CINCINNATI — Any football coach knows that No. 1 on the list of cliches is: “You can’t turn the ball over.”
It’s hackneyed, but it’s also very true.
Andy Dalton’s four interceptions and lost fumble made it pretty much impossible for the Bengals to beat the Baltimore Ravens in the Sunday’s season opener at Paul Brown Stadium.
The only question was how bad it the loss would be.
“We don’t have a chance to pout about it,” coach Marvin Lewis said. “We’ve got to get ready to go. It’s disappointing as it could be.”
It ended up 20-0 — and it was every bit that ugly.
Dalton had one of his worst game as a pro. He was 16-for-31 for 168 yards and the four picks. In fairness to him, Terrell Suggs spent most of the game in the Bengal backfield. Dalton was rushed five times and hurried on nearly every drop back.
He did not use that as an excuse.
“We didn’t make any plays,” Dalton said. “It starts with me. It’s my fault. I didn’t play well at all. I didn’t give us a chance to win.”
Dalton threw eight interceptions all of last year. He threw four Sunday; the second time in his career he’s had a four-interception day. He was picked four times by the Ravens in the final game of the 2013 season.
The Bengals don’t have time to dwell on what happened. They play Houston Thursday night.
“You see what started the spiral downward and try to fix it,” Dalton said. “For us, we’ve got a short week. We’ve got to get ready for Houston.”
The loudest the crowd got was booing when the Bengals punted down 20 points with less than 10 minutes left.
It’s the first time the Bengals have lost an opener in the four years.
Here’s nine takeaways from the Bengal first shutout loss in an opener since a 10-0 loss Denver in 1979:
1. O-Line not so fine
The first drive of the season was ended by pass pressure. Clint Boling got blown up on second down. The pressure forced Dalton to throw the ball away to avoid getting sacked. Dalton was sacked on third down, and referees called left tackle Cedric Ogbuehi for holding.
Suggs beat Ogbuehi on the forced fumble as well. Ogbuehi was called for holding once. Right tackle Jake Fisher was called twice.
“The nature of the game is you can have 30 good plays and then two bad plays,” Ogbuehi said. “Those two plays he got me.”
It was more than two plays. Suggs and the rest of defensive line disrupted Dalton continually.
Getting Dalton time is the key to the season. Game 1 was not an indicator that the line can do that.
“We’ve got to do a better job,” Lewis said. “If we’ve got to move him (in the pocket). Whatever we’ve got to do, but we can’t have the tipped balls like we’ve had. They played a big part in the game.”
Again, Dalton put some of that on himself.
“I’ve got to make the play, make the throw regardless of what’s going on,” he said. “I’ve obviously got to play better. Everybody’s got to play better. This obviously was not the way we wanted to start the year.”
2. Life, then ...
When Nick Vigil intercepted a tip ball on the third play of the second half at the Raven 26, you thought 'This could turn things around.'
But three plays later, Suggs got Dalton to force a fumble and Baltimore recovered. There was a ton of time left, but that was the game.
“I was trying to get the ball to Gio,” Dalton said. “I didn’t see (Suggs).”
The Ravens worked on running down the clock from there. Baltimore ran on the ball on the first eight plays of the ensuing drive.
3. Painful penalties
The Bengals were called for a penalty on the first play on offense and the first play on defense. Brandon LaFell was called for false start on the first offensive play. Pat Sims was called for encroachment on the first defensive play.
Those were relatively harmless. Two penalties kept the 9:40 drive after the Dalton fumble live.
“Those things we can’t have,” Lewis said. “We hurt our own selves today.”
4. Hopkins, Johnson out
Trey Hopkins, one of the feel-good stories of the preseason, injured his knee on Dalton’s third interception and did not return.
Hopkins won the right guard job in his fourth year with the team. He was an undrafted free agent out of Texas. He played a total of one game in his first three years with the Bengals.
Andre Smith, the veteran signed to play right guard, did not replace Hopkins. T. J. Johnson did.
Defensive tackle Michael Johnson suffered a concussion on the final play of the half and did not return.
5. Rotating RBs
The Bengals stuck to almost equal rotation at the lead running back. Jeremy Hill was in the for the first series, Joe Mixon the second and Giovani Bernard the third.
All showed flashes. Hill had a 12-yard run. Mixon went for nine yards on a screen. And Bernard broke off a 23-yard run.
After the first three series, the rotation was based more on the situation.
“I think we all had some good runs,” Hill said. “Actually, the turnovers kind of stopped our offensive flow and rhythm we normally can have and get the carries distributed. It’s a long season. We’re not going to get our heads over it.”
On the day, the Bengals only had 77 yards rushing.
6. Corner Market
Darqueze Dennard broke up a pass in the end zone on the Ravens’ first drive. That’s the good news. The bad news is he should have intercepted it. Dennard started in the place of the suspended Adam Jones.
Dennard got caught up in the wash and had no chance on Breshad Perriman’s 48-yard touchdown. It looked more like a well-designed play than anything Dennard did wrong.
“He got picked and rubbed on the play,” Lewis said.
7. Where's Geno?
The Bengals substituted freely on the defensive line early. That meant Geno Atkins was out of the game as much as he was in for the first two Baltimore drives. That’s a little curious — given how good Atkins is.
The third drive, however, was all Atkins. He put pressure on the Joe Flacco on second down and asked him on third down.
8. It's not easy covering Green
The Bengals offense got going in the second quarter when they started throwing to A.J. Green. Green was not targeting once in the first quarter. The Bengals, not coincidentally, had five yards passing in the quarter.
Green caught passes on 14 and 12 yards on the first drive of the second quarter. That seemed to get the entire offensive going. The drive got the down to the nine before Dalton threw his second interception.
9. No shows galore
The upper reaches of Paul Brown Stadium were mostly empty. The whole stadium was pretty empty by the time the fourth quarter started. The escalator from the upper deck was full well before the game wound down.
John Fay is a freelance sports columnist; this column represents his opinion. Contact him at email@example.com.