The Bengals knew they were going to be in a slugfest in their regular-season opener.
Between playing in New York on 9/11, facing a Jets team coming off a 10-6 year, and having a banged-up offense going against a top-10 defense, this was going to be a close one that Cincinnati would have to gut out to win in thrilling fashion.
But we've seen this script before. It came in 2014 at Baltimore in Week 1, a game that saw Cincinnati survive a 23-16 thriller against an eventual 10-6 playoff team. We saw a repeat in Week 4 of 2015, when the Bengals gutted out a 28-24 win in Baltimore that came down to the final minute.
Both games saw the offense start slow in the first half before coming alive when the game was on the line. That's what we saw in this game, as the Bengals overcame seven sacks and a horrific start to pull out a 23-22 win.
After the game, offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth cited those wins in Baltimore as reasons why the Bengals felt comfortable pulling out another thriller on the road against a quality opponent.
"Baltimore the last couple of years," Whitworth said of the late wins against the Ravens, via Bengals.com. "No apologies. It’s a win on the road 9/11 in New York. We knew we were walking into a firestorm of emotion and we said it all week. It was going to be a tough AFC North battle and it was."
One other common factor in all three of these wins has been the amazing A.J. Green. Three of his nine biggest games in his career have come in these same three contests. We all remember how dominant he looked in Baltimore in each of the past two years while racking up an average of 179 yards and 1.5 scores, while each game was decided by an average of 5.5 points.
Against the Jets, Green went for 180 yards and one score as the Bengals pulled off a one-point win. And just as we saw in the Baltimore wins, Green came up big when his team needed it most in New York. He caught four passes for 58 yards in the fourth quarter while also drawing a 15-yard facemask penalty.
Those helped the Bengals get two late field-goal attempts, the latter being the game-winning 47-yarder by Mike Nugent. Before that kick, Green made a critical 11-yard grab to keep Nugent in manageable distance after Nugent missed a 52-yard attempt the previous drive.
But everyone will remember Green's grabs over future Hall of Fame corner Darrelle Revis, who had no shot at covering these catches.
"The whole week everybody was saying A.J. vs. Darrelle," Green said, via ESPN. "Revis is a first-ballot Hall of Famer. It's my honor going against him. I was just trying to make plays anytime the ball came my way."
A win is a win, but some wins mean more than others. For the Bengals, those wins in Baltimore helped pave the way for this win in New York, which should only remind this club that they can be special when everything is clicking, and even when it isn’t.
"Any time you can get a win on the road, you've got to take these games," Dalton said. "This one was big."