CINCINNATI — There are fast starts, and then there is the way the Cincinnati Bengals have answered the opening bell this 2015 NFL season, moving and grooving to the franchise's first 4-0 start since 2005.
"Ten years?" safety Reggie Nelson said. "Really? That long?"
Yes, that long. But after a decade drought, the Bengals have taken down first Oakland, then San Diego, then Baltimore and now Kansas City, decking the Chiefs 36-21 at Paul Brown Stadium on Sunday.
In the division, the 4-0 Bengals already are two games ahead of Pittsburgh and three ahead of Baltimore, a team Cincinnati beat in Baltimore last week. During the preseason, San Diego, Baltimore and Kansas City were considered potential, if not probable, playoff teams.
And two-time AFC champion Seattle comes to Paul Brown Stadium next Sunday.
Yes, it's October. Yes, only the playoffs matter for a team that hasn't won a playoff game since 1990. But you still have to play the regular season games — and win those games.
"I think that was probably our best" game, head coach Marvin Lewis said Sunday. "We've had a good start to the football season."
Quarterback Andy Dalton continues to be playing his best. If Dalton is the key to the team, then he's the key to the start.
"He's playing out of his mind," said wide receiver A.J. Green, who caught seven passes for 82 yards. "He's the commander out there."
Take the fourth play of the Bengals' first series of the game. It was third-and-two at the Cincinnati 44 when Dalton had to bend down to field a low shotgun snap. He rose up and fired a beautiful ball just past the shoulder of a Kansas City cornerback and into the arms of Green for a 36-yard gain to set up the Bengals' first score.
"I heard all this noise," Green said. "I looked up and the ball was there."
Dalton was on target most of the afternoon. He was a perfect 8-for-8 in the first quarter. He had completed 10 of 12 passes for 179 yards by halftime. He finished 17-for-24 for 321 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions.
"Confident and comfortable," Dalton said when describing his play.
Most all the Bengals are playing that way. The defense allowed yards but no touchdowns, forcing Kansas City's Cairo Santos to kick a team-record seven field goals. The Bengals punted twice all day. Before the season, Kansas City was considered to have one of the best pass rushes in the NFL. Sunday, the Chiefs didn't record a single sack.
Maybe John Harbaugh was right last week when the Ravens coach claimed Cincinnati has the best talent in the league.
Offensive coordinator Hue Jackson has a variety of healthy weapons and a quarterback who, at least through the first quarter of the season, is playing the best football of his career. On defense, Lewis and coordinator Paul Guenther have playmakers.
Kansas City cut the Cincinnati lead to 21-15 on Santos' fifth field goal, then forced the Bengals to punt. No problem. Three plays later, defensive end Michael Johnson hustled outside on a Kansas City pass play and poked the ball loose from Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce. Nelson scooped up the loose ball and returned it to the visitors' five-yard line.
Two plays later, Jeremy Hill scored one of his three rushing touchdowns.
"I've been saying, 'What happened to Jeremy Hill? What happened to Jeremy Hill?'" said Dalton with a grin. "Jeremy was Jeremy today."
Dalton has been the "Good Andy" every Sunday. His pass efficiency ratings for the first four games: 115.9, 126.1, 122.3 and 127.1.
"He continues to be Andy Dalton," offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth said. "That's the part we're proud of."
A 4-0 record is something to be proud of as well, especially with the Seahawks coming to town.
"Today's over," Lewis said Sunday. "Got to keep grinding."