CINCINNATI (AP) — For the first time this season, Paul Brown Stadium will be filled. That says it all about the unbeaten Bengals’ next game.
Even though they’ve been very impressive while going 4-0, they’ve yet to catch everyone’s imagination and stamp themselves as an elite team. After four straight first-round playoff losses, their legacy is defined not by October but by January.
Still, a win on Sunday over the two-time NFC champion Seahawks (2-2) would go a long way in redefining them.
“We’re getting tired of not getting over that hump,” cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick said. “It gets frustrating, the criticism that people have brought to us.”
Here’s their chance to end some of it. They’ve got a lot in their favor as they host a Seattle team hasn’t looked like a back-to-back Super Bowl participant so far.
The Seahawks needed a late turnover and a non-call to beat the Lions 13-10 on Monday night and avoid a 1-3 start. Kam Chancellor stripped the ball from Calvin Johnson as he neared the goal line, and K.J. Wright knocked the ball out of the end zone — an illegal move that wasn’t flagged.
Seattle’s defense has been championship caliber, allowing no touchdowns and only one field goal in opponents’ past 20 possessions. Perhaps its best test yet is against Andy Dalton, who is second in the NFL with a 123 passer rating, trailing only Aaron Rodgers at 125.9.
Dalton has been the NFL’s most productive passer in the fourth quarter and on third down, a main reason why the Bengals are still unbeaten.
Now, it’s the NFL’s second-ranked offense against the second-ranked defense.
“We’ve just played really good football, and the guys are starting to get that feeling,” coach Pete Carroll said. “It takes time to develop and get that sense, but they really are starting to get that feeling. Now here we go with the best challenge in the NFL, so we’ll see what that all means.”
Five things to watch at Paul Brown Stadium:
DALTON’S ASCENT: Dalton is playing with more confidence than at any point in his five-year career. He’s got plenty of options, with a receiver group that’s deep and versatile. Running backs Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard complement each other with their different styles. If Dalton keeps playing virtually mistake-free, the Bengals could run away with the AFC North, which they currently lead by two games.
“Regardless of what’s being said — obviously, you want people talking good about you rather than talking bad about you, that’s natural,” Dalton said. “But it doesn’t matter right now. We’re 4-0, things are good, let’s have them be talking this way come December, January, February.
FAST START: The Bengals have opened seasons with five wins only twice in their history. They did it in 1975, when they started 6-0 and reached the playoffs for the third time in franchise history. They also did it in 1988, when they also started 6-0 and went to the Super Bowl for the second time and lost to San Francisco.
PICKING IT OFF: Even though Seattle’s defense has been so stingy, it has yet to get an interception. The Seahawks are one of three NFL teams without one. Dalton has thrown only one interception in four games.
“There’s no concern about that,” cornerback Richard Sherman said of the lack of interceptions. “They come when they come. As long as we’re keeping points off the board, we couldn’t care less.”
SHERMAN VS. GREEN: Sherman’s first career start came in 2011 against Cincinnati. Sherman had an interception and defended three passes — a game he later admitted playing with a concussion — but got most of the attention for his unflattering comments about A.J. Green afterward, saying he was overrated and ran poor routes.
“Obviously, I was hyped up that day,” Sherman said this week. “I’m always hyped up after the game. We’ve had conversations, and his resume speaks for itself. He’s had a fantastic four or five years since we’ve played him, so you have to give him all the respect.”
BLOCK SOMEBODY: Seattle’s offensive line is a huge concern. Russell Wilson was sacked six times by Detroit and has been dropped 18 times in four games. Seattle overhauled the line in the offseason, but it hasn’t been able to protect Wilson or get the running game going consistently.
“We’re continuing to work through the process with those guys,” offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said. “We like where they’re at, but obviously we need them to continue to grow.”