"He's going to be a top five quarterback," A.J. Green says.
BALTIMORE _ Stop if you've heard this one before.
They survived an injury to one of their Pro Bowlers, another injury to a key piece of their new offensive playbook, and a back-breaking 80-yard touchdown in the dying moments that swiped the lead. Their quarterback gutted out another one on the road. Their defense got to the quarterback at just the right time despite being on the field for all but 3:42 of the last quarter.
The defending AFC North champion Bengals are becoming quite predictable with their resiliency. But this one had such an added twist that even the glacial A.J. Green spewed emotion during the Bengals' 23-16 Opening Day victory in a suddenly subdued and bankrupt M&T Bank Stadium.
"Last time I checked, I think we won the AFC North last year,' said nose tackle Domata Peko. "So we're the ones that people have to try to get to beat us."
Given it was the first win in Baltimore for the Green-Dalton era, came in heat of one of the NFL's most daunting home fields that stakes them to an early edge in the NFL's toughest division, and was their first outing since the playoff loss to San Diego soured the pundits on them, it meant something just a little more than you average road fourth-quarter comeback.
"We feel we're the defending champions in this division," said defensive lineman Wallace Gilberry, who authored the 1.5 sacks on the last two snaps that dashed Baltimore's hopes. "It's hard to go on the road anywhere and get a win, especially in this environment. This is a division rival. This game sets the tone for the season. I remember (last year) we went to Chicago and lost. It kind of bit us in the end. This year we're not leaving any stones unturned. We want them all. Home and away."
This one was a home away from home. Not only had Dalton and Green never won here, nobody wins here. In the previous decade the Ravens had lost 18 games here and Ravens head coach John Harbaugh had never lost here in six previous Septembers coaching Baltimore.
"We need one play, we need one play. Go make it," said Green, recounting how he stalked the sidelines after Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith Sr.'s 80-yard play on third-and-14 with 5:46 left shockingly gave Baltimore its first lead of the day at 16-15.
This is how left tackle Andrew Whitworth remembered it as one of the two remaining Bengals on offense savored their first win here since 2009.
"A.J. basically called his own play," Whitworth said. "Literally called it. On the sidelines before the kickoff he walked up and said, 'One big play will win this game, guys.' He told everybody on offense, and he went out there and did it."
The Ravens were down cornerbacks. Their best one, Lardarius Webb, was out. The other regulars had barely practiced and it was up to Chykie Brown, profootballfocus.com's 155th rated best corner from the preseason and it did not go well. Green had been telling Dalton the corners were sitting on the receivers and any one of them could run by them and Green whizzed by Brown as Red threw a Blue Dart on what Green called an "all go."
What did he like better? The juggle when Brown tipped it on the way into his hands? Or the two-way juke (this way and then that way) that screwed safety Darian Stewart into the turf like a sprinkler?
"I like the juke. I like to juke," Green said.
Less than a minute after Smith had stunned them, Green had wowed them from 77 yards.
"Your great players are supposed to play great and he played great," Peko said.
But they were calling it one of the great team victories they could remember. Certainly the two new coordinators had to take a bow.
With starting wide receiver Marvin Jones (foot) sidelined for another month, Hue Jackson had built much of his game plan around two tight end sets. And Tyler Eifert burned the Ravens for three catches on 37 yards until he suffered what is feared to be a dislocated elbow late in the first quarter.
"We have some flexibility. Obviously, when Eifert went down, we changed a little bit offensively from the original plan,' said head coach Marvin Lewis. "You have to credit the offensive coaches to keeping on rolling like that.
But Dalton and Jackson responded with a no-turnover, no-sack game in this den of thieves while churning out 380 yards. Since Lewis came into the NFL in 2003, the Ravens lead the league in home interceptions and are second in sacks. It was the Bengals first trip to Baltimore without a turnover since the 2007 victory.
"We knew most of these games come down to turnovers," Dalton said. "We came into the game with the goal of not having any turnovers and we felt that we could win if we didn't turn the ball over, which we did."
Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther must have felt like he was watching the same movie. Last year they finished ranked third even though two of their best players, defensive tackle Geno Atkins and cornerback Leon Hall, missed a total of 19 games. Then late in the first half Guenther lost his most important player when field general Vontaze Burfict suffered a concussion drilling quarterback Joe Flacco on a blitz.
So special teams co-captain Vincent Rey came off the bench and directed things while SAM linebacker Emmanuel Lamur ran wild in his first regular-season start and racked up a game-high 11 tackles to go along with his first NFL interception.
"Next man up and I'm trying to make just as many plays as he does or more. There can't be any drop off when that first guy goes out," Rey said.
Despite all the drama, Dalton coolly lifted his road record to 15-10. The day began when someone on ESPN railed about how Dalton would be the most overrated player to be exposed on Opening Day. But he continues to win all kinds of grinding games. A 98.7 passer rating in a building where they allow 287 yards per game is steel-belted.
According to profootballreference.com, he now has 11 game-winning drives accounting for more than a third of his 31 victories.
Green shook his head before he left the M&T mosh pit.
"He's going to be a top five quarterback. That's how I feel," Green said. "He's poised. He didn't crack. He just stood there and delivered the ball. He's so relaxed back there now, it's unbelievable."
But believe it. The Bengals are following the script.