NFL Preview - Atlanta (1-0) at Cincinnati (1-0)
By Michael Rushton, Contributing NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - A pair of teams that rallied for Week 1 victories square off this Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium as the Cincinnati Bengals play host to the Atlanta Falcons.
The Bengals will enjoy their home opener after beating the Baltimore Ravens 23-16 last weekend. Cincinnati built a 15-point lead in the first half on the strength of five Mike Nugent field goals before Baltimore went ahead by a point with 16 straight in the second half.
The Ravens went up on an 80-yard touchdown catch by Steve Smith, but Andy Dalton and A.J. Green had a response less than a minute later. Cincinnati's quarterback went deep to hit Green for a 77-yard score, with the wide receiver showing off superb ball skills.
Ravens corner Chykie Brown did get a hand on Dalton's pass, causing the ball to change course a bit, but Green was able to secure the pass after juggling the ball for a few yards and scored with 4:58 to play.
"I like the juke," said Green of the game-deciding reception. "I took an inside release, (Brown) dove and got a hand on it and I got it. I said before the series that I had to go and make a play."
Dalton threw for 301 yards and Green ended with six receptions for 131 yards. Running back Giovani Bernard had 48 of his club's 79 rushing yards, but also caught six passes for 60 yards.
"Obviously, it's a big win for us," said Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis. "Anytime you come in here and win a football game, it's a big win. It's a division win, and it's on the road."
Now the Bengals will try to match the longest home winning streak in club history. That 10-game run was set in 1988-89 and these current Bengals have won nine in a row at home since a loss to Dallas on Dec. 9, 2012.
Atlanta was able to take care of business at home in Week 1, knocking off the rival New Orleans Saints 37-34 in overtime. Matt Ryan threw for a franchise- record 448 yards and Matt Bryant connected on two long field goals, tying the game on a 51-yarder as time expired before booting a 52-yard attempt 1:43 into overtime.
Bryant's game-winning kick was set up by safety William Moore forcing a fumble by Saints wide receiver Marques Colston.
Ryan, meanwhile, helped rally Atlanta back from 13 points down at halftime, throwing three touchdown passes.
"Matt was calm, cool, and collected. He never flinched," said Falcons center Joe Hawley. "Every time they would score, he would just go back out there and look it at as another opportunity to score."
Wide receiver Julio Jones led the way with seven catches for 116 yards, while wideout Roddy White, tight end Levine Toilolo and running back Antone Smith all caught touchdown passes.
Atlanta ended the game with a club-record 568 net yards of offense, surpassing the previous mark of 563 set in 1980.
The Falcons have won their last three meetings with the Bengals, who still lead the all-time series 7-5. However, Cincinnati has not beaten Atlanta since a home victory in 1996.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
The good news for the Bengals is that while they'll failed to punch the ball into the end zone in the first half last week, they prevented the Ravens from altering the momentum by not turning the ball over all game. That's solid work by Dalton, who saw his running game held in check and was forced to attempt 38 passes.
"It starts with your quarterback. Your quarterback and your protection," said Lewis of not turning the ball over. "Those go hand in hand. The decision making he has, and then the ball security of those that touch the football all the time."
It helps having a talented receiver like Green to throw to and the Georgia product has a touchdown catch in five straight games versus the NFC.
Dalton will be without tight end Tyler Eifert for some time as the budding star suffered a bad elbow injury and landed on injured reserve-recall. That should lead to more time on the field for Alex Smith in Cincinnati's two tight end sets.
"Guys have to step up this time, just like it was on Sunday. As soon as Tyler went down, we did some different things with different guys," said Dalton. "We were able to be pretty productive with it, so guys have to step up and make plays. We've got the guys on this team to do that."
Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict suffered a concussion last week and is questionable while cornerback and first-round pick Darqueze Dennard was unable to make his NFL debut due to a hip injury but could play in this game.
Cincinnati's home crowd should give a loud ovation if and when defensive tackle Devon Still hits the field. He was added to the roster this week after being signed to the practice squad the previous week.
Still, who was battling a hamstring injury, made headlines when the Bengals opted to keep Still on the practice squad to assist in his caring for his four-year-old daughter Leah, who has Stage 4 cancer.
"We have an open roster spot, and this is the best football move we can make to fill it," said Lewis in a news release. "We think Devon is ready to rejoin our line rotation and be productive. It already was stated that a big reason Devon opened on the practice squad was that he couldn't fully focus on football this preseason. He had to take care of his daughter. But Devon has told us he feels ready to contribute now, so it's the right move at the right time. And we've told Devon he can still be afforded the personal time he needs to attend to his daughter's care."
Still, a third-year player out of Penn State, has logged 21 tackles and a half-sack in 18 career games without a start. He'll rotate on a defensive line that also includes defensive end Wallace Gilberry, who notched 1 1/2 sacks versus the Ravens to give him five in his past seven games.
Cincinnati's line will need to throw Ryan out of rhythm following his big Week 1. The Falcons quarterback became the club's all-time leader in passing touchdowns with 156 and led his 24th career game-winning drive.
His 448 passing yards were also the second most by an NFL player in league history on kickoff weekend without an interception.
"I thought Matt may have played his best game as an Atlanta Falcon," said Falcons head coach Mike Smith. "He's played a lot of games for us, and made a lot of plays, but I was really impressed with his ability to extend some plays today, moving in the pocket and actually getting out and running the football."
White is also on the verge of setting another Falcons record. His touchdown catch in Week 1 was his 56th career receiving score, tying Andre Rison for second most in team history and putting him one back of Terance Mathis' club record.
White had 11 catches for 201 yards with two touchdowns in Atlanta's most recent meeting with Cincinnati, a 39-32 victory in Atlanta.
The Falcons' offense saw four different running backs get touches out of the backfield, led by Steven Jackson's 52 yards on 12 carries. Jacquizz Rodgers added 34 of the club's 123 rushing yards on six carries and scored on the ground, while Antone Smith and Devonta Freeman both had two carries.
Smith also contributed a 54-yard TD catch.
"That's why I said we don't have 11 starters. We've got 14 or 15 on both sides of the football," noted head coach Mike Smith.
Dalton may have to keep an eye on cornerback Robert McClain, who is making it a habit of picking off talented quarterbacks. His interception of Drew Brees last weekend was the second of his career and first since he picked off Peyton Manning in Atlanta's 2012 home opener.
The Bengals didn't lose a game at home last season and their fans should be ready to make some noise this weekend.
"We want to be at our best especially when we are playing here, because it's easier to play here than it is to play on the road when everybody is against you," noted Dalton. "We hope the fans all come out and show support, are loud and give us an advantage."
Where the Bengals will have an advantage is on offense, where they should be able to have a more balanced attack than the Falcons, whose run game may find little room against Cincinnati's talented front.
Ryan is coming off an outstanding Week 1 performance, but the Bengals will be ready and should also be able to keep pace with the Falcons' offense.
"We know the Falcons are a very talented and dangerous opponent," said Lewis. "We've taken one good step, and now it's time to forget it and move on to the next one."
Sports Network predicted outcome: Bengals 27, Falcons 23
09/11 13:33:43 ET