CLEVELAND — Marvin Lewis worked his record 17th Battle of Ohio Sunday and it was a lot like the other 11 that he won. For the 10th time Lewis got a 100-yard rusher against the Browns when running back Cedric Benson lanced Cleveland for 121 yards on 25 carries.
The Bengals are 9-1 in those games as Benson rung up his third 100-yard game in five starts against Cleveland, capping it off with his 39-yard touchdown run.
"It was a good start for Ced. This kind of game like today is a Ced Benson kind of day," Lewis said. "When you get in that kind of situation at the end of the game you just keep hammering the ball until you break one free. They have guys crowding up around the ball and he was able to just run it up the back end."
It was Benson's third Opening Day as the Bengals running back and first 100-yarder. As promised, offensive coordinator Jay Gruden got Bernard Scott into the game early, after Benson carried 10 times for 34 yards in the first two drives.
"They had a rotation scheduled before the game, so I just kind of went with the flow," Benson said.
It lasted all of one series when Scott got three yards on four carries and Benson got just one more carry for the rest of the half.
"It's Jay's first day out, too," he said. "He's got to get a feel for this team. He needs to understand we can do that all day."
Benson upped his franchise-best ratio with his 14th 100-yard game in his 41st appearance as a Bengal. The Bengals are now 11-3 when he gets 100 and 11-1 when he carries it 25 times. He's had a stressful two weeks since his last time out against Carolina 17 days ago after serving five days in a Texas jail to finish up his legal commitments stemming from two incidents.
The TD clearly took a load off his shoulders.
"It was very relieving," Benson said. "You know that when you have been trying to do that the entire game and try to make big plays for your team, and you're trying to get the momentum switched back over, it feels good to see that open up. When you see it open up and all you can see is the end zone, it's hard to describe how relieving it feels."
BUCKING TRENDS: The Bengals did everything they possibly could to wipe away the hallmarks of last year's 4-12 season in erasing deficits of 14-13 at the end of the half and 17-13 at the end of the third quarter. Last year they were 0-8 when trailing at halftime and 0-10 when they trailed heading into the third quarter. The Bengals also matched their one road win from last season (and first since last Sept. 26 in Carolina) and were 0-9 when they had fewer penalty yards. They had just three penalties Sunday, matching the lowest they've reached once in each of the previous two seasons.
PROUD REY: Middle linebacker Rey Maualuga's first NFL start at middle linebacker was emotional for him on a couple of levels. He had a solid six tackles according to the press-box stats and keyed a defense that held last year's 4.4-yard per man Peyton Hillis to 3.4 yards per carry on his 17 carries.
Courtesy of his UnderArmour deal, Maualuga also honored the 9/11 remembrance wearing red, white and blue cleats.
"Very emotional as far as 9/11," Maualuga said. "Just to give all the respect to the soldiers that have fallen, the New York Police Department, the fire department and the lost lives and people affected by it."
And, as far as football, Maualuga was able to make hay behind the superb effort by the defensive front. While defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer got more liberal with the blitz when the game was on the line in the second half and safeties Reggie Nelson and Chris Crocker got their sacks, much of the pass pressure came pretty much from the front four. Maualuga said he blitzed only three times and it got picked up each time.
GREEN GRAB: With 6:19 left in a game his team trailed 17-13, rookie receiver A.J. Green's frustration reached a boiling point. The heralded fourth pick in the draft had yet to make his first NFL catch and Browns rookie cornerback Joe Haden, enveloping him all day, had just got away with grabbing his jersey as he broke into the open.
Green ripped off his helmet as he got to the sideline, where fellow receivers Jerome Simpson and Brandon Tate, as well as receivers coach James Urban, all went to him and told him to keep cool.
Minutes later, he was cradling the winning touchdown catch.
"This is the NFL; my time will come," Green said. "My job is to keep playing and when my number's called I have to make the play. That's what I did. I kept my composure and came through in a big situation."
Lewis noticed and is encouraged how Green responded at the end of a long tough day. It included getting called for pushing off on Haden late in the first half on what should have been his first NFL catch, but the quick 15-yard catch and run from quarterback Andy Dalton on the sidelines was negated by the penalty.
"He is going to have to learn to play the game at this level. He is going to play some guys this coming week again that are pretty good corners," Lewis said. "He needs to play through the physical part of the game and not push off like he did in the one play today. That brings up a good point. I thought our poise through the penalties was excellent today. It is not perfect and we have a ways to go, but at least I thought that was a good start for the opening ballgame and a young quarterback."
Haden also made a good play on Green in the right corner of the end zone at the end of the game's first drive to force Mike Nugent's 24-yard field goal. That was probably Dalton's first lesson. He looked the other way as Green broke open and by the time Dalton came back to him Green was double-covered and Haden knocked it away.
SLANTS AND SCREENS
» Another guy as advertised, new returner Brandon Tate, had a mixed day. He set up the first Bengals touchdown with a 15-yard tightrope punt return on his second NFL return. Later he misplayed a punt when he failed to come up and catch it and the gaffe would have put the Bengals on the 1-yard line if Lewis didn't challenge the call and got the ball at the 20.
In his duel with the Browns' Josh Cribbs, Tate took the ball out of the end zone four times for 92 yards with a nice long of 35. Cribbs' 51-yarder fueled the first Browns TD drive and rustled Cleveland out of a 13-0 sleepwalk and he took it out three times for 91 yards.
Cribbs ripped off a 21-yard punt return that nearly broke the game open in the fourth quarter, but punter Kevin Huber saved the day when he got blocked into Cribbs. Safety Jeromy Miles led the Bengals with two special teams tackles.
» Outside linebacker Thomas Howard had a huge debut for the Bengals. He had eight tackles, two for a loss, and hit quarterback Colt McCoy once.
In the drive before the Bengals go-ahead touchdown, Howard dropped Hillis for a one-yard loss on first down and then came up on the next snap to drop Hillis for a four-yard loss on a pass to set up a third-and-15 in which left end Robert Geathers buried Hillis for a five-yard loss to set up the punt.
» David Dunn, the agent for Carson Palmer, was at the game but he didn't appear to be working on that business. He had a bunch of clients in the game, such as Howard and McCoy.