Running back Giovani Bernard mixing it up inside.
Could it be any giddier in Bengaldom?
Andy Dalton just became the first quarterback in Bengals history to catch a touchdown pass. Wide receiver Mohamed Sanu now has one more Bengals career touchdown pass than Dewey Warren and Gus Frerrote. Running backs Giovani Bernard (12 catches) and Jeremy Hill (5.1 yards per carry) are looking more and more like James Brooks and Ickey Woods every day.
And after another Paul Brown Stadium shellacking on Sunday that has become routine enough to set a franchise record for consecutive victories in 11 games they have won by an average of 17 points, your Cincinnati Bengals are the only undefeated team in the AFC at 3-0.
On a day Sanu threw back into history, the Bengals looked like those powerful Cincinnati contenders from yesteryear.
"That's just fun," said Sanu, who jack knifed down the PBS funfest slide into Bengals history. "We're out there playing the game we love. If you're not playing the game you love and having fun, then there's no point of playing. We're having loads of fun."
Sanu is the symbol of new coordinator Hue Jackson's offense that has more wrinkles than an unmade bed. It used to be you couldn't tell the players without a scorecard. Now with Jackson, you can't tell the formations without the scorecard and everyone is having a blast. In the tradition of Bengals cutting edge offense that stretches back to Bill Walsh, Bruce Coslet, and Sam Wyche, Jackson keeps them guessing. The Bengals have opened with three straight games of at least 300 yards and no sacks while having three players with at least 12 catches, two players with at least two rushing TDs, and one player with a TD catch and TD throw.
(Isn't it fitting that one of four Bengals quarterbacks who have caught a pass is Wyche?)
"He has some tricks up his sleeve. I'm excited to see what he's going to do," Sanu said. "He's been creative, getting his playmakers the ball. It's awesome to play for."
Sanu admits he doesn't know what to expect when Jackson hands him the game plan to him on Wednesday. On Sunday Jackson lined up the Bengals backup kicker in the slot, outside, in motion and in the backfield before he threw the second touchdown pass of his career. The throw to Dalton on the last play of the first quarter from the man head coach Marvin Lewis says can play NFL safety, suddenly became fraught with danger and potential.
Because the Bengals have chosen to be aggressors this season in all three phases, potential turned into an 18-yard touchdown catch. A first in Bengals history and the first time an NFL quarterback has caught a touchdown pass in six years. (Tyler Thigpen for Kansas City.) And it gave the Bengals a 10-0 lead, which in this building against this defense has been insurmountable since the next to last day of 2012.
"I gave him a hug," said Sanu, perhaps just to make his quarterback was still alive.
Sanu, lined up as a running back on a day he caught five balls for 44 yards, took a pitch from Dalton and swept right. He stopped, rose up, and threw back to Dalton leaking into the left flat. Dalton got there fast and Sanu fired it over there, not seeing cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson lurking near his vulnerable quarterback.
While Sanu thought, "No, No, No," running back Giovani Bernard thought they should start warming up backup Jason Campbell.
"I was thinking splattered," Bernard admitted.
But Dalton leaped at the ball and plucked it out of the air while Wilson went sailing by him and there was nothing but green. Turf, not A.J. All he had to was beat safety Michael Griffin coming from the middle of the field and Dalton did when he dove on top of the pylon.
"I just wanted to attack the ball," Dalton said. "I went up to get it. I wasn't going to sit and wait on it."
Dalton got up from the pylon and raised both hands over his head as if he couldn't believe it and the fun began.
"I always tell the receivers I have the best hands on the team," Dalton said.
"It looked like A.J.," Bernard said.
"He went up and made a play," said Green, who made six of them for 102 yards on Sunday. "I know he's athletic enough to do it."
"It was kind of scary at first when he went up," said defensive end Wallace Gilberry. "I thought the corner was going to lay him out, but I guess he gave him some saving grace and Andy made him pay for it. He's an athlete. He does it in practice every day playing around. We knew he was capable of doing it. Obviously the coaches did, too, because they drew the play up."
Now there is this. The Bengals have a bye before they go to New England for Sunday Night Football on Oct, 5, where the two winningest quarterbacks since 2011 meet. Dalton now has 33 victories and mobile Hall-of-Fame exhibit Tom Brady has 39.
Dalton can't ever remember that many people greeting a guy after a touchdown as he was mobbed by the offense in the end zone and then by the defense on the sidelines.
"This team is playing with each other. When the offense is on the field, the defense has its back and the offense has the defense's back and that's what happened today," said Dalton of safety Reggie Nelson's end-zone interception that closed the half after the Titans got the ball back on Dalton's only interception of the season.
"Everybody just has confidence in every phase of the game. That's been big and that helps with that swagger."
While Jackson dialed up Sanu, defensive coordinator Paul Guenther kept blitzing right up until the last snap. When the Titans wouldn't take a knee with 2:10 left, he blitzed backup safety Taylor Mays to end Titans quarterback Jake Locker's 41.9 passer rating misery. When the Bengals defense backed up the Titans with a punt on their end line, special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons moved around safety Shawn Williams in a different look to get a holding call and a safety.
The players and coaches seem to be feeding off each other's boldness.
"We're playing with a lot of confidence and it's just not one side of the ball. It's every phase of the game," Dalton said. "It makes it fun. The atmosphere here is a lot of fun as well. We've got a lot of great guys on this team. The coaching staff has done a good job of making it fun…We've got to keep this confidence, this mentality rolling."
The day Jackson took the job, he spoke dreamily of Sanu and now we know why. Here's a guy who this season is the team's co-leader with 12 catches and has a 76-yard touchdown catch to go along with a 50-yard pass and a four-yard run for a first down to go along with the touchdown pass. On Sunday he had five catches for 44 yards to go along wiith The Throwback. On the last TD drive on consecutive snaps he flashed that versatility, lining up in the slot tro catch a slant for 14 yards after going to the perimeter for 12 yards.
"He's been everywhere," Dalton said. "You have a guy that can do so much. The way he moves around and throws the ball, he's a dynamic player."
And we haven't even talked about what Bernard did Sunday. He lined up as a slot receiver and went in motion at times to threaten the edge, as well as banging in for a one-yard touchdown on a brilliant second-effort lunge in mid-air after Griffin stopped him the first time. He had just one catch Sunday a week after leading the Bengals in receiving, but kept on pace for a whopping 293 carries with 14 more for 47 yards.
"That's the thing about Hue, he really knows how to disguise certain things, just kind of making the defense on edge," Bernard said. "We're really high on our confidence. At the end of the day, people understand how confidence can really help a team out. It's helpful if we can keep this confidence going."
They were clearly having a blast.
"I'm just trying to be like Mo out there. Maybe one day I'll throw a pass," said Bernard, a high school baseball star. "We'll see. I don't want to put that out in the media. We'll see
"I have an arm. I played second base and then right field. I've got an arm."
And they're not pulling your leg.
"Yeah," Dalton said. "It's fun."
"We've got so much versatility and we give them so many different looks. Hue trusts our guys to be smart with it and go make plays. That's how it's been this whole season."