scare in the first quarter when linebacker Vontaze Burfict limped off and they looked at his surgically-repaired knee, but he came back on the next series . . . Right guard Kevin Zeitler, who had a terrific game run blocking, left after the game in a boot . . .