Pro Bowl receiver A.J. Green walked off the field gingerly, an ominous sign. On their opening series, the Bengals were about to get the answer to a question they'd like to avoid.
How would Cincinnati be without A.J. Green?
Running back Giovani Bernard spurred a depleted offense on Sunday by running for 90 yards and turning short completions into big gains, leading the Bengals to a 24-10 victory over the Atlanta Falcons.
The Bengals (2-0) are indeed much bigger than their best receiver. And they didn't seem to miss several other injured starters, either, a sign that the defending AFC North champions are in a very good place right now. They're 2-0 for the first time since 2006.
"I think the sky is the limit with this offense," said rookie running back Jeremy Hill, who ran for 74 yards and a touchdown. "Once we get some of those guys back, it'll be exciting."
It's pretty impressive as is. But every offense has been rather good so far against the Falcons (1-1), who have allowed 472 yards in each of their first two games.
"You can't give up (472) yards week-in and week-out and expect to win," coach Mike Smith said. "We did not tackle well, took some poor angles and got outrun. We did not pursue well."
Their offense wasn't much, either.
Cincinnati shut down Matt Ryan, who was coming off the best game of his career. Ryan threw for a club-record 448 yards and three touchdowns in an opening 37-34 overtime win over New Orleans. Against Cincinnati's blitzing defense, he was 24 of 44 for 231 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions, one of which set up Hill's 1-yard touchdown run for a 24-3 lead in the third quarter.
"At the half, we knew we were right in the game," Ryan said. "But when you turn the ball over three times, you're not going to win. I have to be better. That's the way it goes sometimes."
Some things learned at Paul Brown Stadium:
GIO'S A LOAD: In his second year, Bernard has emerged as one of the NFL's most versatile running backs. He carried a career-high 27 times for 90 yards and a touchdown. He also caught a team-high five passes for a career-high 79 yards, repeatedly turning Dalton's short tosses into big plays. Dalton avoided a sack by flipping it to Bernard at the last instant, and he turned it into a 46-yard gain.
"He yelled out, 'Gio!' and I just opened my eyes," Bernard said. "It's weird. I guess it's a quarterback-running back relationship kind of thing."
DALTON STILL PERFECT: Dalton went 15 of 23 for 252 yards with a touchdown and a passer rating of 116.6. The best part — no sacks, no interceptions for the second straight game. New offensive coordinator Hue Jackson has been on Dalton about avoiding sacks and turnovers, and so far he's been perfect at it.
"Turnovers are big and turnovers decide the game," Dalton said. "So we've got to keep doing a good job of protecting the ball."
BENGALS HURTING: Green left during the opening series after aggravating an injured toe on his right foot, which caused him to miss practice time during the week. It's unclear how long he'll be sidelined. The Bengals already were missing tight end Tyler Eifert, who will be sidelined for half the season with an elbow injury, and receiver Marvin Jones, who is recovering from a broken foot. Tight end Alex Smith was forced from the game Sunday with an injured left biceps. Right guard Kevin Zeitler hurt his right calf in the second quarter and didn't return. Pro Bowl linebacker Vontaze Burfict left with a pinched nerve in the second half.
OH THAT FALCONS DEFENSE: Atlanta has a lot of work to do on defense. The Falcons gave up 472 yards and 30 first downs during a 37-34 overtime victory against New Orleans in their opener. The Bengals piled up an identical 472 yards and 21 first downs. Mohamed Sanu turned a quick slant into a 76-yard touchdown play when cornerback Robert Alford dived in front to try to knock down the ball but missed.
"I went to bat the ball down and I just tipped it," Alford said. "I've got to make that play."
RYAN UNDER PRESSURE: Gabe Carimi started at left tackle for rookie Jake Matthews, who has a sprained ankle. The Falcons had trouble protecting Ryan against the Bengals' assortment of blitzes. The quarterback threw three interceptions, was sacked twice, got knocked down nine times and had nine of his passes batted down.
"I think the protection was not as good as it was in (the opener)," Smith said. "They've got some guys that can run at you. They did some things schematically. They did a very good job of mixing up their pressures."
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