Jeremy Hill on the way to his longest run since his rookie year with Sunday's 50-yarder.
The bad news?
The Bengals are 1-2 for the first time since the first year of the Green-Dalton era and find themselves where they were then. Behind the Ravens and Steelers.
The good news?
The AFC is wide open and you can just ask the Jets, Chiefs, and Chargers also grappling at 1-2.
But in order for the Bengals to make a bid, Pro Bowl left tackle Andrew Whitworth, who has been through plenty of these runs in the last eight years, says they have to run the ball like they did in Sunday's 29-17 loss to Denver.
And a lot better than that because in the game's last 56 minutes their backs rushed for 2.2 yards per carry, even worse than the team's 2.8-yard rushing average of the first two weeks.
Yet Whitworth liked the physicality his club exhibited on a day Bengals running backs Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard ran it 22 times after they ran it just 30 in the previous two weeks.
It still wasn't good enough because Hill should have walked to his first 100-yard game since his rookie year with 65 yards on his first four carries before finishing with 97 on 17 tries.
But it's the thought that counts.
Before the Bengals fell behind, 22-17, with 6:56 left in the game and Dalton dropped back 14 straight times, they had 23 running plays to 21 drop-backs in a marked difference from the first two weeks.
It was the only true way to help right tackle Cedric Ogbuehi in his matchup with Super Bowl MVP Von Miller and his NFL-leading four sacks. Miller got one, but it was in the last minute when the game was over and Dalton threw every down.
The Bengals ran a lot of extra tackles and tight ends out there to help, but when Ogbuehi was one-on-one at times he held up. For instance, when the Bengals had a third-and-nine on their last touchdown drive and Dalton had time to hit tight end C. J. Uzomah 22 yards down the seam, Ogbuehi pushed Miller past the pocket.
"Honestly, we came into the game and just wanted to run the football well and as far as the pass stuff with Von we didn't have anything special for that," Whitworth said. "I think we ran it pretty well. We can run it better."
And he says they'll have to with new offensive coordinator Ken Zampese saddled with five new receivers and injured Pro Bowl tight end Tyler Eifert.
"I think this team is going to have to run it well. It's just reality," Whitworth said. "It's nothing against new guys, old guys. It's just different. All our weapons, all our people, it's just different. Any time you start that way, you have to be able to run the ball well."
Whitworth went back to that first year of Dalton and A.J., Green in 2011, a huge year of transition with new coordinator Jay Gruden, when the Bengals never rushed it fewer than 20 times a game. And when Hue Jackson replaced Gruden in 2014 and got a 1,000-yard season from the rookie Hill during a year Eifert and starting wide receiver Marvin Jones missed all but the entire season.
"Every coordinator I've been with at their start, you have to be able to run the ball well," Whitworth said. "When Jay started here, we ran the ball a lot. When Hue started here we ran the ball a lot. With Zamp we're trying to run the ball and be physical. It has to start that way to be successful."
It certainly started that way with Hill on Sunday's four carries in the first drive, a five-play breeze that put them on top in the first four minutes, 7-0. Hill had 65 of the 74 yards, 50 coming on his longest run since his rookie year, when he had touchdowns of 85, 62, and 60. It was his longest since the 85-yarder jump-started a win over Denver on Dec. 22, 2014, a stretch of 20 games.
But he had 32 yards the rest of the way and throw in Bernard's eight yards on five carries, and 40 yards on 18 carries doesn't cut it.
"It was all right. A lot of stuff we wish we could have back," Hill said. "And a lot of stuff we wish would've helped our defense, especially in the fourth quarter by keeping them off the field. We have a ways to go as far as the running game, and it starts with me."
After Hill's big run and Uzomah's catch midway through the first half, the Bengals couldn't pull the trigger on another big play. Wide receiver Brandon LaFell's 27-yarder came in the last 14 desperate plays. That was it.
"I think anytime you don't make the plays to win the game, then you're definitely surprised," Hill said. ""We've done it in every situation, so when we don't do it when it matters the most, it definitely is surprising. We can't let that discourage us, and we have to continue to work and continue to keep grinding during the practice week, get ready to go out there Thursday night, and put out a better performance."
But it's going to be a game like this one, where the running game is heavily scrutinized. Hill, who used that first series to respond to his nightmarish fumble on the last carry of last season that fumbled away the Wild Card Game at PBS, says he wasn't encouraged by his production.
"Not at all. There's so many more plays that we left out there," he said. "Obviously, it wasn't enough to win the game, so we have a ways to go."
Cincinnati Bengals take on the Denver Broncos at Paul Brown Stadium in week 3 of the regular season 9/25/2016