CINCINNATI (AP) — The Bengals have never been better six weeks into a season. Next comes a bye to rest and get several injured players healthy.
The AFC North leaders are in a very good place.
A 34-21 win in Buffalo on Sunday left the Bengals one of five unbeaten teams in the NFL. Their 6-0 mark matches the best start in franchise history — they also did it in 1975 and in 1988, the last time they went to the Super Bowl.
“It’s a great thing to be 6-0, there’s no doubt about it,” left tackle Andrew Whitworth said on Monday. “It’s a great thing to win and have that opportunity to look at our season and say, ‘Man, we have an opportunity to make the playoffs.’ But it doesn’t mean you’ve accomplished anything.”
One more win would accomplish plenty.
The Bengals are in control of the division with a two-game lead over the Steelers (4-2), who are still missing Ben Roethlisberger to a knee injury. After their bye, they play in Pittsburgh with a chance to open a three-game lead.
They still have two games left with Cleveland (2-4), and they host Baltimore (1-5).
With the Bengals, it’s all about winning a playoff game. They haven’t done that since the 1990 season, the sixth-longest postseason drought in NFL history. They’ve reached the playoffs each of the past four seasons and lost their opening game, three times on the road.
The fast start has put them in position to play for home-field advantage during the postseason. The Bengals are the first AFC North team to start 6-0 since realignment in 2002.
“We just have to keep driving the train straight,” receiver Marvin Jones said. “You’ll hear everybody say that. We know what the focus is and that’s something greater. It’s great that we’re 6-0, but we’re chasing something great and we know it.”
The biggest change this season has been at quarterback. Andy Dalton has emerged during his fifth season, growing into one of the NFL’s top passers for the first time. His 116.1 passer rating trails only the Patriots’ Tom Brady, and he leads the league in fourth-quarter passer rating.
The win on Sunday was Dalton’s 22nd on the road, which trails only Dan Marino, Roethlisberger and Matt Ryan — all at 23 — for most by a quarterback during his first five seasons in the Super Bowl era.
Dalton has completed 67 percent of his throws for 1,761 yards with 14 touchdowns and only two interceptions. Brady leads the league with only one interception.
So far, Dalton has been the leader in keeping them perfect.
“It’s huge,” Dalton said. “I mean, you look at the schedule and you see the start week and the bye and this is exactly what you want, to be going undefeated into the bye.”
Notes: Coach Marvin Lewis said several players who were limited by injuries on Sunday should be healthy enough to play against the Steelers after the bye. … The NFL Network apologized to Bengals players who were shown naked in the locker room during a postgame interview on Sunday. A network reporter was interviewing cornerback Adam “Pacman” Jones, and the videographer’s angle included the entrance to the shower area. Several players were shown naked in the background. NFL Network Executive Vice President Alex Riethmiller said during a conference call on Monday that the crew didn’t follow network procedures that would have prevented it.