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Young Bengals are earning their NFL stripes

With a rookie quarterback and offensive coordinator, Cincinnati wins four in a row.

November 05, 2011|By Sam Farmer
  • Jay Gruden, younger brother of Jon, has words of advice for quarterback Andy Dalton. Gruden is making a big leap to offensive coordinator.
Jay Gruden, younger brother of Jon, has words of advice for quarterback… (Phelan M. Ebenhack / Associated…)

The U-turns of the Buffalo Bills, Detroit Lions and San Francisco 49ers are well chronicled.

Less heralded is the turnaround of the Cincinnati Bengals, who last month became the first team since the Carolina Panthers six years ago to go from winless to unbeaten in October from one year to the next.

"You make plays or you don't," Coach Marvin Lewis said. "Plain and simple."

The 5-2 Bengals play at Tennessee on Sunday, and have a chance to win five in a row for the first time since 1988. That's when they opened 6-0 on their way to their most recent Super Bowl appearance.

Cincinnati needs to stock up on as many wins as it can, with both Pittsburgh and both Baltimore games in the second half of the season. So far, the Bengals have played only one division game, the opener at Cleveland.

The Bengals have to love the way their star rookies are playing -- quarterback Andy Dalton dropped a beautifully placed touchdown pass into the hands of receiver A.J. Green in last Sunday's 34-12 rout at Seattle. And what about that other rookie, first-year offensive coordinator Jay Gruden?

Gruden, the younger brother of Jon Gruden, is cruising right along despite never having been an NFL position coach, let alone a coordinator. Jay was an offensive assistant to Jon in Tampa Bay from 2002-08. What's more, Jay threw for more than 7,000 yards as Louisville's quarterback from 1985 to 1988, and later was a highly decorated player, then player-coach, in the Arena Football League.

For the last two years, he was a head coach in the United Football League.

Jon's very proud of his little brother, but he also said this week he didn't want to be Jay's PR man. The coach-turned-ESPN analyst did say that Jay "has a good offensive background, a tremendous work ethic, and the big thing is he can relate to quarterbacks and coach them."

So far this season, that shows.

Honorable pursuit Everyone in Denver has an opinion on the Tim Tebow situation, even Mayor Michael Hancock. Then again, the mayor used to be the Broncos' mascot.

Wait! What?

That's right, Hancock was "Huddles," the guy in the upright-walking horse costume who danced around on the sidelines and behind the end zones. He was hired as a senior in high school, worked the 1986-87 season, and even got to go to the Super Bowl in Pasadena when Denver played the New York Giants. Hancock's love for the Broncos runs deep.

"My mother, she had Broncos wallpaper in our bathrooms," he said. "We've been Bronco fans from way back. The first game I remember was the Broncos' first Super Bowl. I was about 6, watching them play the Dallas Cowboys. I haven't missed a game since, and I grew up very passionate about them."

No hangover here

If Green Bay wins at San Diego, the Packers would become only the third defending Super Bowl champion to start the next season 8-0. The 1990 49ers did it, as did the 1998 Broncos.

KC masterpiece

The Kansas City Chiefs have won four in a row after starting 0-3. If they can knock off the winless Miami Dolphins on Sunday, the Chiefs would do something only four teams have accomplished.

Teams that won five consecutive games after starting a season 0-3 since 1970, and their final record (*advanced to playoffs):

Pittsburgh 2000 9-7
Buffalo 1998 10-6*
L.A. Raiders 1986 8-8
N.Y. Giants 1970 9-5
Source: NFL

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