CINCINNATI (AP) — Andy Dalton can set three Bengals passing records. A.J. Green can get a team receiving record.
Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton (14) passes against the Minnesota Vikings in the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 22, 2013, in Cincinnati. Dalton threw four touchdown passes as Cincinnati won 42-14. (AP Photo/David Kohl)
The records would be notable accomplishments for a pass-and-catch duo that's been together for only three years. Both players know that any records won't mean much if they don't come up with big games in January.
The Bengals (10-5) have clinched the AFC North title heading into their final regular season game on Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens (8-7) at Paul Brown Stadium. Those records-in-the-making are more of a footnote to what comes next.
One of the NFL's best tandems has to do big things in the playoffs for any of it to matter all that much.
"I think what's more important for them is to get the playoff stigma off of them because no matter what they do, until they win a playoff game they can still be criticized," offensive coordinator Jay Gruden said on Thursday. "So the only way to stop the criticism for good is to win playoff games and win Super Bowls."
That's at least another week down the line. On Sunday, they can put their names atop some of the Bengals' most prestigious lists.
Dalton has thrown 31 touchdown passes, one shy of Carson Palmer's team record from 2005. His 4,015 yards passing leave him 117 yards away from breaking Palmer's single-season club record from 2007.
Dalton has thrown for 300 yards five times this season, tying the team record shared by Boomer Esiason and Palmer.
"It shows what we've been able to accomplish this year," said Dalton, who is the league's 10th-ranked passer with a rating of 91. "I think that only happens if we've been winning games and doing some good things. Personally, it's cool to be close to those records, but like you said, wins are what ultimately matters."
Green has 1,365 yards on catches, leaving him 76 away from breaking Chad Johnson's team record from 2007. Green has 94 catches and could become only the third Bengals receiver to have 100 in a season, joining Carl Pickens (100) and T.J. Houshmandzadeh (112).
Records and their first division championship together are considered a preface to what really matters.
"We're playing for a bigger picture — that's the Super Bowl," Green said.
No Bengals player has more pressure than Dalton, who had miserable games in playoff losses to Houston each of the last two seasons. The Bengals haven't won a playoff game since 1990, tied for the seventh-longest stretch of futility in NFL history.
Dalton has dealt with the stress by putting together one of the best seasons in club history. And he's done it in his low-key way.
"I like the way he is, I think the players respect the way he is, that he doesn't get too high or too low at any time," Gruden said. "He's very even-keel and he keeps everybody in a calm state of mind.
"You wouldn't want him to be your middle linebacker, that's for sure. But as a quarterback, I think that personality trait is excellent."
Green has gotten better at running routes, putting himself in better position to make a catch against defenses geared to stop him. He always gets the opponent's top cornerback and is often double-teamed.
"I think patience is the one thing he's really had to deal with," Gruden said. "He's so excited to get open and beat somebody deep.
"There's a lot to playing receiver other than just running a deep ball. I think he's starting to figure it out more and more every day."
Notes: The Bengals sold out the Baltimore game on Thursday, leaving them with eight sellouts this season. They still have between 10,000 and 15,000 tickets left for their first-round playoff game. ... LB Vontaze Burfict, who suffered a concussion last Sunday in a 42-14 win over Minnesota, was held out of practice on Thursday. So were tight ends Tyler Eifert (neck) and Jermaine Gresham (hamstring), along with DT Devon Still (back) and CB Terence Newman (knee). ... CB Dre Kirkpatrick (ankle), RT Andre Smith (ankle), LB Vincent Rey (ankle) and TE Alex Smith (concussion) were limited in practice. LB James Harrison, who missed the Vikings game with a concussion, practiced fully.