Bengals seeking first win in Denver since 1975 season

Published 11:07 pm Saturday, September 17, 2011

DENVER (AP) — Orange Crush was still just a soft drink the last time the Cincinnati Bengals won in Denver.

Since that 17-16 squeaker over the Broncos on Nov. 9, 1975, Cincy has lost eight straight times in the Mile High City, not that any of these Bengals care.

“The past doesn’t exist at this moment,” said Cedric Benson, Bengals tailback and existentialist philosopher.

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“There’s an opportunity here to rewrite the future.”

The past isn’t pretty for the Bengals in Denver, where they’re 2-11, including losses to the “Orange Crush” in ’77 and to John Elway’s Super Bowl champs in ’98.

“It’s a new season, a new year,” Bengals run-stuffer Domata Peko said. “Those old stats don’t really come into play too much when you have a young team like this. We’re looking to change that stat.”

Doing so would give the Bengals back-to-back road wins to start a season for the first time.

They opened with a 27-17 victory at Cleveland despite losing rookie quarterback Andy Dalton to a bruised right wrist and forearm after he’d led the Bengals to a touchdown and two field goals on their first three drives.

The Bengals think Dalton could start in Denver after taking it easy during the week.

After getting hurt, Dalton couldn’t grip the ball very well, forcing him to the sideline for the second half. Bruce Gradkowski led Cincinnati to the win with a quick-snap 41-yard touchdown pass to rookie receiver A.J. Green.

The Broncos will have to rely on a bevy of backups themselves as they try to avoid starting a season with two straight losses at home for the first time in their history.

In addition to missing leading tackler D.J. Williams (elbow) and new nose tackle Ty Williams (triceps), who were hurt in camp, they lost Pro Bowlers Champ Bailey (hamstring) and Brandon Lloyd (groin) in the opener, along with fellow starters Knowshon Moreno (hamstring) and Elvis Dumervil (shoulder).

“There are no excuses, no explanations; just find solutions,” Denver coach John Fox said. “Our solution is next man up.”

The seven starters who are likely to be sidelined Sunday own 53 years of collective experience in the NFL, having played in 649 games, plus a dozen Pro Bowls.

“You can’t replace Pro Bowlers and Hall of Famers. They’re not a dime a dozen,” said undrafted second-year cornerback Cassius Vaughn, who will replace Bailey. “But it’s a team effort. We’ve got to be the best team, not the best individuals.”

Bengals coach Marvin Lewis looked at the long list of battered Broncos, but he’s not counting his blessings. He said if Dumervil can’t go, rookie Von Miller is still a worrisome pass rusher, and if Bailey is out, safety Brian Dawkins still concerns him.

Quarterback Kyle Orton wasn’t on the Broncos’ lengthy injury report despite getting walloped by the Raiders, who sacked him five times as he threw 46 passes and handed off just 12 times.

Orton had two turnovers, leading a loud contingent of fans to chant for backup Tim Tebow, who had a terrible training camp but maintains a faithful following. Some supporters even say they’ll buy two billboards in downtown Denver urging Fox to start the former Florida star over Orton — even though Brady Quinn is probably No. 2 on the depth chart.

As usual, Orton shrugged it all off.

“I just look at it like I don’t care,” Orton said. “(Fox’s) opinion and my teammates’ opinions will always be the ones that matter.”

Fox is solidly in his corner.

“Right now we feel like Kyle Orton gives us our best chance,” Fox said. “Even the staff before us felt that way. … Right now, he’s our starting quarterback. There’s no question about that. Like our whole team, we’ve got some room for improvement this week.”

Fox understands the fans’ frustration.

Eager to put last year’s franchise-worst 4-12 debacle behind them, Fox’s hiring promised a return to the power ground game missing in Denver since Mike Shanahan’s teams regularly churned out 1,000-yard rushers. Yet, Moreno and Willis McGahee combined to gain 25 yards on 12 carries in the opener, which was eerily reminiscent of last year, when they couldn’t run the ball or stop the run, allowing Darren McFadden to rough up Denver for 150 yards on just 22 carries.

A telling moment came early on after Miller forced a fumble on his first snap as a pro and fellow rookie Rahim Moore scooped it up at the Oakland 15-yard line.

Instead of pounding the ball, offensive coordinator Mike McCoy called three straight pass plays and Denver settled for a field goal, letting the momentum slip away.

Then, one star after another staggered to the sideline, starting with Dumervil, who aggravated a sprained left shoulder on Denver’s fourth defensive snap.

He was sent back in on passing downs, but Dumervil was playing one-handed and looked nothing like the Pro Bowler who led the league in sacks in 2009 before missing last season with a torn chest muscle.

Dumervil said he thinks he’ll miss Sunday’s game and maybe one more, so Jason Hunter and Derrick Harvey will likely share snaps in his absence.

The Broncos will have to correct their many mistakes with plenty of their stars strolling the sideline.

“I’m going to be anxious to see how they respond this week with the short week and coming off of a loss,” Fox said. “I’m still worried about our team.”