Up next: Rookie QB turning heads in Cincy

Throughout the preseason, many people wondered if QB Andy Dalton had what it took to throw the ball down the field and when the Cincinnati Bengals would open up things on offense. Despite losing 24-22 to Denver on Sunday, Dalton's second half against the Broncos would satisfy most QBs for an entire game as Dalton became only the second Cincy rookie QB to pass for more than 300 yards in a game.

Dalton, selected one pick ahead of 49ers rookie QB Colin Kaepernick with the No. 35 overall pick in the second round of the NFL draft this year, completed 19 of 30 passes for 280 yards and two touchdowns in a spectacular second half against the Broncos.

Dalton finished the game with 332 yards passing. He's the second Bengals rookie to throw for 300 or more yards in his second start, joining Greg Cook, who did it in 1969. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Dalton also is the second rookie QB since the 1970 NFLK/AFL merger to post a passer rating of 100-plus in his first two starts. Dan Marino did it in his first three starts in 1983.

"I mean, it really doesn't matter what I did. We had a chance," Dalton said. "We were in it right down to the end, but we have to do a better job of executing when it matters."

Said fellow rookie A.J. Green of Dalton: "You all saw it. He is primed to be great. His composure, his confidence and the way he can throw the ball to everybody."

Instead of being 2-0 and having a one-game lead on the rest of the AFC North, the Bengals' record is like the rest of the division going into Sunday's home opener against San Francisco: 1-1. This marks the third straight year that the Bengals have started 1-1.

As the Bengals get ready to face the 49ers, though, Dalton and his young receivers look like they are on the same page. Green had 10 receptions for 124 yards, including a nice fingertip grab for a touchdown and a diving reception on the Bengals' final drive.

Jerome Simpson, who had struggled during the preseason, showed some of the promise that he displayed late last season with 136 yards, including an 84-yard reception that is thought to be the sixth-longest pass play in team history.

Despite the numbers from their playmakers, though, if the Bengals continue to be 1 of 13 on third- and fourth-down conversions, they aren't going to win many games. In the first half they failed to convert three straight third-and-1s.

Last year on third-and-short, the Bengals were 27 of 41 on third-and-1s.

"There are a lot of young guys on this offense and we're learning," Green said. "We didn't come out there with a lot of energy in the first two quarters. We came out in the second half shooting but we were playing catch-up the entire game."

With the offense going to the pass for 43 of the 63 offensive plays, running back Cedric Benson had just 59 yards on 16 carries.

"They were intent on us not running on them which contributed to some of the big plays in the passing game," Benson said. "I don't know why we weren't able to capitalize today. We just have to play better."

Lineup watch

Wide receiver Jordan Shipley injured his left knee during the third quarter against the Broncos and was placed on injured reserve Monday with a torn ACL. Shipley's misfortune could prove to be Andre Caldwell's gain. After Shipley's injury, Caldwell caught a 10-yard touchdown pass. Caldwell could move into the slot receiver role Shipley has held the past two seasons.

Head coach Marvin Lewis said Shipley will elect to have surgery at a later date based on the doctor's recommendations.

Shipley had only four receptions in two games but was a good underneath safety option for Dalton along with Jermaine Gresham. Drafted in the third round last season, he led AFC rookies in receiving yards last year (600) and was tied in receptions (52).

Caldwell has had a rocky couple years with the Bengals. Drafted in the third round in 2008, he took over as the slot receiver after the departure of T.J. Houshmandzadeh and finished second on the team in receptions (51) and three touchdowns in 2009.

Last year with Shipley's selection and the signing of Terrell Owens, Caldwell went from being a possible second receiver all the way down to fourth. He was used sparingly until the final three games, when he entered the starting lineup. Over that span he had 15 receptions for 270 yards.

Said quarterbacks coach Ken Zampese about both players: "There's a certainty with him and that's been enjoyable to have and we'll have it with Caldwell because we've had that in previous years too. We shouldn't drop off with him at all. It should be just the same."

Shipley is the third Bengals player to end up on IR this season, joining LB Roddrick Muckelroy and TE Bo Scaife.

Report card vs. Broncos

PASSING OFFENSE: B -- It was a great day for Andy Dalton and the starting receivers, with A.J. Green and Jerome Simpson having big days. For all the progress and big plays though, there are still a lot of things to improve on. Dalton cannot take sacks on second down with no timeouts and Simpson had a couple of drops. Jermaine Gresham also struggled with drops and the offensive line had a couple errors in pass protection during the fourth quarter.

RUSHING OFFENSE: C-plus -- Cedric Benson had 59 yards but did not gain a yard on two 3rd-and-1 runs off left and right tackle during the first half. It also isn't a good sign when the amount of carries for no gain or negative yards (six) is more than the carries for five or more yards (five). Line blocking was inconsistent and Clint Boling had a holding penalty which stalled a drive.

PASSING DEFENSE: D -- Inconsistent pressure from the defensive line allowed Kyle Orton to have a clean pocket for most of the day. Nate Clements struggled in coverage and Chris Crocker took a horrible angle on Decker's second touchdown. A costly roughing-the-passer penalty by Jonathan Fanene moved the ball into Bengals territory and later resulted in a touchdown.

RUSHING DEFENSE: D -- Gave up nine runs of five yards or more. Rey Maualuga had a couple of missed tackles and the defensive line looked overwhelmed against the Broncos offensive line.

SPECIAL TEAMS: C-minus -- Brandon Tate again looked tentative on punt returns, with his only good one a 16-yard return late in the fourth quarter to give the Bengals good field position.

COACHING: C-minus -- Marvin Lewis is now 1-1 when it comes to deferring the opening kickoff and his decision not to try a 54-yard field goal with three minutes remaining in the fourth quarter is drawing lots of second guesses. With Mike Nugent doing well on kicks from outside 40 during his two years with the Bengals, you might as well tried to take the lead and leave it up to your defense to either hold a one-point lead or force a three-and-out to give the offense one more chance if the field goal was no good.

Niners Digest Top Stories