A visit from the Cleveland Browns might provide the Cincinnati Bengals with an ideal opportunity to rebound from a terrible season-opening performance.
The Bengals look to continue their recent success over their AFC North rivals by trying to hand the visiting Browns an eighth consecutive loss Sunday.
One of three division teams to make the playoffs in 2011, Cincinnati was hoping to immediately prove last season was not a fluke. However, the Bengals lost 44-13 at Baltimore on Monday night as the Ravens amassed 430 total yards while their vaunted defense sacked Andy Dalton four times and safety Ed Reed returned an interception 34 yards for a touchdown.
The Bengals only touchdown came on BenJarvus Green-Ellis' 6-yard run near the end of the first half. They were outscored 27-3 over the final two quarters.
"Plain and simple, we got beat in all phases of the game," middle linebacker Rey Maualuga said. "There's no way else to put it. It's just something that we have to learn from."
The Bengals would seem to have a favorable chance to bounce back against Cleveland, which has lost three in a row and 12 of 15 in this series. Cincinnati also has won three straight and seven of eight at home against the Browns, who have dropped seven consecutive road games since a 27-19 win over Indianapolis on Sept. 18, 2011.
Dalton was an efficient 21 of 31 for 270 yards and a touchdown during a 23-20 home victory over Cleveland on Nov. 27. Teammate A.J. Green, who caught five passes for 70 yards in the opener, had three receptions for 110 yards in that contest.
Though Cincinnati has dominated its northern Ohio rival of late, the Browns held a six-point lead at home over Philadelphia last weekend before the Eagles scored a touchdown with 1:18 left to come away with a 17-16 victory. Cleveland's seven-game skid dates to a 14-10 win over Jacksonville on Nov. 20.
A stout defensive effort, which included a 22-yard interception return for a TD from linebacker D'Qwell Jackson, helped keep the Browns competitive last Sunday while the offense managed 210 yards. The Browns have been held to fewer than 20 points in six straight games since that November loss at Cincinnati.
Rookie Brandon Weeden went 12 of 35 for 118 yards and four interceptions against the Eagles. His 5.1 passer rating was the sixth-lowest for any quarterback attempting 15 passes in a season opener since 1970.
Despite the performance, coach Pat Shurmur believes Weeden, who turns 29 next month, will improve this weekend.
"He won't lose his confidence," Shurmur said. "I think it's important we go back, just like we do each week, work on the fundamentals of playing the position and get ready to play the next team."
Fellow rookie Trent Richardson said his injured knee felt fine, but he'll likely need to do better after gaining 39 yards on 19 carries against Philadelphia.
Cleveland will be without star cornerback Joe Haden, who begins a four-game suspension for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing drugs. However, linebacker Scott Fujita will make his 2012 debut after an appeals panel renounced a three-game league suspension for his role in the New Orleans Saints' bounty scandal.
Fujita, who played for the Saints from 2006-09 and has recorded 101 tackles over the past two seasons for Cleveland, could possibly be in the starting lineup at the strong side spot next to Jackson.
"It's definitely a comfort zone," Jackson said. "The guy has been through a lot, and to have him back out here and focused on football and not have to worry about outside distractions means the world to us."
Bengals linebacker Thomas Howard definitely won't be in the lineup, as he was placed on the reserve/injured list Friday after suffering a season-ending knee injury in practice this week. Howard, Cincinnati's leading tackler last season, had four tackles, a sack and a pass defensed Monday.
To take his place on the roster, Cincinnati signed linebacker Roddrick Muckelroy, who started three preseason games for the Bengals this summer.