Giddy. That’s the best way to describe my feelings during and after the Bengals‘ 24-13 triumph over the Carolina Panthers at Paul Brown Stadium last night.

Finally, everything came together the way it was supposed to. Quarterback Andy Dalton was 11 of 17 for 130 yards, including an electrifying 40-yard touchdown strike to WR AJ Green. He nearly had a second one, when he overthrew Green by the barest amount right before halftime.

RB Cedric Benson carried the ball 16 times for 68 yards and a touchdown. Running mate Bernard Scott got another 63 on only six carries, and he also scored a touchdown when he made a scorching cut on a 12-yard romp to the endzone.

Meanwhile, the first-team defense held Panthers QB Cam Newton to three of 12 passing in the first half. The defense stuffed Carolina’s running game repeatedly, punter Kevin Huber pinned Carolina deep repeatedly, and kicker Mike Nugent nailed a 55-yard field goal.

It was an all-around superior effort by the entire team, and it made me giddy thinking about how things could be.

But stop right there, John. Hold the phone.

This was an exhibition game. Carolina is a bad football team. They picked first overall in the draft, and, last week, the Miami Dolphins proved the Panthers had no run defense.

And Cam Newton escaped for runs of 16 and 25 yards, the former going for a touchdown. Not to mention the Bengals turned it over on their first drive. Again. Benson and Dalton had a bad exchange on a handoff that led to a fumble. Again.

The Bengals will not face a defense that soft in any of their six division games — perhaps not in any of their other 10 contests. A fumble like that against Pittsburgh or Baltimore, will lead to a touchdown like it did against Carolina, but coming back from it will be a lot harder. And it’s highly unlikely Dalton will get the kind of pass protection he did last night, at least not on a regular basis.

There are a lot of reasons for caution. Cincinnati is still going into the regular season with a rookie QB, suspect offensive line, and a first-time offensive coordinator. And the entire offseason got wiped out by a labor dispute, so everyone (including the rookie QB) is behind in learning that new offense.

But it looked really good last night. The win over the Panthers showed potential for what the Bengals might be able to do if they get some confidence. And a few breaks. If this very young team grows up fast.

So I reflect on last night’s game, and I just can’t help it. I’m giddy.


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