Quarterback Andy Dalton arrived at the Cincinnati Bengals' postgame press conference with his bright red hair slightly tussled and a smile that was permanently fixed.
Dalton's summer of fun, which has included the birth of his first child Noah on July 1 and the signing of a six-year, $115 million contract extension Aug. 4, rolled on Saturday night when he pitched a perfect game against the New York Jets.
Making his first appearance at Paul Brown Stadium since a disastrous three-interception performance in a 27-10 wild-card loss to San Diego in January, Dalton completed 8 of 8 passes for 144 yards and a touchdown for a perfect passer rating of 158.3.
But maybe the most telling stat of all was 10, which was the number of times Dalton used the word "fun" during the 14-question press conference.
"When you have a game like you did tonight, and you have teammates like I have, it's a lot of fun," Dalton said. "When you're out there making plays and doing things like we did tonight, it is a lot of fun. It's still the game that you played when you were little."
Dalton led the first-team offense on three consecutive scoring drives - two touchdowns and one field goal - that netted Cincinnati 17 points on 17 plays in just under 17 minutes.
The Jets, however, left their starters in for the bulk of the first half and took advantage of shaky performances by the Bengals' backups to erase a 17-3 deficit for a 25-17 victory.
But not even that was enough to wipe the smile off Dalton's face.
"He's just having so much fun out there right now," offensive coordinator Hue Jackson said. "This is his team, and he's playing really well. You can tell he's really enjoying everything. Everyone's behind him. Everyone believes in him."
Dalton checked out of Jackson's play call several times against the Jets, one of which led to a 35-yard pass to A.J. Green that set up a 1-yard touchdown run by Giovani Bernard for a 14-3 lead.
But Dalton's best throw of the game came on the opening drive when he hit Mohamed Sanu on a deep pass over the middle for a 43-yard touchdown despite tight coverage from Jets cornerback Kyle Wilson.
"Man, that guy's amazing," Sanu said of his quarterback. "He's dropping dimes all over the place. You wish you could play longer when everybody's in a grove and on the same page and Andy's spinning the ball like that."
Dalton has led the Bengals on scoring drives on each of the four series he has played in the first two preseason games, going 11 of 13 for 215 yards with one touchdown and a 144.4 passer rating.
"He's on top of his game," Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis said. "He's throwing the football and understands what we want. He continues to play the way we think he should play all the time.
"It doesn't surprise me," Lewis continued, "because that's the way he practices all the time. He doesn't have to be flashy. He just needs to be accurate and handle the offense. He does his thing very well."
But winning in the preseason is one thing; doing it the postseason is something else, something Dalton has to yet to accomplish in three tries.
Some people wondered what kind of reception he would get playing in front of the home fans for the first time since the San Diego loss - and first time since the giant contract extension - but Dalton said the response was overwhelmingly positive.
"I thought it was great," he said. "It wasn't any different from the way it's been since I've been here. I got a lot of cheers going out there. Hopefully we keep getting cheers when we're scoring touchdowns.
"I've been here for a while now, and obviously I'm going to be here for a little while longer," he said. "It was fun. I think the fans were into it. Hopefully they keep coming and see what this team can do."
--Wide receiver Mohamed Sanu caught a 43-yard touchdown pass from Andy Dalton on the opening drive of Saturday's 25-17 loss to the New York Jets, marking the longest reception of his career.
Primarily used as a slot receiver his first two seasons, Sanu is expected to play more of an outside role while Marvin Jones recovers from a broken foot.
"It's encouraging what we've seen through this spring and training camp, where he can stretch the field a little bit," wide receivers coach James Urban said. "His urgency off the line of scrimmage and his tempo and speed have really improved. Just attacking leverage and getting on top the way he got on top, some of that takes a little time to get used to and he's been impressive."
Sanu was split wide almost exclusively for his 16 snaps against the Jets, finishing with two catches for 56 yards, but he's expected to move back inside for slot work as his playing time increases and the game plans get more creative in the regular season.
"It's been a lot of fun to see Mo's progression in the offense throughout his career," Dalton said. "He's a guy who is always in the right spot. He's got really strong hands, runs really good routes and just finds ways to get open. That's exactly what you want as a quarterback.
"I think you can see what he's able to do," Dalton added. "He wasn't just a possession receiver (Saturday) - he was downfield, and made a big play on the touchdown. He's capable of doing a lot of different things."
--Bengals coaches have made no secret about their desire for fourth-round pick Russell Bodine to win the starting job at center, and Monday offensive line coach Paul Alexander basically made it official Bodine will be out there for the opener in Baltimore on Sept. 7.
"Right now it's full speed ahead with Bodine," Alexander told the Cincinnati Enquirer. "That kid has so much talent. He's loaded with talent. He has a tough physical demeanor and he can block the big nose guards in our division. He's exactly the type of player we've been looking for."
Bodine has struggled with shotgun snaps through the spring and training camp, and the Bengals began giving guard Mike Pollak some work at center with the second-team offense last week.
But Pollak is still recovering from a knee injury and appears to be more of an insurance policy than a threat to win the job.
Bodine said he was surprised to see the Jets blitz as much as they did after starting quarterback Andy Dalton exited the game early in the second quarter, but the rookie said the experience was helpful.
"I'll take everything you can throw at me right now," he said. "My learning curve is still huge to try to pick things up. Seeing all the stuff, every rep I get definitely helps. I definitely think I'm getting on top of it, but at the same time it's never good enough. You can never be too ready. At least starting off we've got a few 3-4 teams in the preseason, so that will help with the quick turnaround to Baltimore."
--Left tackle Andrew Whitworth (calf), tight end Jermaine Gresham (back) and left guards Clint Boling (knee) and Mike Pollak (knee) made their preseason debuts Saturday against the Jets as the Bengals' overall team health continues to improve.
Gresham caught two passes for 13 yards, while Whitworth was in for all three scoring drives - two touchdowns and one field goal - to open the game.
"I wanted the chance to go out there and be on the field with those guys," Whitworth said. "I think sometimes as offensive linemen there are tendencies, not necessarily in guys when we're talking about finishers and things but in pass protection they try to play too fast and that usually gets them in more trouble than the other way around. You talk about blitzes and picking up great pass rushers and those kinds of deals honestly the calmest and slowest you can play but with great technique the better off you're going to be. More times than not freaking out and jumping out of your stance or playing too fast is what gets you in trouble. So being able to do that and help those guys out understand how that works is something I can help do."
--Cornerback Terence Newman was hit in the head from behind by Jets guard Willie Colon after intercepting a Geno Smith pass in the first quarter and said his first instinct was to square up.
"Then I realized I didn't have my helmet," he said.
Colon's penalties were one of seven personal fouls the Jets drew in the game, compared with zero for the Bengals.
"Some of the stuff that happened out there was kind of stupid if you ask me," Newman said. "They won the football game making the penalties, but I know their coach isn't going to be happy with the fact they got that many personal fouls. You're not going to win in the regular season like that."
--Bengals defensive coordinator Paul Guenther was not happy with the way his second- and third-team units played after being handed a 17-3 lead by the first teamers.
"We have 25 guys on defense and I need to find guys 19 to 25 right now who can help us out as a backup player," Guenther said. "We can't have a letdown as soon as those guys go in the game. There's some guys around that think they've made the team who are going to be shocked when this thing gets done if they keep playing like they're playing now."
Added head coach Marvin Lewis, "I realize it is a lot of young guys, but the development of this team has been because of developing depth. We have to realize we are going to have players getting injured during the season and guys have to respond and be able to step up, and the standard of play cannot get lowered.
"When guys come in they have to be able to carry the torch when it is their turn. We are getting a lot of guys out there to play and getting some good evaluations."
--Second-year wide receiver Cobi Hamilton, who is in a battle with rookie James Wright for the final roster spot at that position, had a rough night against the Jets.
Despite being targeted 13 times, Hamilton finished with just two catches for 11 yards.
Many of the throws were off target as backup quarterbacks Matt Scott and Tyler Wilson struggled against a heavy dose of blitzes by Jets coach Rex Ryan's defense, but Hamilton also had a few drops, which is something that has been an ongoing issue since the Bengals drafted him in the sixth round last year.
BATTLE OF THE WEEK: Bengals coaches continue to pour praise on undrafted rookie Ryan Hewitt, who seems to have moved ahead of H-back/tight end/fullback Orson Charles.
"I think Ryan has really done a nice job for us," Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis said of Hewitt. "He's handled things well. He's playing tight end/H-back/fullback, whatever you want to call those positions we have, and he's handled it well both physically and mentally. I think as a receiver he's done a nice job. As an interior blocker he's done a good job. I really think he's got a bright future."
The Bengals drafted Charles as a tight end out of Georgia in the fourth round in 2012 and converted him to fullback last year. He appeared in 13 games in 2013 but played sparingly, finishing with one rush for eight yards and no receptions.
Charles played 25 snaps Saturday against the Jets while Hewitt was on the field for 16, but Lewis said Charles is in a "dogfight" for his job.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--G Chandler Burden was waived by the Bengals Monday (Aug. 18). Burden, a Cincinnati native (La Salle High School), spent time on the Miami and Kansas City practice squads as a rookie last season. He was signed by the Bengals as a free agent on June 3 of this year and played in the club's first two preseason games.
--Rookie CB Darqueze Dennard, the team's first-round pick, left Saturday's game with a hip injury.
--Rookie RB Jeremy Hill, the team's second-round pick, left Saturday night's game with a shoulder injury.
--RB Rex Burkhead left Saturday's game with a knee injury.
--Rookie LB Marquis Flowers, the team's sixth-round pick, left Saturday's game with an ankle injury.
--Rookie WR James Wright, the team's seventh-round pick, left Saturday's game with a hip injury.
- Sports & Recreation
- American Football
- Andy Dalton
- New York Jets