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Friday, September 13, 2013 12:38 AM

Associated Press

Bengals QB Dalton has impressive opening game

CINCINNATI — Andy Dalton fit a sideline throw between two defenders, dropping it just over the one in front for a completion. He made a pump-fake and hit A.J. Green for a 45-yard touchdown.

Virtually everything he did was right on the mark in the Cincinnati Bengals’ season opener, an impressive showing that got overlooked in how it ended.

The third-year quarterback completed a career-best 78.7 percent of his passes during a 24-21 loss at Chicago on Sunday, one that came down to turnovers and defensive gaffes. Dalton was 26-of-33 for 282 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions, one of which went off Green’s hands.

It was as flawless a game as Dalton has played in the NFL.

“He threw the ball well,” offensive coordinator Jay Gruden said. “He had a great game. This was one of his better games here. There’s still room for improvement.”

If Dalton plays near the level he did in the opener, the Bengals (0-1) will have a good chance of reaching the playoffs for the third season in a row, something that’s never happened in franchise history. Dalton completed passes to seven different players, including rookie tight end Tyler Eifert and running back Giovani Bernard, blending the newcomers into a more diversified approach.

“I think we’ve just gotten better as a team, I think that’s a big part of it,” Dalton said. “I feel like I’ve improved, I feel like the offense has improved and (we’re) finding ways to keep getting completions and moving the chains. I think that’s a big part of it.

“Hopefully we can keep that up and keep completing a lot of balls and keep the percentage up.”

He’ll get a good gauge on that Monday night when the Pittsburgh Steelers (0-1) throw their funky blitzes his way. He’s 1-3 career against Pittsburgh, which has contained him most of the time.

In those four games, Dalton has completed only 52 percent of his throws for 688 yards and four touchdowns with five interceptions and nine sacks. He notched his first win against them last December, a 13-10 victory at Heinz Field that put the Bengals back in the playoffs and knocked out the Steelers.

It was a breakthrough win in many ways, and the Bengals want to show it wasn’t a fluke.

“For us to go into Pittsburgh last year and win when there was a lot on the line, that was big for us as a team,” Dalton said. “Obviously it’s a new year but we know the kind of games we play when we play the Steelers. They’re always tough games. They’re always close games.

“And so, we know the importance of playing these guys and how good they are.”

The Bengals look to be a lot better themselves with Eifert and Bernard. Eifert had five catches for 47 yards in Cincinnati’s 2-tight end alignment with Pro Bowler Jermaine Gresham. Bernard caught one pass for eight yards and forced the Bears’ defense to account for him out of the backfield.

The Bengals had touchdown drives that covered 97, 91 and 80 yards against one of the NFL’s top defenses.

“I felt good about a lot of things,” coach Marvin Lewis said. “I’m excited about our guys.”

Two turnovers undercut what they did. Green had a pass go off his hands for an interception inside the Bears’ 20-yard line. And Mohamed Sanu fumbled inside the 20 after a catch, giving Chicago a chance to pull off its go-ahead touchdown drive.

Except for those two mistakes by the receivers, the offense was impressive.

Green had nine catches for 162 yards and two touchdowns.

Richardson wants to carry load for Browns

BEREA — Trent Richardson has that unassuming way. With his bright smile, cheerful attitude and a soft Southern accent that could fry chicken, the Browns running back makes anything sound diplomatic.

Richardson did everything he could Thursday not to criticize Cleveland’s coaches for not giving him the ball more last week in a loss to Miami. But Richardson’s message was loud clear: He wants more touches.

Richardson carried the ball 13 times for 47 yards in the season-opening, 23-10 loss to Miami. But he only gained 14 on five rushes in the second half and did not carry the ball once in the fourth quarter as the Browns tried to rally through the air.

“I just don’t think they stopped the running game,” he said, referring to the Dolphins. “I think we stopped it ourselves as far as we were behind and stuff like that. We’ve just got to keep fighting and know that no matter what, we’ve got to stick to our game plan. I guess Coach had another game plan and it went that way.”

Richardson’s remarks were similar to what he said many times last season, when he rushed for 950 yards while playing much of it with broken ribs. Richardson wants a heavier workload and feels he can carry the offense. Trouble is, the former first-round pick has either been injured or the Browns have been so far behind in games that they’ve had to pass.

But the numbers support Richardson’s’ premise that Browns are at their best when he’s getting the ball.

Last season, he averaged 95.8 yards in the five games he had 20 rushing attempts and the Browns went 3-2. When he hasn’t carried the ball 20 times, including in this year’s opener, he’s averaging 47.1 yards and Cleveland is 2-9.

Richardson said he has spoken to coach Rob Chudzinski and offensive coordinator Norv Turner about getting more touches.

Richardson received the ball on four of Cleveland’s first six plays last week and gained 26 yards. But the opening drive ended with quarterback Brandon Weeden getting intercepted.

After that, Richardson’s opportunities were limited.

Maybe if things had gone according to script, Turner would have given Richardson the ball more. But the score and situation dictated something different.

“We came out and we executed four or five plays awfully well,” Turner said. “Then they hit us with a couple run blitzes. They came at us when we started getting a little bit of run and then we didn’t execute as well.”

Richardson’s number is certain to be called this week as the Browns (0-1) visit the Baltimore Ravens, who have had plenty of time to lick their wounds after being embarrassed against Denver.

The Ravens’ defense no longer features Ray Lewis, or Ed Reed, but is still formidable.

Richardson, who rushed for 105 yards on 25 attempts in his second game against Baltimore last season, is itching to duplicate that game. He can’t though, if he doesn’t get the ball.

“It’s something that you practice for,” he added. “All my life, I’ve been that guy. So when it comes down to it, at the end of the day, I control what I can control. But if it’s going to help the team out that I get less carries, if it’s going to help the team out that I get more carries, I’m all for it.”

NOTES: Safety T.J. Ward returned to practice after sitting out Wednesday with a sore shoulder. … DE Ahtyba Rubin (calf) and G Shawn Lauvao (ankle) remain sidelined and are unlikely to play this week. … Defensive coordinator Ray Horton hopes to “ease” rookie LB Barkevious Mingo into his NFL debut this week. Mingo missed the opener after bruising his lung last month in an exhibition game. “I don’t want to overload him his first game, but I also want to give him some soft pitches to hit,” Horton said. “I want to give him some less thinking and more reaction-type stuff.”

 

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