Let me know if you've heard this one before: Are the Cincinnati Bengals for real?
Last season, the surprising Bengals went 9-0 against non-playoff teams and 0-7 against playoffs teams. This year, Cincinnati has followed the same path. After getting routed by the Baltimore Ravens in the season opener, the Bengals bounced back to beat the the Cleveland Browns, the Washington Redskins and the Jacksonville Jaguars. Those three teams have a combined 3-9 record (.250).
I still consider the Bengals a playoff team and Cincinnati certainly made it look easy in a 27-10 win at Jacksonville on Sunday. The Bengals have the same record as the Ravens, San Francisco 49ers and San Diego Chargers, but there's no evidence to prove they're the same caliber as those teams. Whether the Bengals are among the top teams in the league will remain a question mark over the next two weeks because Cincinnati plays the Miami Dolphins (1-3) and Browns (0-4). Most will agree that the Bengals' toughest test doesn't come until Oct. 21, when they play the Pittsburgh Steelers.
What can you say about the Bengals one-quarter of the way into the regular season? They're fun to watch. The Bengals are scoring more points than the Packers. They're among the league leaders in sacks (defensive tackle Domata Peko scored big points in celebrating the first of six Bengals sacks with a "Gangnam Style" dance, a nod to Korean rap sensation PSY. And the Bengals have the most exciting wide receiver in the AFC in A.J. Green.
When it comes to creativity, it's like Sam Wyche is the head coach again. The Bengals were jumpstarted in Jacksonville on Sunday by a fake punt in the second quarter. On fourth down-and-one, Cedric Peerman took a direct snap and ran 48 yards to the Jaguars' red zone.
That set up the Bengals' first touchdown, a short touchdown that caught the Jaguars defense off guard. After a fake to BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who is among the best goal-line runners in the NFL, quarterback Andy Dalton threw a one-yard pass to open fullback Chris Pressley, who scored his first career touchdown. That put the Bengals ahead 10-7, a lead they would never relinquish.
Teams don't know what the Bengals are going to do next. This is the same team that scored twice in the wildcat offense last Sunday, including a 73-yard pass from wide receiver Mohamed Sanu to Green to open the game, and tried a fake field goal.
This strong start hasn't glossed over the issues facing the Bengals. Green-Ellis has gone from the NFL's best running back in terms of ball security to a fumbling machine. He coughed up the ball twice in a span of 22 touches after not fumbling on his first 590 touches in the league. The Bengals have lost their leading tackler (Thomas Howard) and starting left guard (Travelle Wharton) to injuries. They had as many healthy cornerbacks as quarterbacks for this game before they signed someone off the practice squad.
None of these difficulties have stopped the Bengals from outlasting the Browns and Redskins or cruising past the Jaguars. Like last year, they've beaten the teams that they're supposed to beat. The difference this year is they're doing it in a more entertaining fashion.
"It's good to get this win on the road," coach Marvin Lewis told the team's official website. "I told these guys after, that except for the game in Cleveland [on Oct. 14], we've got five straight at home. It was a good September. It's got to be a better October."
Something tells me that Lewis isn't done reaching into his bag of tricks this season.