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Rookie Dalton perseveres after rough start
By NOAH TRISTER, AP Sports Writer Saturday, Aug 13, 2011

DETROIT (AP)—On his first snap of his first game, Andy Dalton(notes) was knocked over by Ndamukong Suh(notes)—and that wasn’t even the worst part of the play.

Immediately before being hit, the Cincinnati rookie threw a long pass up the right sideline that was intercepted by Detroit’s Chris Houston(notes).

“It’s definitely not the kind of day I wanted to have,” Dalton said. “We didn’t score on offense. That kind of leaves a sour taste in my mouth. I’m not used to that.”

Dalton had a difficult outing in his first preseason game as Carson Palmer’s(notes) replacement, and the Bengals were blown out 34-3 Friday night by the Lions.

The good news for Cincinnati is that Dalton has plenty of time to adjust to the NFL. The second-round pick rebounded from his early interception, finishing 11 of 15 for 69 yards.

“He had a rough go of it early. I’ve been there,” said Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford(notes), the No. 1 pick in the 2009 draft. “He did a good job of sticking in there and moving the ball.”

Stafford had no complaints after this one. He threw two touchdown passes before Dalton even took a snap, and Detroit’s first-team offense looked almost flawless. Stafford was able to play only three games last season and had surgery on his throwing shoulder in the offseason.

He was barely pressured Friday.

“I think we’re pretty exciting to watch when all the pieces are together,” Stafford said.

The Lions closed last season with a four-game winning streak without their franchise quarterback on the field. They want him along every step of the way this year.

Stafford was 6 of 7 for 71 yards. He opened the scoring with a 26-yard touchdown pass to Calvin Johnson(notes), who then left the game because of a bruised left shoulder.

The Lions forced a turnover on the ensuing kickoff, and Stafford threw a 7-yard touchdown pass on fourth down to Nate Burleson(notes), who caught the ball near the sideline. The play was ruled incomplete on the field, but became a TD after video review.

“We wanted to see our guys go out and execute on fourth-and-1,” Detroit coach Jim Schwartz said. “Matt made a nice throw, and Nate made an unbelievable catch. I’m not real wild about challenging plays in a preseason game, but that one deserved to be challenged just because Nate made such a great catch.”

Detroit’s powerful defensive line finally took the field—but only for one play. Houston’s interception gave the Lions the ball back.

“It definitely didn’t start the way we wanted it to,” Dalton said. “There was a lot of anticipation for me coming into the first snap of the game. They scored, they kicked off and then we fumbled the kickoff. So there was more of that anticipation and then there was that first play.”

Later in the half, Suh wrapped up Dalton just after he’d gotten rid of the ball and threw him down. The quarterback’s helmet came off in the process, and Suh ended up with an unnecessary roughness penalty.

“Playing quarterback you know you’re going to get hit,” Dalton said. “You know he got a couple good plays where he got me quick and he hit me pretty good. You can’t let that bother you—you’ve got to go out and play the next play.”

Lions backup quarterback Shaun Hill(notes) ran for a touchdown, and Jason Hanson(notes) kicked a 37-yard field goal to give Detroit a 24-3 lead at halftime.

That field goal was one of the most impressive moments of the night. The previous play ended with about 14 seconds on the clock, and the Lions had no way to stop it. So Detroit’s field goal team went running from the sideline and snapped the ball just before the clock expired.

That play underscored how sharp the Lions looked most of the night.

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