CINCINNATI — Andy Dalton plopped down in the chair and didn’t even wait for the first question.
“A little different from last year, huh?” he said, his eyes widening.
Different in every way — not only the Bengals quarterback, but for his still unbeaten team, too.
Dalton connected with tight end Tyler Eifert for three scores and played the role of blocker on Mohamed Sanu’s reverse for a touchdown, setting up Cincinnati’s 31-10 victory over the Cleveland Browns on Thursday night.
The Bengals improved to 8-0 for the first time in franchise history, their longest winning streak within a season.
“It seems like every week it’s a first-time-ever,” receiver Marvin Jones said. “It’s all good. We’ve got to be 9-0 next and keep it moving.”
Coming off an emotional 16-10 victory in Pittsburgh on Sunday that gave them control of the AFC North, the Bengals dominated the Browns (2-7) and Johnny Manziel in the second half.
Manziel had some of his best moments in the opening half, which ended with Cincinnati up only 14-10. In the second half, the Browns managed only 32 yards and two first downs.
“I’m pretty upset,” said Manziel, who finished 15 of 33 for 168 yards and was sacked three times, all in the fourth quarter. “We had momentum coming into the second half. We just didn’t do enough.”
It was a night for the Bengals to show how far they’ve come in a year. And no one has improved more than Dalton, who had his worst showing — a 2.0 passer rating — during a 24-3 loss to the Browns during a Thursday night game at Paul Brown Stadium last November.
“It’s huge to put ourselves in the position we’re in, to stay undefeated,” Dalton said. “Not a lot of teams have been 8-0 before. We understand that. It’s hard to do.”
He threw touchdown passes of 9 and 2 yards to Eifert in the first half, the latter after a Browns penalty kept a drive alive. Dalton also played lead blocker on Sanu’s 25-yard TD reverse in the fourth quarter, a play that took the Browns by such surprise that there was nobody there for the quarterback to touch.
“I was looking for somebody to block,” Dalton said. “I didn’t really know that Mo was right behind me. It was perfect execution.”
His 19-yarder to Eifert put Cincinnati in control and gave the tight end nine touchdown catches, tying the Bengals record for a tight end and giving him the NFL lead.
Dalton finished 21 of 27 for 234 yards with a passer rating of 139.8.
Manziel got a rematch against the team that taunted and then tormented him in his NFL debut last December, a 30-0 Bengals win. Coach Marvin Lewis referred to him as “a midget” leading up to the game, and several players mocked his “money-rubbing” gesture while frustrating him.
Instead of mocking him this time, they chased him around before ultimately shutting him down.
Manziel had some of his best NFL moments during a 10-play, 92-yard drive late in the first half that cut it to 14-10. He scrambled and threw a 12-yard touchdown pass to Duke Johnson with 19 seconds left, the type of play the Browns had expected to see a lot but have gotten so little from Johnny Football.
He couldn’t do anything as the Bengals increased the pressure in the second half.
The Browns were missing top cornerback Joe Haden, safety Donte Whitner and receivers Brian Hartline and Andrew Hawkins to concussions.
Two penalties on Browns defensive end Randy Starks helped the Bengals pull ahead 14-3.
Starks jump-started Cincinnati’s 80-yard touchdown drive with a taunting penalty after making a tackle. At the Cleveland 6, the Bengals went for it on fourth-and-2 but Dalton’s pass was incomplete. However, Starks was offside on the play, giving the Bengals a first down. Dalton then threw his second touchdown pass to Eifert.
Notes: The Bengals became the 33rd team in NFL history and the 22nd in the Super Bowl era to open 8-0. … LB Rey Maualuga (right calf) and RT Andre Smith (concussion) were inactive. … Cincinnati got a scare when LB Vontaze Burfict limped off in the second quarter after hurting his left knee, the one that had offseason surgery and caused him to miss the first six games. Burfict got the knee examined and returned later in the quarter.
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