Portis ran for 120 yards and two first-half touchdowns Sunday, and the NFL’s worst team of the past 12 years went on another self-destructive binge that helped the Denver Broncos roll, 30-10.
The Broncos (1-0) turned to their Rookie of the Year rusher to pull them through their new quarterback’s shaky debut. A nervous Jake Plummer was repeatedly off-target, threw three interceptions and looked skittish.
The $40 million acquisition finished 12-of-25 for 115 yards, numbers that translated into a minuscule passer rating of 21.7.
“The numbers will improve as the year goes along,” said Plummer, who signed a seven-year deal after leaving Arizona. “I’ve had great numbers and lost games, and I didn’t feel as good as I feel now.”
The Bengals (0-1) had a familiar, sickening feeling. With Plummer faltering, all they had to do was contain Portis. On most plays, they had problems just getting a hand on him.
Denver’s blockers latched onto the Bengals’ linemen, locking them in place while Portis flew by. He accounted for 159 yards overall on 24 runs and five catches.
“We knew that if they had their nickel (defense) on the field, we had to run the ball down their throats, and that’s what we did,” said Portis, who ran for 90 yards in the first half.
The shifty running back touched the ball on 13 of Denver’s first 19 plays, while Plummer was restricted to short tosses. Portis’ touchdown runs of 2 and 8 yards made it 20-3 at halftime.
Lewis wanted his team to look sharp in his head coaching debut, and provided new, black pants for the occasion. The offensive unit was introduced to bursts of on-field fireworks—another new trapping for a new era.
Once the game began, they were the same old Bungles.
“I’m disappointed for the fans,” Lewis said. “Everybody had jumped on board with both feet, and we appreciate the support. All I can say is, we’ll be back.”
They were back to their old tricks—a field goal nullified by penalty, a fumbled kickoff and missed tackles galore. Most of the fans’ wrath was directed at Kitna, who won’t be the starting quarterback for long if he plays like he did on Sunday. No. 1 draft pick Carson Palmer is waiting on the bench.
“Right now you can tell Kitna’s kind of looking over his shoulder because you know any time you take a guy first in the draft, it’s not going to be long before they put him in the ballgame,” Broncos tight end Shannon Sharpe said.
Kitna threw into a crowd and was intercepted in the first half, bringing the first round of jeers. He was booed off the field after his third-quarter shovel pass buried his team.
Trying to avoid a sack, he made a backhanded toss toward Corey Dillon, but Gold caught it in stride and ran untouched for a touchdown.
It was reminiscent of the defining moment of the Bengals’ 2-14 season last year: Gus Frerotte throwing a left-handed pass that was picked off in Cleveland.
“As a quarterback, sometimes you start feeling uneasy and you try to do something that’s not there,” Kitna said. “You have to be a little bit more careful because when you do something wrong, it’s usually disastrous.”
Kitna was 10-of-20 for 86 yards in the first three quarters, and finished with two interceptions, two fumbles and four sacks. He clearly got the worst of the game’s key matchup—he and Plummer have a history of making mistakes under pressure and dooming bad teams.
With Kitna self-destructing, the Bengals had no chance. Dillon ran for only 34 yards against a defense that wasn’t about to let him have another big day. The last time they played in 2000, Dillon ran for an NFL-record 278 yards at Paul Brown Stadium. Only three starters remain from the Denver defense heshredded.
Broncos coach Mike Shanahan is 9-2 in openers. … It was Portis’ ninth 100-yard game. He set a team rookie record with 17 touchdowns last season. … WR Ed McCaffrey failed to catch a ball, ending his Broncos record of 68 consecutive games with a reception. Rod Smith extended his streak to 62 straight games, tying Lionel Taylor for second behind McCaffrey. … Kitna was 10-of-17 for 178 yards in the fourth quarter, padding his numbers after theBroncos’ defense went soft.