CLEVELAND (AP)—The locker room was strangely subdued as Cincinnati players quietly peeled off adhesive tape, packed up equipment and dressed. Even gabby wide receiver Chad Johnson had little to say.
The Bengals acted like experienced winners. They played like them, too.
Carson Palmer threw two touchdown passes and the Bengals opened a season they’re confident will be a winning one with an easy 27-13 win over Cleveland, spoiling Romeo Crennel’s coaching debut with the Browns.
“It’s a huge win for us,” Palmer said. “Getting off to a fast start is what we wanted to do.”
The Bengals haven’t had a winning record since 1990, and their gross ineptitude has made them the NFL’s lovable losers. They’re the Bungles, a team whose history is outlined by more chaos and calamity than championships.
These Bengals, though, might be a little different. In capturing their first opener since 2001 and their first opener on the road since 1995, they’re also 1-0 for the first time in three seasons under coach Marvin Lewis.
Bad starts have doomed Lewis’ first two seasons with the Bengals, who began the past two at 1-4 before recovering to go 8-8. Cincinnati’s favorable schedule—its first six opponents went a combined 38-58 in 2004—have many believing the Bengals can challenge for the AFC North title.
Lewis isn’t quite ready to proclaim his team anything other than improved.
“We are not off to a good start,” Lewis said. “We just won one football game. We have a chance to write the script on what a good start is. We play Minnesota next week, and now that is our focus.”
Palmer picked apart Cleveland’s secondary, finishing 26-of-34 for 280 yards and one interception. He threw a 20-yard TD pass to Kevin Walter just before halftime and connected on an 18-yarder to fullback Jeremi Johnson on the Bengals’ opening drive in the third period as the Bengals opened a 24-10 lead.
Before hitting Johnson on third-and-2, Palmer changed his play at the line of scrimmage and then threw in the flat to Johnson. Palmer went 7-for-7 on the drive.
“That was kind of a dagger in the heart for them,” Palmer said. “That was a fun drive.”
Palmer’s only poor decision came on a ball he put up for grabs in Cleveland’s end zone with 5:18 left. But by then, the Bengals were in control.
Chad Johnson, who had one of his worst games last season in Cleveland, had nine catches for 91 yards. A year ago, he sent bottles of Pepto-Bismol and handwritten notes to Browns defensive backs, warning he was going to make them feel ill. But the joke backfired when he dropped several passes.
On Sunday, Johnson was sure-handed and close-mouthed. His only problem were leg cramps, which sent him briefly to the locker room.
“This don’t mean nothing,” Johnson said when asked about the importance of Cincinnati’s Week 1 win. “It’s Game 1, too soon. Holler at me when we’re 5-0 or 7-0, and then we’re knocking on the door of the playoffs.”
The rebuilt Browns had some nice moments, but not nearly enough to get a first victory for Crennel, New England’s former defensive coordinator who spent 24 years as an assistant and now has a giant challenge in front of him.
Cleveland was hurt by costly mistakes, an injury-depleted secondary and had two touchdowns called back by penalties. The Browns dropped to 1-6 in openers since returning to the league in 1999.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” Crennel said. “I’m disappointed in the way everyone played. I’m not happy about anything.”
Making just his third start since 2003, Browns quarterback Trent Dilfer finished 26-of-43 for 278 yards and one touchdown.
Cleveland’s Frisman Jackson caught a 68-yard TD pass and had eight catches for 128 yards. Rookie Braylon Edwards, the Browns’ first-round draft pick, had two catches for 16 yards in limited playing time.
Dilfer threw a pass in the first quarter that hit umpire Jim Quirk in the head and was caught by Browns center Jeff Faine, who was penalized for “illegal touching.” … Among the Browns most significant injuries were linebacker Matt Stewart (knee), kick returner Joshua Cribbs (knee), cornerback Leigh Bodden (leg) and tight end Steve Heiden (neck stinger). The team had no postgame update on the injuries. … Bengals LB Marcus Wilkins (head) and Kenny Watson (arm) were hurt.