CINCINNATI (AP) — The Bengals have done what's necessary keep themselves in playoff position a fourth of the way into the season. The toughest part begins later this month.
At 3-1, they've given themselves some wiggle room that they'll likely need.
Cincinnati remained tied with Baltimore atop the AFC North with a 27-10 win at Jacksonville, their third straight after they got drubbed by the Ravens 44-13 in the season opener.
The Bengals did it with a defense missing its two starting cornerbacks and an offense riding the Dalton-to-Green combination to a lot of big plays.
"We're definitely ahead of where we were last year," quarterback Andy Dalton said on Monday.
They are on offense. The defense is something of a mess, but playing well enough to keep the winning streak intact heading into a home game Sunday against Miami (1-3).
Cornerbacks Leon Hall (hamstring) and Nate Clements (calf) missed Sunday's game with injuries. Hall, their top defender, has missed the last two games, cutting into the depth in the defensive backfield.
After two tough opening games, the defense is starting to come together, improving from 29th in the league to 19th with a solid showing against Jacksonville. The Bengals had six sacks on Sunday and lead the league with 17 overall.
It was a major improvement over a 38-31 win at Washington the previous week.
"I think we just played pretty well," cornerback Terence Newman said Monday. "(Coach Mike Zimmer) has been on us pretty hard because we haven't been playing up to the potential the guys on this team are able to play up to. All week, he's been just pretty much down our throats and wanting us to hustle to the ball, finish plays, finish games.
"Honestly, you would have never thought we had won the game last week (in Washington) when we came in the meeting on Monday. He was pretty mad."
The return of defensive end Carlos Dunlap has made a huge difference in the pass rush. Dunlap missed the first two games with a sprained knee, suffered in the first preseason game. Left end Michael Johnson had a career-high three sacks against the Redskins with Dunlap on the other side of the line, and tackle Geno Atkins had two on Sunday at Jacksonville.
"I'm really excited about Dunlap and Michael Johnson and Geno," said defensive tackle Domata Peko, who had a sack on Jacksonville's first play. "They're all excellent pass rushers. In the league right now it seems like there's a lot more passing, so you've got to be good at rushing the passer."