By now, the world knows that the Cincinnati Bengals beat the Ravens. By now, there have been tons of people talking about the come from behind embarrassment the Bengals administered. But, has anyone talked about Andy Dalton and the Bengals entering The Elite Zone? Rod Serling would be intrigued.
This is the time of year when football fans lose their minds. A team can go undefeated and the echoes of Super Bowl refrains can be heard around that city. Then, there are the special occasions. There’s that set of circumstances that can’t be denied. There are three AFC teams which fall into the category of “elite” so far. Two of the teams are yearly locks. But, when you toss in Andy Dalton and the Bengals, people start to think you’ve lost your mind.
There are three AFC teams with an unblemished record after Week 3. The Broncos, Patriots and Bengals are all sitting alone at the top of their divisions. Manning and the Broncos are still questionable. Peyton Manning still has to find himself. Denver’s defense won’t be able to play cavalry killers all year. Even though Manning went 31 of 42 for 324 yards and two TDs, it wasn’t impressive. Yes, those were Manning-type numbers. But, they were playing the 0-3 Lions. The last time the Broncos started 3-0, they ended up in the Super Bowl. The last time Detroit limped to a winless Week 3 record, they finished 6-10.
What can anyone say about the Patriots? They’re like a Super Bowl villain coached by Darth Maul. The Force is always with them, whether it’s good or bad. They’re a playoff machine.
When sports announcers and writers start mentioning the lowly Bengals as an elite team, there’s bound to be a knee-jerk reaction. But, this year’s edition of the Cincinnati Bengals is light years ahead of many predictions.
Let’s not forget, the Bengals and Ravens have bad blood.
The two teams play rock-em sock-em style games each time they meet. Sunday’s encounter had something that the previous Bengals and Ravens matchup lacked. Andy Dalton was confident and looked like a quarterback capable of leading the Bengals into the Promised Land. Dare I say it? Andy Dalton looked cool under pressure and made a statement for himself and the Cincinnati Bengals.
The Bengals charged out to a commanding 14-0 lead at M&T Bank Stadium. The usually wild crowd sometimes rivaled that of Steelers fans at Ketchup Field. The purple and black clad fans went silent. You could actually hear the elation from the Bengals sideline. Dalton was focused, the Bengals seemed to be in sync, and the rout looked to be on.
But, just like a script from a Ravens fan’s pen, the home team rumbled back. The Bengals didn’t score on a controversial fourth-and-goal play. If the Bengals went up 21-0, it’d be a dagger in the Ravens’ chest. Instead, the home team was allowed to hang around and made a game of it.
Twice the Bengals gave away leads, but these Bengals were different. Twice the Bengals came back to retake the lead. With the Bengals up 14-10, Dalton was stripped of the ball. The Ravens defense politely scooped the gift up and ran it in for the go-ahead score.
With the Bengals down 17-14 and the home crowd going crazy, Andy Dalton dropped back to pass. Dalton found a streaking A. J. Green and hit him for an 80-yard touchdown strike. Bengals retook the lead. The Ravens fought back and scored again. Dalton promptly engineered a 6-play, 80-yard drive to put the Bengals up again.
That’s the stuff elite quarterbacks are made of. That’s how elite teams win.
Elite teams also have a superhero duo. The 49ers had Montana-Rice. The Colts had Manning-Harrison. The Cowboys had Aikman-Irving. Dalton’s partner in crime is A.J. Green. Green was raw with his emotions on Bengals.com.
“It’s not our first rodeo. We were here last year in the same situation and came out with the ‘W.’ We didn’t flinch.”
Elite teams rarely do.
[Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images]