CINCINNATI (AP) — First, Peyton Manning beat the Chiefs. Then, Aaron Rodgers — the NFL’s top-ranked passer — took their defense apart, throwing for five touchdowns last Monday night in Green Bay.
Up next is the league’s second-rated passer, also on the road.
Andy Dalton and the Bengals (3-0) intend to prove they should be counted among the league’s elite, too.
“We feel good about where we’re at,” said Dalton, whose passer rating of 121 trails only Rodgers’ 135.4 for the league lead.
“There’s still some things we can do better. We feel like the only thing that can stop us is ourselves. So we’ve just got to keep pushing and be the best we can be.”
Dalton led the Bengals back twice in the fourth quarter to get a win in Baltimore last Sunday and give Cincinnati control of the AFC North. He threw an 80-yard touchdown pass to A.J. Green and a 7-yarder for the clinching score.
Kansas City (1-2) gets no reprieve from its week-by-week matchup against some of the NFL’s top passers. The Chiefs have to do much better this week or they’ll find themselves three games below .500 only a month into the season.
“It’s tough,” linebacker Derrick Johnson said. “They have a really explosive offense and Andy Dalton is one of the young, up-and-coming quarterbacks and has a pretty dynamic receiver that he’s throwing the ball to.
“That team is 3-0. That’s hard to do in this league, even though it’s early. Coming into their house, it’s going to be even harder to beat them. But we have to turn some things around here and that’s what we have to do.”
A win on Sunday would let the Bengals match the third-best start in franchise history. Twice, they’ve started 6-0.
Here are some things to watch at Paul Brown Stadium:
CHIEFS PASS DEFENSE: Top cornerback Sean Smith returns from a three-game suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. Cornerback Phillip Gaines tore an ACL against the Packers, so the Chiefs need Smith to play well right away. He feels up to it.
“Just like riding a bike,” Smith said. “One pedal at a time.”
RUNNING ON EMPTY: Jamaal Charles had a career-best three touchdown runs against the Packers. He has 63 touchdowns overall, third most in Chiefs history. Kansas City needs to get him comfortable early to prevent Cincinnati from using its blitz packages. The Bengals limited Baltimore to 36 yards on the ground and have the league’s fifth-ranked run defense. Charles will be the most dangerous running back they’ve faced.
“He’s a track star, man,” defensive end Wallace Gilberry said. “You give him daylight, and he’s going to burn you.”
PROTECTING SMITH: The Chiefs have allowed an NFL-high 14 sacks this season. They’re facing a defense that’s back to its old rush-the-passer ways with tackle Geno Atkins fully recovered from ACL surgery and Michael Johnson back at end. Their top priority is to give Alex Smith more time to throw.
“It’s a group effort and right now we’re working toward fixing that problem and fixing the other problems on offense we have,” tight end Travis Kelce said.
DALTON’S ENCORE: Dalton is off to the best start of his five-year career, completing 66 percent of his throws with eight touchdowns and only one interception. He leads the AFC in fourth-quarter passer rating at 147.5. He looked and sounded like an elite quarterback as he led the Bengals to those two fourth-quarter touchdowns in Baltimore.
“That’s the demeanor he had,” receiver Marvin Jones said. “It was not: ‘Oh my gosh.’ It was: ‘We know we’re going to score, let’s go do it.’ And that’s what we did. So that was a big step for us.”
AND DON’T FORGET GREEN: Green was honored as the AFC’s Offensive Player of the Week for his big game — 10 catches for a career-high 227 yards. Green had eight catches for 108 yards in the first two games combined, so it was a breakout in Baltimore. Last season, when he had an injured toe and a concussion, he put 100-yard games together only once. He was as good as ever in Baltimore.
“I think you guys all saw it,” offensive coordinator Hue Jackson said. “After the 80-yard touchdown, are you kidding me? I mean, that guy was on fire.”