Here’s Lookin’ At You, 4-2

All right, let’s stop thinking about the Carson Palmer trade just for a moment – but only for a little bit since it was so fantastically awesome – and discuss some other matters on the Who Dey front.

We all knew the Bengals’ schedule was extremely weak this season – especially early in the year – but no one expected they would enter their bye week with a 4-2 record. (And if you did, kudos to you. Also, quit lying.)

However, that’s exactly where they’re at following last Sunday’s 27-17 win over the visiting and depleted Indianapolis Colts, putting the Bengals right in the thick of the playoff hunt.

Some rapid-fire thoughts:

* Andy Dalton: Phenomenal. I can’t believe he’s playing this well as a rookie. He’s fearless, a gritty leader and is extremely accurate throwing the football. I continue to be taken aback by his maturity level and he has the makings of a quarterback that is going to be an effective starter for years to come. If he’s this efficient already, how good will he be in two or three years?

* A.J. Green: Did the Bengals really get their QB of the future and their clear-cut No. 1 wide receiver in the same draft? Yes, yes they did. Those that were laughing that Cincinnati took Green over Julio Jones with the No. 4 overall pick of the 2011 draft aren’t cracking wise any longer. Green is a future star in the NFL and the early favorite for AFC Rookie of the Year. (If it’s not Dalton.)

* Jerome Simpson: I’m telling you now, when he’s not getting pounds of weed delivered to his house, I’m quite intrigued with him. He still drops too many passes, but he’s not the complete draft bust we all once thought he was. (Second-round pick in 2008; didn’t play until the end of his third season.) There is no doubting Simpson’s supreme athletic ability. He just needs to shore up his hands – and steer clear of any federal drug investigations – and he has the chance to be a good WR in the league.

* Carlos Dunlap: Where the hell is he at? Other than the fumble recovery for the TD against the Colts – which was more luck than anything – he’s been MIA. Not what I expected after his outstanding rookie season when he racked up 9.5 sacks. Dunlap needs to step up if the Bengals’ defense is going to remain as one of the NFL’s best.

* Nate Clemens/Thomas Howard: Both of these guys are signed through 2012, which is great for the Bengals because they’ve each played well. They were the two-biggest free agent signings of the offseason for the team and a lot of people – present company included – scoffed at the notion that the Bengals had improved their defense. Certainly signing Clements, 31, as a No. 2 cornerback and Howard, 28, as a starting outside linebacker didn’t make up for losing cornerback Johnathan Joseph.

Or maybe it did.

Listen, I would still rather have Joseph who is having a good year for the Houston Texans, but once the Bengals lost him, they executed their “Plan B” very well. You know I’d be the last person to praise the front office for anything, but they deserve credit when it’s due. Signing Clements for 2-years, $10.5 million, and Thomas for 2-years, $6.5 million were bargains, especially Thomas who is still relatively young. Also, the Bengals acted swiftly in re-signing three key veterans to long-term contracts: cornerback Leon Hall, left tackle Andrew Whitworth and center Kyle Cook.

* Benson, Scott, RB position: Cedric Benson’s three-game suspension was reduced to just one on the glorious day that was Tuesday (same day as the Carson Palmer trade). He will miss the contest at the Seattle Seahawks following the Bengals’ bye week.

That means third-year pro Bernard Scott will be the starter, and third-down specialist Brian Leonard could also have a bigger role in the running game. Also, second-year pro Cedric Peerman is likely to get a few opportunities.

The bottom line is that it’s time for Scott to step up. If he ever wants to be anything more than a bit player in the NFL, he needs to prove next Sunday that he can be a difference-maker. He’s shown flashes of brilliance during his young career, but hasn’t been all that impressive this season. Could this be Scott’s breakout game as a pro? Stay tuned. Seattle can be a tough place to play, but the ‘Hawks are dreadful this season. The Bengals can’t afford to go in there and lay an egg against one of the NFL’s worst teams. If they want to be legitimate playoff contenders, they need to emerge from the game with a 5-2 record.