Undefeated Bengals realize opportunity in division, AFC
The early-season vibes for the Cincinnati Bengals and Kansas City Chiefs are almost as different as their records.
While the Bengals have risen to the top of the North as one of the AFC’s three unbeaten teams, the Chiefs have drifted to the bottom of the West heading into what’s looking like a critical Week 4 contest for Kansas City on Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium.
"The way we’re clicking right now, it would be naive not to think that this is really a great opportunity for us to escalate in our division and within the AFC," Bengals receiver Marvin Jones said. "It’s important to note that, keeping a mindset we’re in this play-by-play, game-by-game. But you obviously see the big picture and right now, it’s in our favor."
Cincinnati joins New England and Denver atop the AFC with 3-0 records, a mark that’s yielded a 75 percent chance to reach the postseason since 1990. The Bengals are trying to go 4-0 for the first time since 2005.
With Pittsburgh missing quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for the next four to six weeks, Cleveland engulfed in another quarterback controversy and Baltimore struggling early, Cincinnati’s prospects of its second division title in three seasons look promising early.
For the Bengals, though, 3-0 means little. They won their first three last season en route to a 10-5-1 finish, but lost their fourth consecutive wild-card game.
"It just reminds me of last year when we were 3-0, then we kind of blew it," running back Jeremy Hill said. "We’re not content with what we have right now. We have to keep on pounding and keep on working."
Andy Dalton played a big part in each of Cincinnati’s first-round playoff exits but has enjoyed the best start of his career. The fifth-year quarterback has completed 66.3 percent of his passes for 866 yards with eight touchdowns, one interception and a passer rating of 121.0. He threw for 383 yards and three TDs in last Sunday’s 28-24 win at Baltimore, 227 and two of which went to A.J. Green.
That was a career high and the second-best receiving day in franchise history for Green, who will pose a problem for a Kansas City secondary that has been in a state of flux. Top cornerback Sean Smith will return after serving a three-game suspension for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy, but Phillip Gaines tore his ACL against the Packers and will miss the rest of the season.
The Chiefs (1-2) have surrendered 861 passing yards and a NFL-high 10 touchdowns – half of which came off the arm of Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay’s 38-28 win Monday night.
"We have a good team," linebacker Derrick Johnson told the team’s official website, "but the roster’s not going to win games for us. We have to go back and look in the mirror.
"This is the NFL, so the veteran guys like myself will make sure the young guys will be ready for this next game coming up. It doesn’t get any easier, but if we want to do anything great, we have to go through a little adversity."
Kansas City did end a streak of 18 games without a wide receiver catching a touchdown when Alex Smith and Jeremy Maclin hooked up for a 5-yard score in the third quarter. But that did little to ease the pain of a game that included 448 yards of total offense from Green Bay.
Perhaps the Chiefs’ biggest concern is an inability to keep their offense on the field. Kansas City has converted just 5 of 30 (16.7 percent) third-down opportunities, easily the worst mark in the league.
"I’m very confident in this group, but I think it’s important we take care of a few things," coach Andy Reid said. "We can talk about it all we want to talk about it, but you’ve got to do it. That’s what is real. That’s why I’m not into talking about it. (I’m) more into getting on with Cincinnati and get rolling."
Getting more consistent quarterback play would help. Smith threw two interceptions in Week 2 against Denver and completed just 2 of 7 passes for 39 yards in the first half against Green Bay. He’s also been sacked 11 times in the last two games.
The Bengals have won the last three meetings in this series, and the Chiefs have lost all four trips to Cincinnati since last winning there in 1984.