BALTIMORE — The Bengals begin picking through the ashes of the opener Tuesday where their play burned brightest Monday night in the 44-13 loss.
They managed to run the ball against the unrunnable for 4.6 yards on 28 carries behind a rebuilt offensive line that responded better than anyone could have hoped and in the process found a new star in running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis.
After two games last season against the Ravens where Cedric Benson could manage just 92 yards on 29 carries, Green-Ellis raced for 91 yards on 18 carries and shot adrenaline all through his team when his six-yard touchdown run on fourth-and-one in which he dragged three Ravens through the goal line's pane of glass to cut the lead to 17-10 with 18 seconds left in the first half.
But leave it to the Law Firm to offer the perfect summary of the Bengals on trial against the NFL elite.
"Right now, it's very hard to think of any," BJGE said of positives. "We'll look at the film and we'll probably see some things. It's just very disappointing right now. It was opening night, we were on national TV and we laid an egg."
The Bengals were supposed to get a solid game out of their defense while their patchwork offensive line struggled against last year's No. 3 defense, so naturally it was just the opposite.
The Bengals got just the kind of scholarly, solid game they thought they'd get from 10-year center Jeff Faine after just five practices with the club. No fumbled snaps. No false starts. No blitzers running free on quarterback Andy Dalton, and the two young guards making their first NFL starts in their spots gave BJGE plenty of room.
While Dalton did get sacked four times, two came after it got out of hand in garbage time and of the other two, Pro Bowl nose tackle Haloti Ngata beat rookie right guard Kevin Zeitler on a quick set that blew up when wide receiver A.J. Green slipped on the quick route.
"I feel good about my play. I didn't feel rusty at all," said Faine, who was selling insurance two weeks ago. "I thought the communication was real good. There were a couple of things that we missed out there assignment-wise that led to a couple of big hits on Andy. We'll clean that up and fix that and move forward.
"I thought we did a decent job running the ball. I wish it was a tighter game. I wish we could have kept running it. (Green-Ellis) was getting some really good runs. He was running really hard. The one near the end zone where he kind of muscled through three guys to get that touchdown was huge. Hopefully we play just a little better, execute a little better and keep the run going a little longer throughout the game."
Led by Faine's crew and Green-Ellis converting four short-yardage plays on third and fourth downs, the Bengals had a pair of 13-play drives in the first half before stringing together a 12-play drive that opened the second half. When Mike Nugent kicked a 19-yard field goal with 8:59 left in the third quarter, the Bengals had the ball for nine more minutes than the Ravens.
But the No. 1 item on the agenda for the offense this week is what it was in the offseason: scoring touchdowns in the red zone. Working against the NFL's best red zone defense, the Bengals showed why they finished 26th as they came up two yards short of tying the game and had to settle for Nugent's 19-yarder.
"It was no question we left some plays out there. We went into halftime with some momentum and made a couple of nice fourth-down conversions," Green-Ellis said. "We did some good things but it just wasn't enough. Hats off to the Ravens. They came out and played really well. They were ready to play and we need to play better. "
Using screen passes of 11 and 14 yards to wide receiver Andrew Hawkins (his career-high 86 yards led all receivers), the Bengals got to the Ravens 8 on that first drive of the second half. Green-Ellis's run to the left got held for a yard when safety Bernard Pollard blitzed off the right edge untouched on first down, and on second down Dalton and Green couldn't connect on a goal-line crossing route. On third down the Bengals could only get a Dalton scramble as the Ravens dropped eight in coverage.
"The corner was right on his back," Dalton said of the Green route. "I'd like to get it to him a little bit quicker. But they covered it well. They dropped a lot of guys in there."
A big difference?
The Ravens got more out of their tight ends in the red zone than the Bengals did. Ed Dickson got the Ravens in tight with a 19-yard catch, and working inside the red zone Baltimore's leading receiver Monday with 73 yards, Dennis Pitta, had a 12-yard catch and a 10-yard TD catch. Cincinnati's Jermaine Gresham had three catches for 30 yards, and Dalton couldn't hook up with him over the middle on third-and-three from the Ravens 16 with a Hall of Fame sandwich converging on him in safety Ed Reed and middle linebacker Ray Lewis.
"It was close going into halftime; we felt like we had our chances," Dalton said. "The first drive was big but it kind of got out of hand after a while. We can't turn the ball over. I've got to be better."
Left tackle Andrew Whitworth took heart in that opening drive of the second half.
"I thought that was the key to the turnaround," Whitworth said. "I think getting points right out of halftime there was big. Not scoring a touchdown there didn't hurt us. It was a four-point game.
"To do that coming out of halftime on the road with that young offensive line and a center that just got here, I thought that was really something. I thought that drive was a great answer. They just had a better one. I thought we ran the ball well and we protected pretty well. They got some sacks when it was out of hand."
Green-Ellis barely missed becoming the first Bengals back ever to rush for 100 yards in his debut, but he took little solace in the toughest goal-line run in recent Bengaldom history.
"It doesn't mean anything," he said, "because we lost."
As for how this team rebounds, Whitworth can only shake his head. It seems the Bengals have the pundits right where they want them.
"This team kind of likes the scenario it's in right now; we like to be counted out," Whitworth said. For whatever reason we love to play from that position. I don't know why. You get tired of it. But it seems like the position we like to be in, so we'll see how we respond."