Bengals win puts them in control of AFC North

CINCINNATI — Yes, it seems, the Bengals do have ears.

After pulling out wins on last-play field goals the past two weeks, the Bengals took care of business early in a 49-9 beating of the New York Jets on Sunday. More importantly, once they got up big they didn’t allow the Jets a whiff of comeback.

Now owners of a 6-2 record, a four-game winning streak and a 2½-game lead over second place Baltimore in the AFC North, the Bengals have a chance to do the same to the rest of the division in the next three weeks. Before they reach the bye week of Nov. 24, the Bengals go on the road to Miami (3-4) this Thursday, to Baltimore (3-4) and then host Cleveland (3-5).

None will be a gimme; going to South Florida on a short week against a team looking to break a four-game losing streak has trouble written all over it. The Bengals haven’t won in Baltimore since 2009 and are just 1-4 in the last five trips to M&T Bank Stadium. The Browns are the last team to beat the Bengals, handling them decisively in Cleveland, 17-6, on Sept. 29.

Sunday’s blowout of the Jets, who were coming off a win against New England last week, should give the Bengals all the confidence they can handle heading into this stretch.

“I think we’ve had enough people who have reached out to us and begged us to win one the right way and stop holding on to the end,” said left tackle Andrew Whitworth. “Hopefully this one calmed them down and they got to relax and enjoy the game a little bit.”

If there is a cautionary tale coming out of this game it will be the injury situation, especially with just four days before the Miami game. Whitworth left the game in the second quarter with a right knee injury. He said afterwards that it will be evaluated on Monday but chances are probably good that Anthony Collins will play significant minutes, if not start, against the Dolphins. Whitworth injured the knee in preseason after having surgery on his left knee in the offseason.

Linebacker Rey Maualuga also left the game in the second quarter with a left knee injury –- he was taken off the field on a cart –- and was not allowed to return because of concussion symptoms. Safety Taylor Mays left with a right shoulder injury suffered on the final play of the first half and wide receiver Mohamed Sanu also banged up a shoulder.
The way the entire team played on Sunday, however, makes those cautions a side note.

Andy Dalton threw for 325 yards and a career-high five touchdowns. Wide receiver Marvin Jones set a franchise record with four touchdown receptions and earned his first 100-yard game with eight catches for 122 yards. A.J. Green had three catches for 115 yards and tight end Jermaine Gresham caught his first touchdown pass of the season on a well-designed play that freed him up in the back corner of the end zone.

The Jets came into the game with the No. 4-ranked defense but left allowing more than 400 yards for the first time this season.

During the four-game winning streak, Dalton has completed 89 of 131 passes (67.9 percent) for 1,246 yards, 11 touchdowns and just three interceptions. His passer rating is 116.8 during the four games. He’s thrown for more than 300 yards in three straight games for the first time in his career.

“We’re in a position where we want to be,” said Dalton. “We’ve just got to keep playing complete games. That’s one thing you’ve seen these last several weeks. If it’s coming down to the fourth quarter, then we’re finding a way to win in the fourth. Or if it’s a game like this where we get up big, you just keep the lead. We’ve got to keep pushing, got to keep getting better. We’re in a good position right now.”

The defense smothered the Jets from the first play from scrimmage. New York had one yard of offense in the first quarter and just 13 yards through its first four possessions. The Bengals held Pittsburgh to minus-two yards in the third quarter back in Week 2 and they haven’t allowed a touchdown at home in more than nine quarters.

Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers threw a 7-yard touchdown pass to James Jones with 5:30 remaining in the third quarter to give the Packers a 30-14 lead in Week 3. That was 140 minutes and 30 seconds ago.

“We played as good as it gets,” said safety Chris Crocker, who along with cornerback Adam Jones returned interceptions for touchdowns against rookie quarterback Geno Smith.

Crocker’s came on the first play of the third quarter and gave the Bengals 35-6 lead. Jones picked off Smith and returned it 60 yards for his touchdown with 13:09 remaining.

“Coach (Marvin Lewis) stressed at halftime — ‘Make sure we play for 60 minutes’,” said Jones. “We’ve had games where we didn’t come back out at the half and play up to our ability but today we stepped it up. Everybody played well. This was a great team win… We finally played on all sides of the ball.”

If they keep this up, it’s bad news for the rest of the division.