Paul Dehner Jr., Cincinnati Enquirer Published 12:24 a.m. ET Sept. 14, 2018 | Updated 12:25 a.m. ET Sept. 14, 2018

It's now how you start, but how you finish, they say. The Bengals proved that on Sunday. On Thursday night, four days later, the Bengals proved the opposite.

In the end, it all counts the same. It counted, 34-23.

And the Bengals dominance in the first 16 minutes was enough to count them at 2-0 for the first time since 2015.

In many ways, this game was about respect. Respect not given locally after bleeding season ticket holders. Respect not given nationally as pundits and Vegas counted them as long shots next to the Browns in Super Bowl odds. And about respect within a team needing to prove to themselves this young group can be different than the last two editions.

They earned it.

They earned it with A.J. Green. They earned it by delivering on a promise to create more turnovers. They earned it by taking down an AFC North rival and enjoying the exact opposite of last year's disastrous 0-2 debacle to begin the season.

And this wasn't just the stars who shined brightest. Yes, Green snatched three touchdowns and Geno Atkins a sack and a half with countless others just out of reach.

But it was Sam Hubbard causing disruption and Joe Mixon gritting out yards through injury. It was Jessie Bates III doing what he was drafted to do and picking off Joe Flacco. It was Hardy Nickerson making plays in place of Preston Brown. It was Tyler Boyd making a living on third downs and gracing the end zone.

It was watching the kids grow up before our eyes and believe they will find a way to win. Whether early, late or both.

Teachable moments remain with the lull the team showed through much of the second half, but the Bengals have set themselves up and put the rest of the league on notice that they're coming.


Game ball

Andy Dalton. We can talk about A.J. Green and the first three-touchdown game of his career all we want. He was special. But when you give Dalton time and let him work his weapons, this is what that can look like. He distributed the ball all over the house and put his playmakers in spots to make dynamic plays in the first half. It didn't continue through to the second half and he missed Tyler Boyd on a third-and-short, but what he did show was enough.

He finished 24 of 42 for 265 yards and four touchdowns, no interceptions.

After a stellar camp and preseason, he’s backed it up with two quality games to the start the year. This is as close to 2015 Andy Dalton as we’ve seen since Stephon Tuitt broke Dalton’s thumb that year.


Play of the game

Needing one final stop to put away a victory, Shawn Williams delivered it. Four days after getting ejected and watching his replacement cause the game-clinching fumble at Indianapolis, Williams hit Flacco from behind on third-and-10 forcing a fumble recovered by Carlos Dunlap with only minutes left. The Bengals would then run down the clock and Randy Bullock kick a field goal to put the game away. A redemptive moment for the veteran safety.


Injuries

Bengals defensive end Michael Johnson injured his left knee in the first quarter and was immediately declared out.

Bengals first-round pick Billy Price injured his right ankle in the first quarter and also didn’t return.

Ravens linebacker C.J. Mosley was carted off the field after suffering a bone bruise on the first series of the game.
Three up

Sam Hubbard. This week defensive coordinator Teryl Austin stated clearly it was on him how little Hubbard played (seven snaps) in the opener. He trotted Hubbard out for the second series and he immediately paid off Austin’s instincts with a sack of Joe Flacco that led to a punt. He later added a tackle for loss on an end-around attempt.

Fast starts. The Bengals enjoyed as much of an offensive blitzkrieg as they’ve given an opponent in the first half in recent memory. They scored a touchdown on four of their first five possessions and hit 28 points in the first half for the first time since 2013.

Fourth-down defense. The Bengals twice stopped the Ravens on fourth down tries just past midfield. On the first Flacco threw a dirt ball in the direction in tight end Willie Snead IV. On the second, Darqeuze Dennard made a big hit on Buck Allen to keep him inches short of the conversion. Those two plays went a long way toward stemming the tide of the mid-game push by the Ravens.
Three down

Injuries. Losing Michael Johnson and Billy Price was a discouraging sidenote to the otherwise positive first half. The injuries meant more playing time for Hubbard and Trey Hopkins, who both performed well.

End of half points. For the 12th time in the last 18 games the Bengals gave up points just before halftime. The same happened in the opener against Indianapolis and was a consistent theme throughout close losses last season. This time, it was going 81 yards in one minute and two seconds for a touchdown with seconds remaining.

Dre Kirkpatrick. Was knocked for a pass interference penalty in the end zone that led to a Ravens touchdown and got caught not turning around to look for the ball on Flacco's 21-yard touchdown pass to John Brown in the fourth quarter.
Three keys revisited

Pick Flacco. The Bengals checked this box early as rookie Jessie Bates III tracked Flacco’s eyes and picked him off on an overthrow. It was immediately converted into the first A.J. Green touchdown. The second pick should be credited to Carlos Dunlap, even though Shawn Williams hauled it in. Dunlap hit Flacco on the arm as he tried to throw causing a pop-up to the infield.

Hold the line. Bobby Hart and Alex Redmond were under pressure after a rough go in the season opener, but performed well in protecting Andy Dalton and on occasion opened up wide holes for Joe Mixon. Hart was hit with a holding penalty on one run and Redmond another that stalled the first drive of the second half, but all in all, an improved effort from the newbies on the right.

Mixon all day. Mixon sustained a right-knee injury early in the game and battled it throughout the night. Giovani Bernard stepped in and found plenty of room himself. Mixon powered through the injury and pulled off an impressive change-of-direction run to set up the Bengals final field goal of the game.
Three key numbers

1: This marked the first time in A.J. Green’s career that he scored two touchdowns in the first quarter and three touchdowns in a game.

42: The 28-14 halftime score and 42 total points made for the highest-scoring first half in a Thursday Night Football game since it became a thing in 2006.

57.1: Percentage chance to make the playoffs for teams to start 2-0 over the last 10 years.

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