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Bengals vets recount memories of their NFL debuts

Thirteen players on the Cincinnati Bengals roster could make their NFL debuts on Sunday when the team opens the season against the Baltimore Ravens.

And it won’t take much for them to surpass the stats many of their teammates put up in their first NFL games.

Here are the reflections several of the veterans have of their special days:

Andy Dalton (10 of 15 for 81 yards and a touchdown).

On the 10-year anniversary of 9/11, Dalton and teammate A.J. Green ushered in a new era with both rookies starting the 2011 season opener at Cleveland. Dalton threw a first-quarter touchdown pass to Jermaine Gresham before suffering a wrist injury at the end of the second quarter that knocked him out for the rest of the game.

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Bruce Gradkowski replaced Dalton and led the Bengals to a 27-17 comeback win, with his 41-yard touchdown pass to A.J. Green with 4:28 left being the game-winner.

“I feel like that’s going to be a trivia question one day — who threw A.J. Green’s first touchdown pass?” Dalton said. “More than the injury, I remember how comfortable I felt that day. It’s your first action and you want to come out and play well.

“It obviously sucked that I didn’t get to play in the second half,” Dalton added. “But I just remember the atmosphere and what a cool moment it was, especially being 9/11. Standing there before the game, I was like, “I made it. I’m in the NFL.’”

A.J. Green (one catch, 41 yards, touchdown)

Green was held without a catch for 55 and a half minutes before the Bengals caught the Browns napping in that 2011 season opener. No one was covering Green (imagine saying that today) when he split right on third and 11.

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Gradkowski called for a quick snap and made the easy throw for the score that sent the Bengals to a 27-17 win.

“I just remember how wide open I was,” Green said. “It was probably the easiest one I’ve ever had. I was young and just happy to be out there.”

Jeremy Hill (four carries, 19 yards)

The Bengals used Hill sparingly for the first half of his rookie season, especially in the opener — a 23-16 win at Baltimore.

Three of Hill’s four carries, including his longest of 8 yards, came on one drive in the second quarter.

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“I definitely remember that day,” Hill said. “I got a few carries, got my feet wet a little bit. It was a good time. And we won, so it was a great experience. I saved my helmet and still have it.”

Giovani Bernard (four carries for 22 yards and an 8-yard reception)

While listening to Hill recount his NFL debut, Bernard chimed in that his was forgettable.

It was the 2012 season opener in Chicago, and the Bengals lost 24-21.

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“I was a little sick that day, and we lost,” Bernard said. “I remember some stuff, but not like any play by play or anything. I know it was close.”

Tyler Eifert (five catches for 47 yards)

Sept. 8, 2013 was a special day for more reasons than one for Eifert.

“It was my birthday,” he said of the day he made his debut in a 24-21 loss at Chicago. “I had a lot of family there and saw them all after the game. Going to Notre Dame, we used to go over to Chicago all the time, so it was a great experience.”

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Eifert had another notable stat that day, one that still stands as his career high — two tackles. He pushed Charles Tillman out of bounds after the Chicago cornerback intercepted a pass in the second quarter, and he tackled Tim Jennings for no gain after the cornerback scooped up a Mohamed Sanu fumble.

“Yeah, those are things you want to forget, being on offense,” he joked.

Tyler Boyd (two catches, 24 yards)

Playing in New York on the 15th anniversary of 9/11, Boyd had a huge impact on the 23-22 victory against the Jets.

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On the next-to-last play of the game, Boyd caught a 14-yard pass at the Jets’ 3-yard line and alertly ran up to the official to give him the ball to spot. With the Bengals out of timeouts, the field goal unit sprinted onto the field and kicker Mike Nugent drilled a 21-yard game winner in the 2016 season opener.

“What I remember about that play was trying to score,” he said. “I was really stretching there. That would have been awesome to have my first touchdown be a game-winner.

“I remember being overwhelmed a little bit early in the game, so I had to settle down and realize that I belong here and I need to pull it together.”

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