CINCINNATI (AP) Andy Dalton fit a sideline throw between two defenders, dropping it just over the one in front for a completion. He made a pump-fake and hit A.J. Green for a 45-yard touchdown.
Virtually everything he did was right on the mark in the Cincinnati Bengals' season opener, an impressive showing that got overlooked in how it ended.
The third-year quarterback completed a career-best 78.7 percent of his passes during a 24-21 loss at Chicago on Sunday, one that came down to turnovers and defensive gaffes. Dalton was 26 of 33 for 282 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions, one of which went off Green's hands.
It was as flawless a game as Dalton has played in the NFL.
"He threw the ball well," offensive coordinator Jay Gruden said. "He had a great game. This was one of his better games here. There's still room for improvement."
If Dalton plays near the level he did in the opener, the Bengals (0-1) will have a good chance of reaching the playoffs for the third season in a row, something that's never happened in franchise history. Dalton completed passes to seven different players, including rookie tight end Tyler Eifert and running back Giovani Bernard, blending the newcomers into a more diversified approach.
"I think we've just gotten better as a team, I think that's a big part of it," Dalton said. "I feel like I've improved, I feel like the offense has improved and (we're) finding ways to keep getting completions and moving the chains. I think that's a big part of it.
"Hopefully we can keep that up and keep completing a lot of balls and keep the percentage up."
He'll get a good gauge on that Monday night when the Pittsburgh Steelers (0-1) throw their funky blitzes his way. He's 1-3 career against Pittsburgh, which has contained him most of the time.
In those four games, Dalton has completed only 52 percent of his throws for 688 yards and four touchdowns with five interceptions and nine sacks. He notched his first win against them last December, a 13-10 victory at Heinz Field that put the Bengals back in the playoffs and knocked out the Steelers.
It was a breakthrough win in many ways, and the Bengals want to show it wasn't a fluke.
"For us to go into Pittsburgh last year and win when there was a lot on the line, that was big for us as a team," Dalton said. "Obviously it's a new year, but we know the kind of games we play when we play the Steelers. They're always tough games. They're always close games.
"And so, we know the importance of playing these guys and how good they are."
The Bengals look to be a lot better themselves with Eifert and Bernard. Eifert had five catches for 47 yards in Cincinnati's two-tight end alignment with Pro Bowler Jermaine Gresham. Bernard caught one pass for eight yards and forced the Bears' defense to account for him out of the backfield.
The Bengals had touchdown drives that covered 97, 91 and 80 yards against one of the NFL's top defenses.
"I felt good about a lot of things," coach Marvin Lewis said. "I'm excited about our guys."
Two turnovers undercut what they did. Green had a pass go off his hands for an interception inside the Bears' 20-yard line. And Mohamed Sanu fumbled inside the 20 after a catch, giving Chicago a chance to pull off its go-ahead touchdown drive.
Except for those two mistakes by the receivers, the offense was impressive.
"I just feel like there was a lot of positive we got out of that loss," said Green, who had nine catches for 162 yards and two touchdowns. "We want to carry the same momentum, minus the turnovers. That's the biggest thing."
NOTES: LT Andrew Whitworth practiced on a limited basis Thursday, an improvement from the previous week. Whitworth sat out the opener against Chicago because of a sore left knee, which was cleaned out after last season. He could play against the Steelers. ... LB Vontaze Burfict also was limited by a sore right thigh, hit by a helmet during an interception return in Chicago.
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