'New' Andy Dalton pushes Bengals into Super Bowl conversation with OT win

CINCINNATI -- On the concrete facing of one section that separates upper-deck seats at Paul Brown Stadium on Sunday hung a paper banner.

"New Andy," its message read, referencing Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton, "jukes, points, rips and swags."

Maybe he'll do some of that during Super Bowl Sunday, too. Because the way the 2015 version of Dalton continues to play has the Bengals looking like a truly legitimate contender for the NFL's championship game. It's not only his play that has them looking that way; it's his emotion, too. The more fire and passion Dalton has displayed this season, the better it has been for his team.

It was with almost 3½ minutes left in Sunday's game when Dalton showed that emotion, sprinting and diving from 5 yards out for a touchdown that gave the Bengals sudden late life. It was the kind of play the Bengals needed as they were in the middle of rallying from a 17-point deficit against the two-time-defending NFC champion Seahawks.

With their 27-24 overtime win over a quality opponent, the Bengals are 5-0.

What it means: Cincinnati has the AFC North well in its clutches. Kicker Mike Nugent was reliable Sunday, one week after missing a kick from beyond 50 yards. He made two clutch ones down the stretch, including the game winner in overtime. He'll be important as the season continues.

What were they thinking? Halfway through the third quarter, the Bengals had one of their worst single-play tackling performances of the season. On the first play of one Seattle drive, Seahawks running back Thomas Rawls sprinted around a series of blocks at the line of scrimmage and broke into the Bengals' second level before finishing off a 69-yard run that pushed a three-point Seattle lead to 10. Once Rawls got into Cincinnati's secondary, he ran out of attempted tackles from Bengals defensive end Michael Johnson and safety Reggie Nelson. It was Nelson's missed tackle as the last line of defense that broke Rawls completely free for the touchdown. What was Nelson thinking, in particular, on what appeared to be a for-sure downfield takedown? It looked like he had designs of going for the strip instead of the stick, and it proved costly.

One reason to be excited: If you're a Bengals fan, you ought to be excited that the Bengals came back from their widest deficit of the season, slowly chipping away at the Seahawks' second-half lead before looking very much alive in the final four minutes of regulation. It was Dalton's touchdown dive that really got them going. On Seattle's ensuing possession, Bengals defensive tackle Geno Atkins came up with a key third-down sack that gave his team even more late life. Moments later, a pass-interference penalty and a 20-yard first-down completion to tight end Tyler Eifert got the Bengals' offense in position for Nugent's game-tying field goal that sent the game into overtime.

One reason to panic: Last week it was the Bengals' pass rush that was effective, getting to Kansas City quarterback Alex Smith five times. A similar story had been expected all this week, as the Bengals were about to face a Seahawks offensive line that allowed quarterback Russell Wilson to be sacked a whopping 18 times entering the game. Although the Bengals got to Wilson four times, it was Cincinnati's offensive line that had the issues. Bengals fans are within their rights to panic a little about the protection that permitted Dalton to be sacked four times. The Bengals had given up only two sacks all season before Sunday.

Fantasy watch: After two straight weeks of low production for his fantasy owners, Eifert made many of them happy again after an eight-catch, 90-yard, two-touchdown effort led to a 21-point day for him, based on ESPN's standard scoring system. It was his best fantasy performance since the season opener at Oakland, when he caught two touchdown passes and had more than 100 receiving yards. In that game, Eifert earned his fantasy owners 22 points.

Ouch: As has been the case all season, the Bengals were fortunate to escape another game without any major injuries. Only right offensive tackle Andre Smith and cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick were announced to have missed time. Smith was sidelined briefly with a left elbow injury, while Kirkpatrick had a bruised hip. Smith jogged to the locker room briefly in the third quarter to get the injury tended to before he quickly re-entered.