CLEVELAND, OH - SEPTEMBER 11: Starting quarterback Andy Dalton #14 of the Cincinnati Bengals calls a play from the line of scrimmage during the first quarter against the Cleveland Browns in the season opener at Cleveland Browns Stadium on September 11, 2011 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
Bengals fans couldn't ask for a better start to the opening game of the 2011 season. Having deferred after winning the coin toss, the Bengals defense came out onto the field and looked like men among boys. They held the Browns to one yard on their first drive and forced a three-and-out. When the Bengals' offense came on the field, they used Benson and short passes from Dalton to move 35 yards in 10 plays and struck first, with a field goal from Mike Nugent.
The Bengals defense looked great again in the second drive, forcing the Browns into another three-and-out. Once the Bengals got the ball back, they marched 41 yards down the field and rookie quarterback Andy Dalton threw his first career touchdown pass hitting Jermaine Gresham in the end zone.
The defense forced another three-and-out and again, the offense scored on another Nugent field goal.
Then things changed.
Joshua Cribbs caught a kickoff nine yards deep in his own end zone and decided to bring it out, running the ball all the way to the 50-yard line. That was the spark that the Browns needed. They drove 57 yards down the field and scored a touchdown on a 34-yard pass from Colt McCoy to Benjamin Watson. On the Browns' next drive, they marched 90 yards down the field and finished with another touchdown pass from McCoy, this time to Evan Moore. The Browns took a 14-13 lead.
The Browns' defense also showed up at this point, forcing the Bengals to punt the ball on their next three drives.
It didn't help that Dalton was hurt. With less than a minute left in the first half, Dalton was hit hard by Browns defensive lineman Phil Taylor and got up holding his wrist.
When the team came out on the field at the beginning of the third quarter, it was backup quarterback Bruce Gradkowski, not Dalton, that was leading the offense. Dalton was working with a trainer on the sidelines but eventually, Dalton had his wrist wrapped and spent the rest of the game on the sidelines.
The momentum was still with the Browns. They forced the Bengals to punt in four straight possessions and added three more points on a Phil Dawson field goal.
But then the Bengals came back. Down by a score of 17-13, Gradkowski caught Browns cornerback Joe Haden sleeping and hit rookie wide receiver A.J. Green on a 41-yard touchdown pass, giving the Bengals a 20-17 lead.
The Bengals defense, highlighted by pressure from Carlos Dunlap, was able to hold the Browns' offense at bay, forcing them to punt and then into a turnover on downs. The Bengals got the ball back just before the two minute warning looking to run out the clock. Right after the Browns used their final timeout, on a third-and-13 play on the 39-yard line, Gradkowski handed Benson the ball on the right side and Benson found a hole he could have driven his car through. He ran untouched into the end zone, giving the Bengals a 27-17 lead.
As the Browns were attempting to drive down the field, Colt McCoy dropped back to pass and his arm came forward without the ball, which slipped out of his hand just before his arm began a forward motion. The ball landed right in Bengals defensive end Michael Johnson's hands, ending the game.
The Bengals started the season with a roller coaster of a game, but it was still a win. Hopefully they build off this win and get even better in the coming weeks.