(SportsNetwork.com) - Once is chance. Twice is coincidence.
And by the third time, it might just be a pattern.
Dismissed by some stubborn non-believers even after consecutive playoff
appearances in 2011 and 2012, Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton is heaping
yet another helping of success onto the plates of those who doubted his 2013
fortunes with the Bengals.
A 27-24 victory in the last second at Detroit last weekend lifted Dalton and
Co. to 5-2 on the season and put them two games clear of their nearest
competitors in the AFC's North Division - the defending Super Bowl champion
Baltimore Ravens and the upstart Cleveland Browns, both of whom are under .500
A chance to extend the margin comes Sunday when the New York Jets visit for a
Week 8 game.
The Bengals failed to win more than they'd lost in 18 of the 20 seasons before
Dalton arrived as a rookie in 2011. In two-plus years with him at the helm,
they've gone 24-15 and reached the playoffs after both the 2011 and 2012
The franchise's last consecutive playoff appearances had come in 1981 and
1982, long before Dalton, who turns 26 on Tuesday, was born.
The Texas Christian University product has connected on 50-of-74 passes for
709 yards, six touchdowns and a 119.7 passer rating in the last two weeks,
which have yielded matching 27-24 road wins at Buffalo and Detroit.
Both victories were sealed with field goals from kicker Mike Nugent, who was
drafted by the Jets in 2005.
"These last couple have come down to the end and we're finding ways to win the
game," Dalton said. "It's big. We're 5-2 now and it sets us up nice for where
we want to go."
New York's own young QB, rookie Geno Smith, has engineered a few last-minute
wins of his own in his first tour of NFL duty.
The West Virginia product threw for 233 yards and a TD and ran for 32 yards
and another score in the Jets' overtime defeat of the New England Patriots in
Week 7, which lifted New York within a game of the AFC East lead.
Smith drove the Jets down the field in the extra session to set up kicker Nick
Folk, who made a 42-yarder for the win. All four of New York's wins this
season have come via fourth-quarter comeback or in overtime, making Smith the
first rookie since the 1970 merger to lead four such drives in his first seven
Three of them have ended with Folk field goals.
"(He needs to) just keep making strides," coach Rex Ryan said. "You see it on
the practice field. He's comfortable with our system. It's now become his
The missing ingredient thus far has been consistency.
New York has alternated wins and losses through its first seven games. Smith
has connected on 60.8 percent of his passes for 1,019 yards, seven TDs and a
93.7 passer rating in the wins. In the losses, his rating has plunged to 51.6
and his completion percentage is just 55.3.
"I definitely want to continue to play consistently, and that's something I
have been working extremely hard at," Smith said. "I've been beating myself
over it because I know with that consistency at the quarterback, it usually
leads to success with the team. That's something I'm trying to do, something I
pride myself in, being a consistent decision-maker."
The Bengals were gashed for 357 passing yards by Detroit's Matthew Stafford
last week and will be without No. 1 cornerback Leon Hall for the rest of the
season after he tore his right Achilles tendon. He had a similar injury in his
left leg two seasons ago.
"I feel bad for him," said fill-in corner Dre Kirkpatrick. "It's the second
time it's happened to him and it's the opposite leg. I just feel bad for him."
The Jets defense is fourth in the league in total yardage, third in sacks and
second against the run. New York hasn't allowed a 100-yard rusher this season
and the Bengals haven't had one.
In fact, the last Cincinnati player to go for 100 was BenJarvus Green-Ellis in
Week 15 of 2012.
Through the air, though, Dalton's got options. In addition to Pro Bowl
receiver A.J. Green, he can also throw to Marvin Jones, Tyler Eifert and
Giovani Bernard. The final three have combined for four touchdowns in the last
two games, while Green has settled for 12 catches, 258 yards and two TDs of
his own - including an 82-yard score against Detroit.
For the season, Green has 43 catches (seventh in the league) for 619 yards
(third in the league) and five TDs (ninth in the league).
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
A grab bag of coverage.
Though the Jets don't have one premier go-to pass-catching threat, they've
found success with Smith throwing the ball to a collection of targets that
include Jeremy Kerley (24 catches), Stephen Hill (19 catches), Kellen Winslow
Jr. (17 catches) and Bilal Powell (15 catches).
With Cincinnati's top corner, Hall, out of the picture, it'll be up to the
remaining Bengals backfield personnel to handle myriad assignments.
Much like the Jets against the Cincinnati defense, the Bengals will provide
multiple offensive pass targets for QB Dalton. The problem for New York,
Dalton's receivers are of a higher-end variety than Smith's.
Look for Pro Bowler Green against Jets corner Antonio Cromartie, who's been
dogged by injury and has struggled against other elite receivers this season.
Even if Green is held down, Dalton could have success elsewhere.
It's not inconceivable that the Jets head to Ohio, batten down the defensive
hatches and beat the Bengals in an old-fashioned, run-heavy slugfest.
But it may be less inconceivable that Dalton and Green connect for 10 passes
and a couple of scores, and force Geno into high-risk rallying behavior that
exposes his predilection for road-game mistakes. That seems more likely here.