Cincinnati Bengals: Top 5 Season Openers

Jan 3, 2016; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals running back Jeremy Hill (32) against the Baltimore Ravens at Paul Brown Stadium. The bengals won 24-16. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

The Cincinnati Bengals will begin their defense of the AFC North championship on Sunday when they travel to East Rutherford, NJ, to take on the New York Jets in the 2016 season opener.

This list will countdown the top five season-opening moments in the Bengals’ 46-year history.

Honorable mention

2014: Bengals 23, Ravens 16

Cincinnati had not won in Baltimore since they swept the division during their 2009 division-championship campaign, but had to take on the Ravens to open up the 2014 season.

Despite losing tight end Tyler Eifert to an elbow injury just eight snaps into the game, Cincinnati took a 15-0 halftime advantage thanks to five Mike Nugent field goals.

Baltimore responded in the second half, however, with Justin Forsett’s 7-yard score and a Justin Tucker field goal cutting the Bengals’ lead to five.

With less than six minutes remaining in the game, Joe Flacco eluded the pocket and heaved an 80-yard touchdown pass to Steve Smith Sr., which brought Baltimore all the way back to take a 16-15 lead.

One year earlier, A.J. Green had caught a  hail Mary that sent the game to overtime (an eventual Bengals’ loss). On this day, he would burn the Ravens again, hauling in a 77-yard score just two plays after Baltimore had taken the lead. Andy Dalton tossed the two-point conversion to Mohamed Sanu to give Cincinnati a 23-16 lead, which would stand as the final as Flacco was sacked on 4th down by Wallace Gilberry and Reggie Nelson with 1:00 minute left in the game.

1988: Bengals 21, Cardinals 14

After losing seven games by 7 points or less in 1987, the Bengals brought back head coach Sam Wyche for the 1988 season and needed to find a way to finish a game. In the season-opener at Riverfront Stadium, Cincinnati trailed 14-7 in the second half until a pair of Boomer Esiason touchdown tosses gave them a 21-14 lead in the fourth quarter.

With Phoenix driving, the Bengals needed to put the game away. They did just that on 4th and goal from the 10-yard line when defensive end Jason Buck broke through the offensive line and hit quarterback Neil Lomax as he threw, forcing the ball to fall incomplete at the feet of intended receiver J.T. Smith.

The ’88 Bengals would feed off that goal line stand, winning their next three games all by one possession and starting the season 6-0, which would be stand as the best start in franchise history until the team’s 8-0 beginning in 2015.

Now for the ones that count!

Sep 13, 2015; Oakland, CA, USA; General view of a flyover during the playing of the national anthem with a United States flag on the field before the NFL game between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Oakland Raiders at O.co Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

#5.) 1970: Bengals 31, Raiders 21

Heading into their third season as a franchise, the Bengals found a new home, moving from Nippert Stadium to Riverfront Stadium in 1970.

Their first opponent at their new home venue? The Oakland Raiders, who had just finished their final season in the AFL with a 12-1-1 record, eventually losing to the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFL Championship game.

Despite finishing 4-9-1 in 1969, the Bengals handed the Raiders their lone loss of the regular season and kept the Raiders’ number when the two teams met for the 1970 opener.

Led by a pair of touchdowns by quarterback Sam Wyche, the Bengals and Raiders were deadlocked at 21-21 until a 76-yard touchdown run by Jess Phillips put Cincinnati up for good. Horst Muhlmann would add a field goal in the fourth quarter to seal a 10-point victory for the Bengals, 31-21.

The win over Oakland began a bizarre season for the Bengals. They would lose their next six games, but ended the season with a seven-game winning streak and an 8-6 record, good enough to edge Cleveland by a game for the AFC Central title.

Johnny Unitas and the Baltimore Colts shutout Cincinnati in the playoffs, but the Bengals were the quickest expansion team to make the postseason for nearly 30 years until the Jacksonville Jaguars and Carolina Panthers each reached their respective conference championship games in 1996.

Nov 5, 2015; Cincinnati, OH, USA; The Cleveland Browns huddle against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium. The Bengals won 31-10. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

4.) 2011: Bengals 27, Browns 17

Cincinnati had just finished 2010 with their second double-digit loss season in three years and serious changes were made in the offseason leading up to 2011.

Quarterback Carson Palmer demanded a trade or he would retire, so Cincinnati dealt him to Oakland for a first-round draft pick. The contracts of Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens expired and they were not brought back to the Queen City. Meanwhile, offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski, who had been with the team since 2001, was let go, too.

Via the draft, head coach Marvin Lewis, who was resigned for two years in January 2011, brought in quarterback Andy Dalton and wide receiver A.J. Green and the new era began for the Bengals along with Jay Gruden as the new offensive coordinator.

Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis (above) is 6-7 lifetime in season-openers. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Without the benefit of an offseason due to a lockout caused by a labor dispute between owners and players, the Bengals traveled to Cleveland for the 2011 season opener. Dalton tossed his first career touchdown to Jermaine Gresham in the first quarter as the Bengals opened up a 13-0 lead. However, a hand injury sidelined Dalton for the second half.

Backup signal caller Bruce Gradkowski’s first four drives resulted in punts while Cleveland scored 17 unanswered points to take a four-point lead in the fourth quarter.

With 4:31 left in the game, an unprepared Browns’ defense was late breaking the huddle, allowing Green to haul in a 41-yard uncontested touchdown from Gradkowski to give the Bengals the lead.

That touchdown remains the last one thrown by Gradkowski, who has spent the last three seasons as Ben Roethlisberger’s backup in Pittsburgh.

After a turnover on downs two minutes later by the Browns, Cedric Benson’s 39-yard touchdown scamper sealed a 1-0 start for the Bengals.

Dec 28, 2015; Denver, CO, USA; Cincinnati Bengals tackle Eric Winston (73) and Denver Broncos tackle Michael Schofield (79) pass protect on defensive end Wallace Gilberry (95) in the second half at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. The Broncos defeated the Cincinnati Bengals 20-17 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

3.) 2007: Bengals 27, Ravens 20

Cincinnati began the 2007 season with a prime time contest at home against Baltimore on ESPN’s Monday Night Football.

The Bengals got the best of Ravens’ quarterback Steve McNair, causing four turnovers (an interception, three fumbles). 

Cincinnati took a 19-10 lead on a 34-yard fumble return touchdown by Landon Johnson, but Baltimore took a one-point advantage on a 63-yard punt return score by Ed Reed.

A touchdown pass from Palmer to T.J. Houshmandzadeh gave the Bengals a 27-20 lead, but Baltimore threatened in the final minutes after a Rudi Johnson fumble.

At the Bengals’ one-yard line, backup quarterback Kyle Boller tossed the apparent tying touchdown to Todd Heap, but the tight end was called for offensive pass interference which wiped out the score.

On 3rd and goal from the two-yard line, Cincinnati secured the win on an interception by defensive tackle Michael Myers in his first game with the Bengals, the only interception of his 11-year career.

2.) 2009: Broncos 12, Bengals 7

Not every moment on this list is a good one for Who Dey Nation.

The last time the Bengals hosted week one at Paul Brown Stadium was in 2009 when the Denver Broncos came to town.

After a paint-drying three quarters where two Matt Prater field goals gave Denver a 6-0 lead, Palmer led a nine-play, 91-yard drive capped off by a scoring plunge by Benson from a yard out that gave Cincinnati a 7-6 lead.

You know how this ends, though.

With Denver starting at their own 13-yard line, Kyle Orton’s pass down the side line was tipped in the air by Leon Hall and landed right in the lap of receiver Brandon Stokley, who outraced Dhani Jones for the game-winning 87-yard score.

Despite the circus loss in week one, the Bengals and Broncos would finish 2009 in different fashions.

Cincinnati swept their division in the regular season and won the AFC North with a 10-6 record. Denver started 6-0, but lost eight of their final 10 games to miss the playoffs at an 8-8 mark.

Oct 11, 2015; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson (3) looks to pass in the first half against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

1.) 1981: Bengals 27, Seahawks 21

Before he was a should-of-been Hall-of-Fame quarterback, Ken Anderson did not get much love around Cincinnati. In 1980, fans cheered as he laid hurt on the Riverfront Stadium turf, hoping “The Throwin’ Samoan” Jack Thompson, the team’s third overall selection the year before, would take over under center.

One year later when the Bengals opened up against the Seattle Seahawks, Anderson completed just five of 15 passes for 39 yards and a pair of interceptions as Seattle opened up a 21-0 lead in the first quarter, prompting head coach Forrest Gregg to turn to backup Turk Schonert.

Schonert answered the call. He would lead the Bengals to 27 straight points. Running back Pete Johnson ran the winning two-yard score in the fourth quarter. It gave Cincinnati an epic comeback victory for the ages.

Gregg opted to stick with Anderson in week two against the Jets. He would lead a 14-point comeback with two touchdown tosses in a 31-30 win and the rest was history.

Anderson went on to win the NFL MVP award, leading the Bengals to their first AFC Championship and Super Bowl appearance.

The Bengals will look to start 1-0 for the third straight season when they head to MetLife Stadium on Sunday. They face a team they have not beaten on the road since 1981.

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