Bengals masters of the fast start


Joe Kay

AP Sports Writer

CINCINNATI — Nobody’s getting carried away by the Bengals’ impressive start.

After all, they do this most years.

Cincinnati (2-0) is the only unbeaten team in the AFC North, a game ahead of Pittsburgh and Cleveland. The Bengals head to Baltimore with a chance on Sunday to put the last-place Ravens (0-2) in a very bad spot.

September has been Cincinnati’s fairest month for a long time. In the past 11 years, it’s the Bengals’ best month overall with a 22-13 mark.

Of course, their worst month is January, where they’ve repeatedly extended their streak of no playoff victories since the 1990 season.

Fast starts have helped them reach the playoffs each of the past four years, only to lose in the opening round. This one has them headed down that same road again, hoping for a different turn at the end.

“It’s exactly how you want to start, and we by no means have played a perfect game,” quarterback Andy Dalton said. “There’s still a lot more we can improve on. So the good thing is we feel that way and we’ve won games.”

A 33-13 win in Oakland and a 24-19 victory over San Diego at home left them 10-3 in September over the past three years. There’s a reason they’re able to get that head start over the rest of the division.

More than any other team in the AFC North, the Bengals have managed roster continuity that allows them to hit the ground running in September. While other teams are still getting a feel for what they’ve got, the Bengals are already in the flow of things.

“The guys are comfortable in their surroundings and what we’re doing,” coach Marvin Lewis said. “There’s not a lot of big change. We enter the season on the same level of comfort as what’s expected from them all the time. That takes the angst and unknowns out.

“We strive through camp to keep them healthy, keep them on their feet, keep them fresh, and move forward. That’s such a big part of our training camp.”

The Bengals didn’t have a significant injury during camp. Middle linebacker Vontaze Burfict is still recovering from offseason knee surgery, the only key player missing from a year ago because of injury.

The Ravens are missing some of their stalwarts on defense, the Steelers have an overhauled defense along with a new coordinator, and the Browns have used two quarterbacks because of injury.

By contrast, the Bengals are pretty much the same team as last year, with several players back from injuries.

“We’ve played together for a while now, so all that stuff helps,” Dalton said.

Unlike last season, when they played the weak South divisions, their schedule is back-loaded with tough teams. They finish the season with games at Cleveland, home against Pittsburgh, at San Francisco and Denver, then home against Baltimore.

They needed a fast start.

“Every week is going to get harder because this is one of those years where we’re playing the best teams in the league from last year,” left tackle Andrew Whitworth said.

Notes: WR A.J. Green and Whitworth were held out of practice on Wednesday. Green has a sore knee, Whitworth a sore back. DT Marcus Hardison (knee) and DT Pat Sims (hip) also missed practice. … S Reggie Nelson (groin) and DE Wallace Gilberry (thigh) were limited in practice. So was CB Leon Hall, getting some rest. … The Bengals have won their past three games against the Ravens. They’ve never won four straight against Baltimore, which leads the series 20-18.

Joe Kay

AP Sports Writer

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