- By Laurel Pfahler Contributing Writer
The secret to the Cincinnati Bengals’ success in season openers apparently is to go on the road.
Cincinnati rallied from down 13 points to beat the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday for their fourth season-opening win in the last five years. All four wins have come away from Paul Brown Stadium.
The Bengals lost their 2017 opener at home and then couldn’t bounce back for Game 2 during a short week. This time with a similar quick turnaround to Thursday’s home opener against the Baltimore Ravens, they are riding momentum of a strong second half Sunday.
»ARCHDEACON: Special teams ace saves the day — on defense
Here are the grades in this week’s Report Card:
The Good: Joe Mixon didn’t do much in the preseason but showed Sunday just how little that mattered. He looked solid rushing for 95 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries, averaging 5.6 yards per carry with a long of 27. His touchdown – behind Sam Hubbard at fullback as the lead blocker – came on a drive early in the fourth quarter in which he had 24 yards rushing and accounted for all of his team’s yardage not gained by penalty. The team had just two rushes for losses of three yards.
The Bad: Giovani Bernard had just one rush for minus-2 yards and the only other ball carrier was Andy Dalton, who finished with two carries for eight yards. Mixon was able to shoulder the load well enough but perhaps the Bengals would have benefited more from someone else getting some carries.
»PHOTOS: Bengals top Colts in opener
Key Play: Mixon had two carries for 15 yards on first and second down before A.J. Green’s 38-yard touchdown catch, which began a string of 24 unanswered points to end the game. His 27-yard run in the second quarter also was a positive sign as the Bengals were the only team in the league without a carry longer than 25 yards last year.
The Good: Andy Dalton looked composed while completing 21 of 28 passes for 243 yards and two touchdowns but could have used a little better protection on his first attempt. He took a hit to the arm while floating a pass over Mixon’s head for an interception. The offensive line held up for the most part, allowing just two sacks – both by former Bengal defensive end Margus Hunt. Mixon was effectively used in the passing game as well, adding 54 yards receiving, while Green had a team-high six catches for 92 yards and drew a big pass interference call, and Tyler Eifert had three catches for 44 yards, also drawing a timely penalty.
The Bad: Bobby Hart noticeably struggled in pass protection at right tackle, including getting destroyed on one of Hunt’s sacks. Green fumbled twice at the end of catches, losing one while trying to split two defenders and switching the ball to his other side in the first quarter. That marked the second turnover of the first quarter, which set the Bengals back early. John Ross’ first NFL catch went for a 3-yard touchdown, but he was targeted just one other time.
Key play: Green’s 38-yard touchdown catch was a play where Dalton just threw down field trusting he would make the catch, like he often does. Green beat two defenders and dove to grab it in the end zone.
The Good: The Bengals held the Colts to just 75 yards rushing and just 3.4 yards per carry. Just four first downs came on the ground, and the longest carry went for 12 yards. Solid effort, but also keep in mind starting running back Marlon Mack was out with a hamstring injury.
The Bad: Shawn Williams launched himself headfirst into a sliding Andrew Luck and was ejected for the helmet-to-helmet hit.
Key Play: Jordan Wilkins couldn’t get the ball moving in the second half, particularly on a few big second-down carries that the Bengals defense shut down close to the line of scrimmage.
The Good: The Bengals didn’t give up any deep balls but that didn’t seem to be in the Colts’ plans anyway. Carlos Dunlap had a huge sack to force a 55-yard field goal attempt, which Adam Vinatieri missed, and swing the momentum back in Cincinnati’s favor down the stretch. Geno Atkins had the only other sack.
The Bad: The Colts burned Cincinnati’s defense on quick, short passes up the middle. The longest pass was a 26-yarder to tight end Eric Ebron for a touchdown. Cincinnati’s linebackers especially struggled, and the group was noticeably missing Vontaze Burfict, who is suspended the first four games. Luck finished with 319 yards passing and two touchdowns with one interception and five players had four catches or more, as he spread the ball around.
Key Play: Cincinnati gave up a 15-yard pass into the red zone on third-and-15, but Clayton Fejedelem and Hardy Nickerson knocked the ball loose making a tackle on tight end Jack Doyle and Fejedelem picked it up for an 83-yard touchdown return to seal the win with 24 seconds left.
The Good: Randy Bullock was 2-for-2 on field goals, including a 39-yarder in the fourth quarter, and he was perfect on extra point attempts. All but two of his kickoffs were for touchbacks, and the longest return was 28 yards. Kevin Huber averaged 48 yards on his two punts and none were returned for gains.
The Bad: Alex Erickson had the lone punt return for a loss of 1 yard. Brandon Wilson had a catch interference call on a punt that Clark Harris downed, setting the Colts up at their own 40 yard line. They took advantage of the short field for their last points of the game on a touchdown in the third quarter.
Key Play: Randy Bullock’s 39-yard field goal with 3:57 left made it a four-point game, which meant the Colts couldn’t just let Vinatieri win the game for them. That could have changed the play-calling on the drive that Fejedelem stopped.
The Good: Marvin Lewis and company got a win out of a game that didn’t start off too well. The use of Mixon was a positive sign for the future.
The Bad: The passing game could have benefited from some shots downfield earlier in the game, and Ross was hardly utilized – but perhaps that was by design for the first game and a quick turnaround to division opponent Baltimore. Defensively, the Bengals needed to make some adjustments to stop the pass.
Key Play: The Bengals stuck with the run and it paid off at big times to open up the passing game.