Three times in 48 years.
That’s how rare 6-0 starts have been in Cincinnati Bengals history, but after equaling the franchise record for best start with a 34-21 win in Buffalo, the players and coaches were not exactly thumping their chests.
“A miniscule part of history,” said Marvin Lewis. “We’ve got bigger things to do.”
“Obviously 6-0 is a cool little accomplishment, but I don’t want this to be the highlight of my season,” said George Iloka.
“It’s just another step along the way,” said Andrew Whitworth. “You’re proud of the step, but there’s another step right in front of you that you have to go up.”
Sunday’s game did not start well for Cincinnati. When the Bills marched down the field to score a touchdown on their opening possession, it marked the first time all season that the Bengals trailed in the first quarter.
“It was like the first round of a boxing match and we got caught off guard,” said Iloka. “They came out swinging and they hit us in the mouth, but we licked out wounds and came back and responded. That’s what it’s all about.”
The response featured nearly everybody on the active roster. Eight players carried or caught the ball on offense and four of them scored touchdowns. Twenty were involved in tackles. The offensive line did not surrender a sack and the defensive line hit EJ Manuel seven times and sacked him twice.
“It was truly a team effort and took everyone today,” said Jeremy Hill. “Everyone made plays and it really started with our offensive line. They played their butts off against that defensive line. They probably won’t get the credit that they deserve but they really played their butts off.”
The offensive line gave Andy Dalton abundant time to throw, and the Red(hot) Rifle was outstanding for the sixth consecutive game. His passer rating for the season is 116.1. Only Tom Brady is better at 118.4.
“If there’s a play in the playbook that exists, I don’t know if we don’t have it,” said Whitworth. “The coolest thing about Andy is that nothing is out of the realm of him being able to do at any point at the line of scrimmage. The guy is so cerebral and so intelligent. He can handle all of that stuff and put people in the right spots and make the checks and do all that. It’s one of those things that if you’ve got the talent around him and they play well, he’s going to put you in a good position.”
“Andy Dalton and the Bengals offense has an answer to everything that these defensive coordinators are trying to do,” said my broadcast partner Dave Lapham.
Since the NFL adopted its current playoff format in 1990, there were 31 teams entering this year that had opened a season 6-0. Fifteen of those 31 teams – or 48% – advanced to the Super Bowl.
That’s where this team is trying to get to. And a 6-0 start is only a small step on the road toward Santa Clara.
“We haven’t clinched our division, we’ve haven’t earned a first round bye, we haven’t really done anything,” said Hill. “So we have a lot of work to do, but it’s definitely a good start.”
“We set out with the intent of doing something special and until we have that, none of this really means that much,” said Whitworth. “Football is a mountain climb and every step will be a harder step to take. The next team we play will fight that much harder to not let us say that we’re a 7-0 team. So we’re coming out and continuing to play well, but it’s where can we get better? Where can we continue to grow? If we can keep that as our focus, we have the talent to do something really special.”
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