CINCINNATI (AP) The Bengals winced when the schedule came out and they saw what was in store for November.
Three consecutive road games. Traveling 5,708 miles roundtrip. More than half of a day spent on airplanes just getting to and from the cities.
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”It’s definitely different,” left tackle Andrew Whitworth said on Wednesday. ”It’s a challenge, and we knew that a long time ago. We knew we were going to go on a tough stretch, and then we were going to have a month where we’re going to have some of the toughest games we’ve played all season.”
Those December games – three of them against AFC North rivals – will have a lot of significance because the Bengals (7-3-1) have managed to become kings of the road.
Cincinnati is back in first place after winning the first two, 27-10 at New Orleans and 22-13 at Houston. The Bengals complete the stretch on Sunday at Tampa Bay (2-9) with a chance to make team history.
It’s the ninth time the Bengals have played at least three consecutive road games during a season. They’ve never won three straight on the road.
”So it’s going to be a challenge for us three weeks in a row, go on the road and get your bodies right, get your minds right and get mentally focused to go in there and perform,” Whitworth said.
They’ve turned their season around on the road.
A 24-3 loss to Cleveland in a Thursday night game at Paul Brown Stadium knocked them out of first place and left them with three losses and a tie in their last six games. Up next was that three-game stretch on the road.
They’ve played two of their best all-around games in New Orleans and Houston. Andy Dalton recovered from one of his worst games – three interceptions and a 2.0 passer rating against Cleveland – by completing 70 percent of his passes with four touchdowns and one interception in the last two.
The defense has finally steadied itself, too. After ranking 31st against the run following the Cleveland game, Cincinnati has allowed only 139 yards in the last two combined.
”It’s been good for us to get into this rhythm and win these last two, especially being on the road,” Dalton said. ”I’m not saying it’s good to be on the road, but we’ve been able to do some good things so far.”
Whitworth thinks the toughest part of three weeks is the travel.
”It’s not like we’re traveling to close games,” he said. ”We’ve been almost a two-hour flight three weeks in a row now, back and forth. It’s hard on you.
”After a game, you sit on a plane for two hours and it messes up your recovery time. When you play at home, you’ve got a little more time to recover. It cuts down on those things. So there’s a lot of that type of stuff.”
If they beat the Buccaneers, they’ll be in good shape heading into a tough closing stretch. They host Pittsburgh (7-4), play at Cleveland (7-4), host Denver (8-3) in a Monday night game, and then finish at Pittsburgh.
”It’s tough enough winning one game on the road, let alone three,” receiver A.J. Green said. ”We have won two already, though, and I think we are on a great track and need to continue this.”
Notes: Linebacker Vontaze Burfict was held out of practice on Wednesday, an indication he’ll miss a fifth straight game following knee surgery. Coach Marvin Lewis said he might practice on a limited basis later in the week. … Long snapper Clark Harris and receiver Mohamed Sanu were ill. Cornerback Adam ”Pacman” Jones missed practice because of a tooth problem. … The Bengals signed linebacker L.J. Fort to the practice squad. He played in 16 games for Cleveland in 2012 and also has been with Denver and Seattle.
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