Bengals control AFC North


Joe Kay

Associated Press

CINCINNATI — Down twice in the fourth quarter at Baltimore. Down by 17 points in the fourth quarter at home against the Seahawks. Trailing the entire game in Pittsburgh, right up to the closing minutes.

The Bengals have stayed unbeaten by pulling off against-the-odds comebacks three times this season. And they’ve gotten so good at the dramatic drive that they’ve come to expect it.

A 16-10 victory in Pittsburgh on Sunday left the Bengals 7-0 for the first time in their history and in control of the AFC North approaching their season’s midpoint. Cincinnati is four games up in the loss column on the second-place Steelers (4-4).

Until this season, the Bengals have been known more for unraveling at the end. This team has gotten off to the best start in franchise history by making the pressure-packed plays at the end.

“Just the way that this season has played out, there’s times we’ve had to come back and we’ve been able to do it, and that does build confidence,” quarterback Andy Dalton said on Monday. “If you prove you can do it, then there won’t be any doubt that you can do it again.

“I think that’s just kind of the mindset that we have. Regardless of what’s going on, we’re going to win the game.”

That’s been the biggest change in Cincinnati this season. Instead of sagging in the fourth quarter, they’re taking control.

The Bengals trailed most of the game on Sunday at Heinz Field, in part because Dalton threw a pair of fourth-quarter interceptions, one of them in the end zone. After Ben Roethlisberger threw an interception at the Pittsburgh 45-yard line, Dalton and the Bengals put together their only touchdown drive.

Dalton’s 9-yard touchdown pass to A.J. Green on a quick slant with 2:57 left put Cincinnati ahead 13-10. The Bengals added a field goal set up by Roethlisberger’s third interception of the game.

“We had to keep pushing,” running back Jeremy Hill said. “You could see it in guys’ eyes. Everybody wanted to be the one who stepped up.”

The defense gave up a touchdown on Pittsburgh’s opening drive and then limited the Steelers to a field goal the rest of the way. By keeping the game close, it allowed Dalton to pull it out with one timely touchdown drive.

“The defense really saved our butts,” Hill said. “They kept us in position on offense to win it.”

The Steelers could have turned the AFC North back into a race by holding on at the end. Instead, the Bengals’ latest fourth-quarter comeback made it a rout. They host Cleveland on Thursday night with a chance to have a win against each of their division rivals.

“It’s a very important game for us,” coach Marvin Lewis said. “We’d be halfway through the division and kind of holding serve.”

With such a big lead, it would be more like getting ready to raise the trophy.

Notes: The Bengals are trying to become the 33rd team in NFL history and the 22nd during the Super Bowl era to open a season 8-0, according to STATS. The previous 8-0 team was the 2013 Kansas City Chiefs. … The 7-0 start matches the Bengals’ longest winning streak during a season — they won the last seven in 1970, and their opener the following season for eight straight. … The Bengals’ game on Nov. 22 at Arizona was flexed to the Sunday night game, giving Cincinnati a club-record five games in prime time this season. … LB Rey Maualuga (calf) and RT Andre Smith (concussion) were held out of practice on Monday. Maualuga got hurt on the opening series in Pittsburgh. DE Carlos Dunlap (shoulder) was limited.

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