On a day when both defenses played, well, the Cincinnati Bengals defense played better five minutes longer. The Bengal defense stopped Cleveland when they had to and took advantage of two late Cleveland defensive lapses to take home a 27-17 victory on Sunday.
The 2011 season started well for the Bengals. The first quarter was marked by outstanding defensive pressure and, helped by some Cleveland penalties and poor punting, outstanding field position. The Bengals were able to cash into the end zone only once when Andy Dalton threw his first NFL touchdown pass, hitting tight end Jermaine Gresham crossing in the back of the end zone from two yards out.
A 47 yard Mike Nugent field goal, his second of the day, made it 13-0 Bengals as the second quarter began, but momentum was about to shift Cleveland's way. Joshua Cribbs brought the ensuing kickoff out beyond the 40 yard line after taking it eight yards deep in the end zone. That was the spark the Browns needed. They also started rolling out quarterback Colt McCoy, giving him more time to find his receivers downfield.
The Bengals offered a little assistance, however. Missed tackles and blown coverages resulted in 14 Cleveland second quarter points. First LB Thomas Howard completely lost Browns tight end Benjamin Watson, but McCoy found him, throwing back across the field 34 yards for a touchdown. On the Browns next drive, the Bengals missed tackles allowed McCoy to convert a third and seven. Then safety Reggie Nelson lost Mohamed Massaquoi who got behind the Bengals defense for 56 yards . That led to an eventual McCoy hookup with his other tight end Evan Moore from two yards out, giving the Browns a 14-13 lead they would take into the locker room.
Worse for Cincinnati, Andy Dalton was hit on the wrist on his last throw of the half. He would be replaced by Bruce Gradkowski to start the second half. Meanwhile, the Browns continued to utilize their tight ends, opening the third quarter with a field goal by Phil Dawson keyed by a pass to Evan Moore that got the Browns inside the red zone. Only a pair of great defensive plays by cornerbacks Leon Hall and Nate Clements kept the Browns out of the end zone.
Through the rest of the third and for most of the fourth quarter, the defenses stymied the offenses and both teams traded punts.
Then, with 4:28 left in the game, the Bengals quick-snapped on a third and 10 and AJ Green was left uncovered by Browns' cornerback Joe Haden who had shut out Green up until that point. Gradkowski hit Green in stride and he streaked in easily from 41 yards out.
Cleveland held Cincinnati while only having to burn two timeouts after Cedric Benson carried the ball out of bounds on a second down carry. With a lone timeout and the two minute warning, Cleveland took over just outside their own forty with a chance to tie or win the game. That's when the Bengals defense took over. Leon Hall and Nate Clements blanketed Cleveland receivers while the front seven gave McCoy no room to throw. On fourth down, McCoy threw an illegal desperation throw to one of his offensive linemen that fell incomplete.
The Bengals took over on downs, needing only to gain a first down to run out the clock. Cedric Benson broke free on third and short rumbling 39 yards for the clinching touchdown.
While the Bengals offense was solid, if unremarkable, they didn't turn the ball over. It was the defense that kept the Browns offense, which had been quite prolific in the preseason, in check. Particularly impressive was play of the defensive line. They held Peyton Hillis in check, grudgingly surrendering 57 yards on 17 carries. Carlos Dunlap and Michael Johnson were in the Browns' backfield all day, deflecting several Colt McCoy passes and generally not allowing him any sense of comfort in the pocket.
For Marvin Lewis, it brings him a much needed opening day victory and brings him to within four victories of becoming the all-time winningest Bengals coach. The Bengals will stay on the road next week, traveling to Denver to take on the Broncos.
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