Updated: 11 p.m.
Take it for what it is, but it took Bengals rookie quarterback Andy Dalton just one NFL start to get his first division road win.
He needed the help of long reliever Bruce Gradkowski and Akili Smith also won in Cleveland in his first start and won only two more starts. But Carson Palmer didn't do it until his 12th start, Jeff Blake his 16th, and Jon Kitna his 15th as a Bengal, so take it for what it's worth.
But what is important is that Dalton responded with his management of the game just the way offensive coordinator Jay Gruden had it drawn up when he scouted him this past winter and spring. As head coach Marvin Lewis said, "it's why we drafted him." An offense haunted by delay of games the past few seasons didn't have one with a nerveless rookie QB on the road in Sunday's 27-17 victory.
Note that the Bengals not only scored on his first three drives, but the first two were into the Dawg Pound din.
"He did a great job with the play clock. I think the one time we called timeout it was my fault because I was talking to him a little too long," Gruden said Monday. "We had a couple of plays called and by the time he spat everything out, he had to get to the line and by that time the clock was winding down so I take the blame for that. He did an outstanding job."
Gruden preaches speed in and out of the huddle because his West Coast playbook is pretty wordy and when Dalton left with his injured throwing wrist at halftime, the tempo slowed a bit.
"I don't know if we got tired. A couple of times Cedric (Benson) was late getting into the huddle and the receivers were late going back to the huddle," he said. "Overall, we never battled the play clock at all."
Exhibit A on why Gruden wants his offense out early:
The go-ahead touchdown drive was made possible by a 22-yard dump pass to running back Brian Leonard in the flat, a play that backup Bruce Gradkowski audibled to out of a run call.
And Gruden graded Dalton nearly flawless on his own checks at the line. His only miss sent Benson to the wrong side and got him tackled by an unblocked defender.
"Outstanding. He had a couple of miscues in the running game when he had one check he shouldn't have," Gruden said. "I think he was very good. He fumbled once in the pocket. We're going to see good pass rushers all year long. He's going to have to hold the ball in the pocket. Overall he was good. Ten for 15 (passing). He had a couple of drops, was efficient, smart in the pocket and he did some good things."
INJURY UPDATE: About Dalton's injured wrist: Lewis said all the injuries suffered Sunday were better Monday. It's believed the Bengals think it's a bruise but they continue to check to see if anything is broken with tests and visits to specialists as they remain hopeful he'll be able to play in Denver next Sunday. But it doesn't appear to be a long-range problem at the moment. Lewis indicated as much when he said the Bengals don't plan to sign another quarterback. Backups? Wide receivers Andre Caldwell and Jordan Shipley.
It was Browns rookie defensive tackle Phil Taylor that crushed Dalton on a play Gruden said was the result of a miscommunication along the offensive line that resulted in the line sliding the wrong way.
Left tackle Andrew Whitworth, who left Cleveland wearing a boot, left Paul Brown Stadium not wearing one Monday.
LEGALESE: It was Gradkowski, of course, that engineered the big play, the 41-yard touchdown pass to rookie wide receiver A.J. Green that caught the Browns breaking out of their huddle and not lined up. Cleveland griped the refs didn't give them time to match the Bengals' substitution, but The Cleveland Plain-Dealer reported Monday the league said there was no violation.
Gruden could have told them that.
"It was a legal play. We substituted, but we huddled, and snapped it. They weren't ready," Gruden said. "The receivers did a great job getting set, (center Kyle) Cook did a great job not snapping the ball until the O-linemen were ready and the quarterback did a great job disguising his intent."
It's a set play and the Bengals tried to run it earlier, but got fouled up on the substitution and had to call it off when they had only 10 men on the field. Gruden says the Bengals did it four or five times last year and that wide receiver Terrell Owens scored on a quick snap.
LEWIS NAYS THE SAYERS: ProFootballTalk.com reported that new 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh is looking for TV highlights of his team that no one gives any chance of success. Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis prefers his team's low profile, but he's looking for some support.
"I don't know why we have so many naysayers. It's funny because I was reading about the Browns, and I just happened to look down at the end of their little blog thing, or whatever you call that at the end, and it's like opposite," Lewis said at his Monday news conference. "I thought (from reader comments) that we were about to play the '(67) Packers. It's an unbelievable difference, the attitude and the aura the way it was there in Cleveland prior to Sunday, compared to, for whatever reason, ours is here."
Yet Lewis isn't kidding anybody. He's brilliant at molding that chip on his team's shoulder. He'll use it to his advantage.
"But we can't worry about and dwell upon that. That's my deal," he said. "But for this young team, I don't even know if they know newspapers still exist, they're so doggone young. All they know is what's on those iPads, and luckily we've got a lot of video on those iPads. As far as the naysayers, the only thing we can do is go prove it differently, and at the end of the season, that's what counts."
BLOCK PARTY:The Bengals actually started four rookies on offense because they loaded up with an extra tight end on the left side and undrafted rookie tight end Colin Cochart got a big block on the first snap of the season Benson took for seven yards. It foreshadowed Cochart's even bigger block on linebacker Scott Fujita on Benson's clinching 39-yard TD run with 1:49 left in the game.
"He took out two guys," Gruden said.
A few weeks ago, one teammate said about Cochart: "He's the kind of guy you'll never hear about, but he'll be a very good player for 10 years in this league."
Gruden knows all about him.
"He's got a big upside. He blocks well. He's a tough kid. He's not afraid," Gruden said. "We just have to hone in on his pass receiving skills, but he's got the intangibles and strengths to be a good tight end for awhile."
Gruden said "you'd like to play with three tight ends," and the Bengals have their eyes "open" after playing the opener with just two of them. "Chase (Coffman on the practice squad) is still here. He's a good option, but our eyes will be open, no question."
ANDRE COMES UP BIG:In his first Opening Day appearance Bengals third-year right tackle Andre Smith was there when the Bengals wanted to run out the clock and they got Benson's 39-yard clinching TD run with 1:57 left behind the right side. Smith did his job as he has most of the time this season, but he praised the two rookies next to him. He said Cochart had the big block and that right guard Clint Boling played well all game, giving him high marks when he compared him to the 12-year veteran he replaced in Bobbie Williams.
"He really was good," Smith said. "It was like having Boss out there communicating and talking."
» Benson is just one yard shy of the NFL rushing lead heading into Monday night's games after his 121-yard effort in Cleveland was runnerup to the Eagles' LeSean McCoy. He leads the NFL in carries with 25.
» Green leads all AFC rookies with 41 receiving yards, all on one catch … Jermaine Gresham is in some heady company with the tight ends that have caught at least six balls: San Diego's Antonio Gates, Dallas' Jason Witten, and Tampa Bay's Kellen Winslow.
» Dalton's 10-of-15 passing for 81 yards and a TD gives him a 102.4 passer rating that is 10th in the league and behind only Buffalo's Ryan Fitzpatrick and Baltimore's Joe Flacco in the AFC.
» Gradkowski has the NFL's fourth-best fourth quarter passer rating at 113.2. He was just 2-of-6, but they were Green's TD and that 22-yard audible dump pass to Leonard.
» The Bengals defense played like a top 10 unit and the stats reflect it with a No. 6 ranking in total, as well as in the huge categories of yards per rush (8) and third-down percentage (7).