Bengals lose A.J. Green, but beat Falcons 24-10
CINCINNATI (AP) — Without receiver A.J. Green on the field to make a big play, Andy Dalton called out to his running back whenever he was in a bind.
Somehow in all the commotion, Giovani Bernard heard his name and looked for the ball.
The second-year running back picked up a depleted offense by running for 90 yards and turning Dalton’s under-duress passes into big plays on Sunday, leading the Cincinnati Bengals to a 24-10 victory over the Atlanta Falcons.
“He yelled out, ‘Gio!’ and I just opened my eyes,” Bernard said. “It’s weird. I guess it’s a quarterback-running back relationship kind of thing.”
All around the field, the Bengals have a good thing going right now.
They won their home opener and improved to 2-0 for the first time since 2006 despite losing several key players to injury, most notably Green.
The Pro Bowl receiver aggravated an injured toe on his right foot, which kept him out of practice last week. He left during the opening series and didn’t catch a pass for the first time in his four-year career.
Cincinnati still put up some impressive numbers against the Falcons (1-1), who gave up nearly 500 yards for the second straight game.
“To be able to step up like that just shows the number of receivers we have,” said Mohamed Sanu, who caught three passes for a team-high 84 yards and also threw a 50-yard pass.
The centerpiece was Bernard, who ran 27 times for 90 yards, including a 4-yard touchdown. He also caught a team-high five passes for a career-high 79 yards, including a 46-yard catch-and-run when Dalton flipped the ball to him as he was getting hit.
The Bengals wound up with 472 yards and averaged 6.8 yards per play. Rookie Jeremy Hill ran for 74 yards and a touchdown, and the Bengals rushed for 170 overall.
“We got what we needed to have,” Dalton said. “I think the offense was really balanced. Once we got the lead, we could focus on running the ball and eating up the clock.”
Cincinnati’s biggest challenge was to shut down Matt Ryan, coming off the best game of his career. Ryan threw for a club-record 448 yards and three touchdowns in an opening 37-34 overtime win over the Saints.
The Bengals’ blitzing defense got to him. Ryan was 24 of 44 for 231 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions, one of which set up Hill’s 1-yard touchdown run for a 24-3 lead in the third quarter.
Nothing new about the Bengals holding down a top passer. Last season, they got the best of Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Matthew Stafford, Andrew Luck, Philip Rivers, Joe Flacco and Ben Roethlisberger on their way to the AFC North title.
“At the half, we knew we were right in the game,” Ryan said. “But when you turn the ball over three times, you’re not going to win. I have to be better. That’s the way it goes sometimes.”
Dalton was solid again, completing 15 of 23 for 252 yards without a sack or interception for the second straight game.
Dalton hit Sanu on a quick slant against an all-out blitz during the third quarter, and the receiver turned it into an easy 76-yard touchdown when cornerback Robert Alford dived in front to try to knock down the ball and missed.
Sanu also completed a 50-yard pass off a pitch out from Dalton during the Bengals’ wasteful first half. They piled up 293 yards, but managed only 10 points. Mike Nugent missed field goal attempts of 38, 49 and 55 yards.
Cincinnati’s depth was tested as several important starters went down, starting with Green’s foot injury.
Already missing tight end Tyler Eifert, the Bengals lost tight end Alex Smith to an injured left biceps in the first half. Right guard Kevin Zeitler hurt his right calf in the first half and didn’t return.
Pro Bowl linebacker Vontaze Burfict left in the second half with a pinched nerve in his neck after taking a teammate’s knee to the helmet. Burfict suffered a concussion in a season-opening win at Baltimore and missed practice during the week.
Notes: The Falcons had only one lineup change. Gabe Carimi started at left tackle for rookie Jake Matthews, who has a sprained ankle. ... The Bengals matched the club record with their 10th straight home victory in the regular season. They lost at home to San Diego in the playoffs last season. ... Sanu is 3 for 3 for 148 yards as a passer in his three seasons. He completed a 73-yard TD pass as a rookie, and had a 25-yard completion last season. He’s the first player since New England’s David Patten in 2001 to have a pass of at least 50 yards and a touchdown catch of at least 75 yards in the same game, according to STATS.
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