SEATTLE — Marvin Lewis politely acknowledged becoming Cincinnati's all-time wins leader only to immediately crack a joke when it was pointed out the Bengals had surpassed their entire win total from a year ago.
"We didn't have to go far to surpass last year, unfortunately," Lewis said.
It's not just the Bengals' win total that's surprising. They're doing it thanks to defense, a couple of rookies on offense and, on Sunday, one huge special teams play.
Quarterback Andy Dalton threw a pair of first-half touchdown passes, one to fellow rookie A.J. Green, Brandon Tate returned a punt 56 yards for a touchdown with 3:22 left, and the Bengals won their fourth straight, 34-12 over the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday.
Toss in Reggie Nelson's 75-yard interception return for a score in the final minute, and every phase had a hand in the Bengals' fourth straight win and first win on the West Coast since beating San Diego in 2003.
Cincinnati is 5-2 for the fourth time in the past 21 years. The previous three times, it reached the post-season. The Bengals are tied with Baltimore, a half-game behind Pittsburgh in the tough AFC North.
"We continue to find a way to win it and continue to find a way to keep it interesting. We have to grow on the positives, and we've got to correct the negatives," Lewis said.
"That's a hard-fought game. It started out with more talking than playing. We got ahead at that point, and we were able to settle down and play a little bit more better in the second half."
Dalton tossed TDs of 14 yards to Jerome Simpson and a beautiful 43-yarder that dropped into the arms of Green in the second quarter to give the Bengals a 17-3 lead.
From there, the Bengals (5-2) leaned on their impressive defense that bent, but managed to keep Seattle out of the end zone until the fourth quarter.
"To the people on the outside, they may be surprised and what not," Cincinnati cornerback Leon Hall said. "Every season we come in expecting to win. ... Just hopefully, we've got some big games coming up, so we execute in those games."
Dalton made mistakes in the second half, throwing a pair of interceptions, and the Bengals managed only 252 yards of total offense. That proved to be enough thanks to special teams, defense and flubs from the struggling Seahawks.
Dalton, whom Seattle passed on in April's draft by using its late first-round pick on right tackle James Carpenter instead of the quarterback out of Texas Christian, was 180-for-29 for 168 yards. Green finished with four catches for 63 yards.
Mike Nugent made two field goals, including a 48-yarder with 4:50 left to give the Bengals a 20-12 lead. It capped a drive during which Cincinnati used four minutes and forced Seattle to get a touchdown and 2-point conversion to tie.
It was a moot point. Seattle (2-5) went three-and-out on the ensuing possession and Tate, filling in for Pacman Jones, who was injured in the first quarter, caught Jon Ryan's punt and sprinted nearly untouched to seal the victory. It was Cincinnati's first punt return for a score since 2003.
"For some reason when he kicked it I had the feeling I was going to do something special with it," Tate said. "I didn't know I was going to score, but I put all the trust in my teammates. The other 10 guys did their job; I just went out and did mine."
One of Cincinnati's challenges was deciphering Seattle's quarterback. Charlie Whitehurst started after Coach Pete Carroll determined he wanted to rest Tarvaris Jackson, and his pectoral injury, another week. But Whitehurst was ineffective, and Jackson entered midway through the second quarter.
The quarterback roulette that never hit on the right number was part of a maddening and confusing day that started when receiver Mike Williams was surprisingly inactive after not being listed on any injury reports all week.
The Seahawks (2-5) were flustered to the point that running back Marshawn Lynch was barking at coaches on the bench after Seattle was held to a field goal on the final play of the third quarter — the second time they were stymied inside the 10.
"There were a couple plays ... I didn't execute right, and I think those were plays that would have put the game in a different perspective," he said.
Jackson finished 21-for-40 for a career-high 323 yards in just 2½ quarters, while Whitehurst was 4-for-7 for 52 yards and was sacked twice.