CINCINNATI (AP) Andy Dalton spent most of the 12-minute interview talking about his hair. When it changed. Why it changed. How he gets that shock of red to stand up in front.

Yep, it's come to this: The Bengals quarterback is playing so well that he's getting as many questions about his scalp as his stats.

The NFL's second-rated passer has led Cincinnati to its first 8-0 start and eliminated the doubts about whether he's good enough to make the Bengals an elite team. He's even started putting his face out in public more.

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A close-up of Dalton's face is on the cover of a national sports magazine this week, the result of a half-hour photo shoot. In the photo, he's wearing black strips beneath his eyes and a big wave in his bright red hair.

He's gotten a lot of reaction to it.

''I think everybody's talking about my hair in the picture,'' Dalton said Thursday. ''I think the one thing that everybody seems to be focusing on this year is my hair, for whatever reason. I understand the (red) color - I've gotten that one a lot.

''But now I've got the style down and everybody wants to talk about it. It's been a lot of fun.''

In every way, it's the best time of Dalton's five-year career.

Although he led the Bengals to the playoffs in each of his first four seasons, the second-round draft pick out of TCU had his worst games in the postseason as the Bengals lost in the first round each time.

He got booed when introduced before the All-Star celebrity softball game this summer in Cincinnati, a reminder that fans considered him the face of those playoff losses.

Now, they want to look more like him. Some fans went Trick-or-Treating dressed like Dalton, along with the red hair.

''There's a lot of people wanting to figure out how I do my hair and wanting to copy the style, which is a cool thing,'' Dalton said.

It's not just fans. His teammates enjoy seeing Dalton - who has shied away from attention most of his four seasons in Cincinnati - get his face on the cover of magazines.

''That was unbelievable,'' defensive end Carlos Dunlap said. ''When I was walking in a (grocery) store, I saw that. That was crazy. Everybody's getting national attention.

''It was a cute picture of Andy. He went all-out for the picture, man. I like it.''

The Bengals host Houston (3-5) on Monday night at Paul Brown Stadium with a chance to become the 22nd team during the Super Bowl era and the 29th overall to open a season 9-0. They then play a Sunday night game at Arizona.

Dalton has been the key to the perfect start. His 111 passer rating ranks second in the NFL. He's thrown 18 touchdown passes with only four interceptions and has been sacked only 11 times in those eight games.

He's been so good week-to-week that fans can start fixating on something other than his interception total.

''Who would have thought of these conversations we'd be having, Week nine or 10, talking about my hair and the clothes that I wear?'' Dalton said.

Oh, just wait.

Notes: RT Andre Smith was held out of practice again Thursday as he recovers from a concussion that caused him to miss the previous game against Cleveland. ... MLB Vontaze Burfict and G Kevin Zeitler (ankle) were limited. Burfict hurt his left knee - the one that had offseason surgery - against Cleveland but stayed in the game. ... LB Rey Maualuga practiced fully. He missed the Cleveland game with a calf injury.

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