CINCINNATI — The Bengals have figured out a way to go against their nature.
Instead of making the mind-boggling mistake that leads to a loss, Cincinnati has become cool under pressure. The Bengals improved to 3-2 by taking advantage of Jacksonville's botched punt and misplayed snap in the closing minutes for a 30-20 win on Sunday.
"The good thing is, we keep playing and don't get too unnerved," Coach Marvin Lewis said on Monday.
That's not their history.
They've managed only two winning records in the last 20 years because they've been masters of self-inflicted disaster. Whether it's running over a teammate about to score or tipping a pass to the opposing team, the Bengals have found ways to lose games like no one else.
So far, this team has been different.
A victory at home on Sunday against 0-5 Indianapolis would allow the Bengals to equal their win total from last season, when they went 4-12 with a veteran group on offense — Carson Palmer, Terrell Owens, Chad Ochocinco.
They've been replaced by a bunch of newcomers who are too young to know any better ... or, in the Bengals' case, any worse. Rookie quarterback Andy Dalton has led consecutive game-winning drives in the fourth quarter, throwing to rookie receiver A.J. Green and second-year tight end Jermaine Gresham when he needs a big play.
"We don't flinch," Green said.
That might be the best explanation for the surprising start.
"We're so inexperienced, so young, that they have this 'Let's go' kind of thing, where they just don't worry about it," Lewis said.
These Bengals haven't grown accustomed to losing.
"We were relentless," defensive tackle Domata Peko said. "Even though they made some good plays, I think our old team would have folded. But this is a new squad, and we have a lot of heart on this team."
It shows in the fourth quarter. The Bengals started their role reversal during an opening win in Cleveland, when they caught the Browns loitering instead of lining up in the fourth quarter. A quick-snap touchdown pass to an unguarded Green put the Bengals up with 4:28 left.
They upset Buffalo a week ago on Dalton's 3-yard touchdown run that tied it with 4:09 left and Mike Nugent's field goal as the clock ran out. They pulled another one out in the last two minutes in Jacksonville.
Matt Turk's 22-yard punt, plus a penalty, gave Cincinnati the ball at Jacksonville's 23-yard line. Bernard Scott's 2-yard run with 1:56 to go put the Bengals ahead. Jacksonville's botched snap in the shotgun — the kind of thing the Bengals have been known to do — essentially sealed it.
At the end, they were good again.
"That's the one thing this team does," Dalton said. "We just need to put ourselves in position in the fourth quarter to win the game."
Lewis would like them not to wait so long. The Bengals made their share of bad mistakes — Dalton had a poor throw into the wind that was picked off, Nugent missed an extra point, a blown coverage gave up an easy touchdown pass.
Sitting behind a desk discussing the game on Monday, Lewis had a lot more to say about the many mistakes than the impressive last few minutes.
"There's no reason to be sitting here thinking they've arrived at anything," Lewis said.