Bengals relish breakthrough win, unsure on Dalton

A quick-snap touchdown has the long-suffering Cincinnati Bengals
thinking that their karma has finally changed.

The Bengals caught the Browns in a brain-lock moment Sunday,
allowing A.J. Green’s 41-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter
of a 27-17 win. It’s the kind of breakdown that’s been more typical
of the Bengals during their 20 years of futility.

A change, perhaps?

”That’s something we didn’t do last year,” defensive tackle
Domata Peko said. ”Last year in the fourth quarter, we fell
apart.”

The Bengals (1-0) won only four games last season, repeatedly
blowing chances at the end with mind-boggling moments. One of the
worst came when the Saints induced them into an offside penalty by
pretending they were going to snap the ball – a gambit the Saints
call ”No-Brainer Freeze.”

This time, the Browns (0-1) had the brain freeze, failing to
leave the huddle while the Bengals lined up and snapped the ball
for a go-ahead touchdown. And the Bengals had a rare, happy
beginning.

Even coach Marvin Lewis, who usually is reluctant to read
anything into one win, recognized the importance of winning the
opener the way they did – with a backup quarterback throwing to a
rookie receiver while the Browns hesitated.

”It was a great lesson for them to learn and to see something
they can believe in and really hang their hat on,” Lewis said on
Monday.

The most positive sign was how rookie quarterback Andy Dalton
handled his debut on the road. The second-round draft pick
completed 10 of 15 passes for 81 yards with a touchdown and no
interceptions, leading Cincinnati to 13 points before getting
hurt.

Dalton took a helmet to his lower right forearm near the end of
the first half and didn’t return because he had trouble gripping
the ball. Bruce Gradkowski finished the game.

Dalton was scheduled to see a specialist on Monday. The Bengals
are hopeful that he can start next Sunday in Denver, where
Cincinnati hasn’t won since 1975, dropping eight in a row. Dalton
declined to talk to the media on Monday.

Left tackle Andrew Whitworth had a protective boot on his left
foot following the game in Cleveland, but walked without it a day
later. Lewis declined to provide updates on players’ conditions,
except to say everyone was better on Monday.

Heading into the season, there was speculation that the Bengals
could be one of the NFL’s worst teams because it’s starting a
rookie quarterback and a rookie receiver. The victory in Cleveland
showed they’re not even the worst team in their own state.

Second-year defensive end Carlos Dunlap understands why fans are
still reluctant to give them much credit.

”Maybe because we’re young and they don’t feel we have that
experience,” Dunlap said on Monday. ”I’d say we have experience
together.”

Asked about the low expectations for his team, Lewis strayed
from his normal practice of keeping answers short and went on for
more than 300 words to answer that one question alone.

”I don’t know why we have so many naysayers,” Lewis said.

He noted that Cleveland fans seemed upbeat about their five-win
team before the season opener on Sunday, in contrast to fans in
Cincinnati. The Bengals have only two winning records in the past
20 years.

”It’s like the opposite,” Lewis said. ”I thought we were
about to play the ’68 Packers. It’s an unbelievable difference, the
attitude and the thing – aura – the way it was there in Cleveland
prior to Sunday compared to, for whatever reason, ours is here.

”But we can’t worry about and dwell upon that.”