Mohamed Sanu was describing his cross-field pass — the one that hung so dangerously in the air for so long — when his receiver on the play interrupted his commentary in the locker room.
"Go ahead and say it: Best hands on the team!" quarterback Andy Dalton said, demanding a compliment for his first professional catch. "Best hands on the team!"
On the signature play of Cincinnati's latest win, that sure was the case.
Dalton snatched Sanu's trick-play pass out of the air, somehow avoided getting leveled by a closing cornerback, and went 18 yards for a touchdown during a 33-7 victory over the Tennessee Titans on Sunday.
The Bengals (3-0) are off to their best start in eight years because they are making every sort of play, especially the ones that ought to backfire. In a season-opening win at Baltimore, A.J. Green made a juggling, 77-yard touchdown play to pull it out.
On Sunday, the Titans (1-2) were prepared for the Sanu-to-Dalton play — they'd practiced for it during the week — but cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson failed to intercept the floating pass or to level Dalton. Instead, he brushed the quarterback while running past, giving him a free lane to the end zone.
"It's a sick situation for me," Wreh-Wilson said. "I saw the ball in the air, I should've made that play. I probably just should've taken a better angle and gone for the tackle."
Nothing went right for the Titans, who got sad news a few hours before the game. They learned that former kicker Rob Bironas died overnight in a car crash in Nashville. He'd been released in March after spending nine seasons with Tennessee.
"It was real tough, with him being on the team all those years," said running back Shonn Greene, who scored the Titans' touchdown in the closing minutes. "We had some of our motivation and energy to play for him. It didn't work out."
Some things learned from the lopsided win:
ABOUT THAT PLAY: Dalton became the first Bengals quarterback to catch a touchdown pass. Four other Bengals have caught a pass — Akili Smith, Ryan Fitzpatrick, David Klingler and Sam Wyche — but none got into the end zone. Dalton is the first NFL quarterback to score since Kansas City's Tyler Thigpen caught a 37-yard pass from Mark Bradley during a 30-27 loss to Tampa Bay on Nov. 2, 2008. Also, the completion left Sanu 4 for 4 for 166 yards and two touchdowns in his career.
BENGALS DOING IT RIGHT: Cincinnati hasn't relied on any one player or part of the team while getting off to the fast start. The offense is balanced, the defense is locking up opposing quarterbacks, and punter Kevin Huber is pinning opponents. After having 10 field goal attempts in the first two games, they needed only one from Mike Nugent on Sunday.
"Probably our best effort of the season," coach Marvin Lewis said.
TIME TO REST UP: Cincinnati initially was unhappy to get its bye during the fourth week of the season, but it's coming at a good time with so many players hurt. Pro Bowl linebacker Vontaze Burfict didn't play on Sunday as he recovers from his second concussion in two weeks. Right guard Kevin Zeitler was inactive with an injured right calf. Pro Bowl receiver A.J. Green returned after missing most of the last game with an injured big toe on his right foot and had six catches for 102 yards. The defending AFC North champions could use the rest.
TITAN MESS: Tennessee missed two field goals, gave up a safety because of a holding penalty in the end zone on a punt, threw two interceptions, whiffed on that Sanu-to-Dalton play, and repeatedly self-destructed with penalties. In the last two games, the Titans have been outscored 59-17 by the Cowboys and Bengals.
"What's happening to us is when we have an opportunity to make a play, we're not making it," coach Ken Whisenhunt said. "We're not making the catch. We're not making the tackle. We're not making the kick."
SAD DAY: The Titans learned about Bironas' death a few hours before the kickoff. They went out and played by far their worst game of the season.
"It's one of those things that give you perspective," quarterback Jake Locker said. "It reminds you to be thankful for the people in your life. Rob was a charismatic guy that always brought smiles to people's faces around the building. It's tough to see it happen to someone so young, who was just recently married. You feel for him and his loved ones that are left behind."
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