CINCINNATI — Andy Dalton had no time to throw the ball and no running game to blunt some of the Jets’ pass rush.
In the end, it would be up to him to save the Cincinnati Bengals on opening day.
He did it with a quality performance.
Dalton shook off a career-high seven sacks and other bruising hits while rallying the Bengals to a 23-22 win at the Meadowlands on Sunday. The Bengals’ first win on the Jets’ field since 1981 — when they were playing at Shea Stadium — came down to two players in particular.
“It all starts with Andy and the way he conducts the offense,” receiver A.J. Green said. “That’s a big part of why we have success. He gets us in some great plays.”
In many ways, he was at his best. And it was the most encouraging sight for Cincinnati in an up-and-down opener.
Dalton broke the thumb on his passing hand last season and missed the final three regular-season games and a playoff loss to Pittsburgh. In his first game back, he was fully back in the form that made him the AFC’s top-ranked passer last season with a 106.3 rating.
After a slow start, he was as good as it gets.
Dalton went only 3 of 7 for 77 yards with two sacks and an interception in the first quarter.
The rest of the way, he was 20 of 23 for 289 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions while getting sacked five more times. No matter how many times he got hit, he didn’t get rattled.
Dalton finished with a passer rating of 114, which was even more impressive considering that the onus was mostly on him to move the offense. Cincinnati rushed for only 57 yards overall.
It wasn’t only Dalton’s doing. Green had one of his most sensational games as well, catching a dozen passes for 180 yards, including a 54-yard touchdown while guarded by Darrelle Revis.
Adjusting to the Jets’ fierce rush, first-year offensive coordinator Ken Zampese went to quick receiver screens and showed some of the creativity that characterized the offense under former coordinator Hue Jackson. Zampese used an unbalanced line, had linemen flanked out to block in receiver positions, and ran a wildcat formation.
The Bengals recognized that the Jets couldn’t stop Green and got him the ball as often as possible. Thirteen of Dalton’s 30 passes went his way.
Dalton was perfect on a pair of field goal drives that ended each half. He completed all of his eight passes for 62 yards to set up Mike Nugent’s 21-yard field goal that ended the first half. Trailing with 3:18 to go, he completed all four of his passes and led the Bengals into range for Nugent’s decisive 47-yard field goal.
Dalton didn’t play the closing minutes of a half during the preseason.
“I’m pleased he got two of them in one game and he handled both of them very, very well,” coach Marvin Lewis said.
Notes: The Bengals play at Pittsburgh on Sunday, trying to open the season with two road victories for the first time in their history. It’s the fourth time they’ve started with two games on the road. … The Bengals won in Pittsburgh last season, but lost to the Steelers twice at Paul Brown Stadium, including the 18-16 playoff game. … Safety George Iloka disagreed with his 15-yard penalty for a hit on Jets receiver Jalin Marshall. Iloka made shoulder-to-shoulder contact, and their helmets appeared to hit, as he broke up a pass. “That’s my game,” Iloka said on Monday. “Be physical and put it in the refs’ hands.”