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Tale Of The Tape: Facts And Figures On  First NFL Starts For Bengals As Jake Browning Prepares For Steelers


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_Ken Anderson, Esiason’s fellow Bengals Ring of Honor member, had better numbers in his first start on Oct. 10, 1971 at Riverfront, also in his rookie year, with a 97.1 passer rating on a touchdown and no interceptions. But it wasn’t enough in Miami’s 23-13 win headlined by the Dolphins’ Hall-of-Fame connection of Bob Griese to Paul Warfield for 74 yards.

_Anderson was also the quarterbacks coach for two of the most spectacular first NFL starts in Bengals history. No. 3 emergency quarterback Jeff Blake didn’t get the win on Oct. 30, 1994 at Riverfront for the winless Bengals against the Super Bowl champion Cowboys, but his performance in the 23-20 fourth-quarter loss spawned “Blakemania,” and a three-year run he made the Pro Bowl.

Five Octobers later in Cleveland, first-round rookie Akili Smith secured a fourth-quarter comeback when he led the Bengals on their final ten plays of the game starting with 2:04 left. His two-yard touchdown loft to Pro Bowl wide receiver Carl Pickens with five seconds gave the Bengals an 18-17 win.

 _The Bengals also got a fourth-quarter win in Cleveland during Dalton’s first NFL start in the 2011 opener. But he wasn’t there at the finish because of a bruised wrist. Vet Bruce Gradkowski came off the  bench to throw the go-ahead touchdown with five minutes left, a 41-yard pass to rookie wide receiver A.J. Green for his first NFL catch.

_On Oct. 16, 1983 in Denver, vet Turk Schonert, best known for coming off the bench to rescue the 1981 opener and set the table for that season’s Super Bowl run, had the most prolific first NFL start for the Bengals with 290 yards in a 24-17 loss to the Broncos. Carson Palmer had 248 yards in the 31-24 road loss to the Jets in the 2004 opener, one more than Blake against the Cowboys. Blake staked the Bengals to a stunning 14-0 lead with his signature moon ball touchdown passes of 67 and 55 yards to wide receiver Darnay Scott.

_According to Pro Football Reference, the last time the Steelers lost to a quarterback making his first NFL start was to Favre, the future Hall-of-Famer, on Sept. 27, 1992 at Lambeau Field. Courtesy of the Bengals. The week before at Lambeau, Bengals nose tackle Tim Krumrie sacked Packers quarterback Don Majkowski on a play the Magic Man broke his ankle and brought Favre off the bench. He threw a 35-yard touchdown pass in the last 15 seconds to beat the Bengals and the next week he gave Steelers head coach Bill Cowher his first loss with a 144.6 passer rating in the Pack’s 17-3 win.    

_Cowher and his successor Mike Tomlin haven’t let it happen again against the last eight quarterbacks making their first starts against the Steelers. Tomlin is 4-0 with the last one coming on Nov. 11, 2020, when the Steelers needed a Ben Roethlisberger touchdown pass with 2:14 left in Dallas to catch the Cowboys’ Garrett Gilbert.

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