Updated: 7:25 p.m.
DENVER — A valiant Bengals comeback attempt came up just short when quarterback Andy Dalton's fourth-and-19 pass attempt to wide receiver A.J. Green fell incomplete with 23 seconds remaining, and Denver held on for a 24-22 victory at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.
After holding the Broncos on third down with 2:45 remaining, the Bengals got the ball back at their own 5-yard line with 2:39 left. The drive could have begun in much better position, but a holding penalty against the Bengals wiped out a 21-yard return by Brandon Tate that would have set up the Bengals at the 30-yard line.
A nine-yard completion to Green gave the Bengals a first down at the 18 at the two-minute warning, and another completion for 22 yards to Green gave Cincinnati another first down at its own 40. Another short pass to Green for four yards on third-and-two gave the Bengals a first down at the Denver 48 with 1:10 left.
After an incompletion, Dalton was sacked for a nine-yard loss on second down. The Bengals were out of timeouts and the clocked ticked to 30 seconds remaining after another incomplete pass to tight end Jermaine Gresham.
Earliter, as they failed to do all day on a Sunday they were just 1-for-11 on third down conversions, the Bengals failed to convert a fourth-and-one from the Denver 36 with about three minutes left when Denver defensive end Robert Ayers was unblocked on Dalton's naked bootleg and Dalton had to hurry it into the ground before he got blown up.
An 84-yard bolt to wide receiver Jerome Simpson down the middle of the field that Simpson high-stepped for the last 70 yards through the safeties that set up Dalton's five-yard touchdown to Green and cut Denver's lead to 24-22 with 10 minutes left in a wild one.
It showcased what the Bengals feel they have in their young skill players. Green made an unbelievable, Chad-like tightrope catch working on veteran cornerback Andre Goodman in the corner of the end zone.
Stalking Broncos legend John Elway as the only rookie to win his team's first two games on the road to start a season since the 1970 merger, Dalton hit 27 of 41 passes for 332 yards while Simpson racked up 136 yards on four catches and Green had 124 on 10 catches.
Dalton's 12-yard flip over the middle to Simpson that went for 84 came one play after Broncos linebacker Von Miller dumped Dalton for his first NFL sack working against right tackle Andre Smith.
Dalton looked like he got the winner on the next series, but he threw it slightly behind Simpson over the middle at the Denver 20 and he couldn't hold it, extending the Bengals' skein to 0-for-8 third downs.
The Bengals got a huge break soon after when Denver punter Britton Colquitt's 82-yard punt was wiped out when Broncos cornerback Chris Harris was forced out of bounds and stayed out, forcing Colquitt to punt again from his own end zone and this time the Bengals started from their own 45 to set up the fourth-down miss.
The seasoned Bengals secondary committed a fatal mistake early in the fourth quarter when safety Chris Crocker missed the tackle after receiver Eric Decker caught a ball on cornerback Nate Clements for a 52-yard touchdown pass that gave Denver a 24-15 lead.
After absorbing a roughing-the-passer call and a horse-collar penalty on cornerback Nate Clements in the end zone after he gave up a 25-yard touchdown pass on Denver's first defensive series, the Bengals threatened to get blown out when Denver took a 17-3 lead early in the third quarter.
Clements let Decker get inside him on a slant for the score from quarterback Kyle Orton and got flagged when he tried to punch the ball out.
Things didn't get better a few minutes later when wide receiver Jordan Shipley had to leave the field without putting weight on his left leg after suffering what looked to be a knee injury that iced hm for the rest of the game. The Bengals did cut the lead to 17-6 with 8:54 left in third quarter on Mike Nugent's 37-yard field goal, but only after they stretched their game-long drought to 0-for-6 on third down when an incompletion to Simpson was short of the sticks.
But Dalton brought the Bengals back. He threw a nine-yard touchdown pass to Andre Caldwell, and the Bengals got a field goal when defensive end Michael Johnson forced a fumble in the pocket that was recovered by defensive tackle Domata Peko at the Denver 14.
Despite working against one of the most pourus run defenses in the NFL, the Bengals failed to convert their first three third-and-one opportunities as their offense struggled in falling behind 10-3 to a Broncos team that pushed them around on both sides of the ball in the first half.
Nugent's 45-yard field goal with seven minutes left in the half came courtesy of safety Reggie Nelson's forced fumble on a pop to Decker after his 19-yard catch over the middle at the Denver 41 that was recovered by cornerback Leon Hall.
But the Bengals never got into any kind of groove on offense and as they drove to the edge of the red zone on running back Cedric Benson's six-yard run, right guard Clint Boling was called for holding when he couldn't get lower then Ayers. Faced with a third-and-10 Dalton had to get rid of it quickly in the face of Miller's blitz. He could only get off a dump pass to running back Brian Leonard that lost four yards and the call went for Nugent.
Dalton hit eight of 11 passes for 52 yards in a half the Bengals came up empty on four third-down tries. On one third-and-one from the Broncos 48, they tried a play-action fake to Benson and sent Green on a deep flag route as the only receiver. But Denver wasn't fooled and he was double-covered by cornerback Andre Goodman and safety Rahim Moore and Dalton overthrew him.
The first third-and-one came from the Bengals 49 on their first drive and running out of a two-back set the Bengals went a little wide left and Benson got dragged down by tackle Brodrick Bunkley for no gain. Benson had tough sledding against a defense that allowed the Raiders 190 yards rushing just six days ago as he finished the half with 33 yards on seven carries.
The Bengals tried to go right on the third third-and-one from the Bengals 30 with 10:37 left in the half behind Gresham, but it got blown up at the line and safety Brian Dawkins cleaned up for no gain.
Despite having two of their top three receivers start the game on the inactive list and losing the third one, Eddie Royal, during the first half, Broncos quarterback Kyle Orton hit nine of 16 passes for 97 yards and converted five of eight for first downs. With No. 3 quarterback Tim Tebow lining up as an emergency receiver, Orton hit a crushing third-and-eight throw from the Bengals 41 just before the two-minute warning for a nine-yard gain despite tight coverage by linebacker Thomas Howard.
After giving the Browns just 83 yards on the ground all last Sunday, the Bengals gave up 80 in the first half on plays like running back Lance Ball's 17-yarder after the two-minute warning where right end Michael Johnson, expecting pass on third-and-three, spun inside but Ball veered outside.
Defensive tackle Geno Atkins came up with a huge sack with 16 seconds left to force Matt Prater's 34-yard field goal.
After being miserable on offense in Monday night's opener, the limping Broncos came alive on Sunday's first series with a 15-play, 80-yard touchdown in which they smashed the Bengals off the ball with backup running back Willis McGahee and consumed the game's first eight-and-a-half minutes.
Denver rushed for 36 yards on its first six carries after managing just 38 yards on the ground in Monday's loss to the Raiders with McGahee racking up 29 yards that included a one-yard touchdown run that put the Bengals in a 7-0 hole midway through the first quarter.
As sharp as it was in the fourth quarter against Cleveland last week, the defense came out as flat. Middle linebacker Rey Maualuga missed three wide-open tackles in the series and Orton, the beleaguered one, hit his first five passes for 48 yards, including the fifth catch of wide receiver Matthew Willis' NFL career when he used a cushion from Hall for a 15-yard gain.
With defending NFL receiving yardage champion Brandon Lloyd out with an injured groin, Orton had just three receivers at his disposal. He used tight end Julius Thomas on one flip and Maualuga had a chance to blow him up for a five-yard loss, but he missed him and Thomas got a five-yard gain. Then on the next snap he steamed into the backfield on a blitz and missed Ball as he got four yards.
PREGAME NOTES: The Bengals hope last week's effective rotation on the defensive line continues Sunday with Jon Fanene getting the start in place of the inactive Robert Geathers (shoulder).
Fanene, who can also play tackle in base and nickel, was all over the place in Cleveland with two tackles for loss and got rewarded with his 16th NFL start.
Also sitting for the Bengals were tight end Donald Lee, just acquired Tuesday, and safety Taylor Mays as he gets over a knee injury. Outside linebacker Dontay Moch (foot) and guard Otis Hudson (knee) are also sitting because of injury. Rookies Robert Sands, a safety, and Ryan Whalen, a wide receiver, were inactive for the second week.
Meanwhile, the Broncos weren't able to get back any of their high-profile starters that were banged up Monday night. Their inactive list looked like a star-studded first team: record-breaking 10-time cornerback Champ Bailey (hamstring) and the man who led the NFL in receiving yards last season, wide receiver Brandon Lloyd (groin). Also out was a one-time NFL sack leader in defensive end Elvis Dumervil (shoulder), a former first round running back in Knowshon Moreno (hamstring), and linebacker D.J. Williams (elbow), a guy that led Denver in sacks and tackles last season. The Broncos called up running back Jeremiah Johnson from the practice squad to back up Willis McGahee when they put defensive tackle Ty Warren on injured reserve.
With Demaryius Thomas out, the Broncos are down to three receivers. They still have more NFL catches than the young Bengals' crew. Eddie Royal has 191 of their 207. Second-year man Eric Decker has 12 and fourth-year man Matthew Willis has four.
Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton appeared to be throwing free and easy in warmups. There were no indications that the Bengals are concerned about the strength in his wrist as he caught balls back from wide receiver Jordan Shipley following each throw.
The Bengals, wearing all white, went into the game trying to win for the first time in their history their first two games on the road in Weeks 1 and 2. Like last week the Bengals won the toss and deferred.