Can’t win at Oakland. Can’t beat the Steelers. Can’t produce in primetime.
Pretty soon there aren’t going to be any cant’s or critics left as the Cincinnati Bengals continue to make history.
Wide receiver Mohamed Sanu broke open a close game with a 25-yard touchdown run and Tyler Eifert caught his third touchdown pass as part of a dominating second half that kept the Bengals undefeated with a 31-10 victory Thursday night against the Cleveland Browns at Paul Brown Stadium.
The Bengals were 0-10 in Oakland before winning there in the season opener. They were 2-8 in their last 10 against the Steelers before surviving for a 16-10 victory in Pittsburgh last week to seize control of the AFC North. And they were 2-5 in their last seven primetime games.
Next up is a Monday night game against a Houston team that has won five of its last six against the Bengals.
But first, here are five things to know about Thursday’s impressive performance on the national stage:
Eifert becoming elite
Eifert’s three touchdown catches not only were a career high, they moved him into some elite company.
His nine touchdown catches this season are the most in the NFL, two more than Rob Gronkowski, Odell Beckham and Larry Fitzgerald. Eifert also tied Bob Trumpy for the Bengals single-season team record for tight ends.
Trumpy caught nine touchdowns in 1969, the second year of the franchise.
Eifert’s TD receptions covered 9, 2 and 19 yards. All nine of his scoring catches have come in the red zone.
The symmetry of the schedule was impossible to ignore.
Exactly one year after Andy Dalton posed a career-low 2.0 passer rating during a disastrous 24-3 loss to Cleveland in a nationally televised Thursday night game, the Browns were back at Paul Brown Stadium for another Week 9 Thursday game.
But the schedule is where the similarities stopped. This time Dalton threw for 234 yards and three touchdowns for a passer rating of 139.8 that not only was a season high, it was the second-highest of his career behind the 143.9 he posted in a 27-10 win at New Orleans last year.
“A little different than last year, huh?” Dalton said as soon as he sat down for his postgame press conference.
It also was Dalton’s second consecutive win in primetime after losing five of his previous six under the lights.
The rare air of 8-0
Not only are the Bengals 8-0 for the first time in the franchise’s 48 years, they are the 33rd team to do it in NFL history.
The Bengals are the 22nd team to do it in the Super Bowl era (1966) and the 12th in the last 20 years. Of the 11 others that have gone 8-0 since 1998, 10 won their division and three won the Super Bowl (1998 Denver Broncos, 2006 Indianapolis Colts, 2009 New Orleans Saints).
Sack attack back
Eifert wasn’t the only Bengal to walk out of Paul Brown Stadium as a league leader.
Defensive end Carlos Dunlap sacked Cleveland quarterback Johnny Manziel twice to move into a tie with Houston’s J.J. Watt and New England’s Chandler Jones with 8.5. And defensive tackle Geno Atkins added his sixth sack of the year, most among interior lineman.
After failing to get to Manziel in the first half as he threw for 128 yards and a touchdown and ran for 11 yards, Dunlap and Atkins recorded sacks on back-to-back plays early in the fourth quarter as part of a dominating second half.
The Bengals held the Browns to 32 yards after halftime.
“As a D-line, we knew we had to go out there and stop Johnny Manziel,” Dunlap said. “We liked our odds and the opportunities we had. But you have to be careful with that too, because Johnny can make plays with his feet, as you saw early in the game.”
The three sacks bring the Bengals’ season total to 23, which is three more than they had in 2014 when they finished last in the league.
Burfict camera shy?
NFL Network cameras caught a shot of Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict smacking a television camera located at the back of the south end zone and tossing it to the side at the end of a play in the first quarter.
Burfict’s actions forced the camera into the face of the man operating it, whom the Bengals said is a team employee but declined to identify. The cameraman finished the game with bandages on his forehead and bridge of his nose.
The Bengals said in a statement that their cameramen are “fully aware those positions entail some physical risks because they are close to the action and the course of the play is unpredictable. The cameraman was examined. It was determined he did not need additional treatment. He finished the game and he will be back at his post for the Houston game.”
Burfict left with an injury to his surgically repaired left knee a few minutes later, but he returned for the next series and finished the game.