- Coley Harvey, ESPN Staff Writer
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What it means: We're only two weeks into the regular season, but already the AFC North race is beginning to take the shape that most anticipated during the offseason. With the Steelers and Browns now both sitting at 0-2, the Bengals and Ravens are beginning to look like the division's true leaders. Monday night's game was important for both teams involved, but it could arguably be considered an even bigger deal for the Bengals, a team eager to legitimize itself and to prove the preseason chatter wasn't really all "Hard Knocks"-fueled hype.
Stock watch: Falling -- Andy Dalton. OK, so a week ago, he was the King of the Queen City after posting a blistering 78.8 percent completion in the Bengals' three-point loss at Chicago. The stock meter was trending positively for the third-year offensive leader who displayed a high aptitude for getting the ball out of his hand quickly and throwing successfully into tight spaces during the opener. He wasn't anywhere near as sharp Monday night, even with what appeared to be more time to pass. More times than not, his incompletions were high and well beyond his receivers' reach. On 45 attempts, he completed just 56 percent of his passes. There still are 14 games to go in the regular season, though, so Dalton has plenty of time to prove his Week 1 showing was no fluke.
Rookie impact: First-year running back Giovani Bernard had his Cincinnati coming-out party Monday night, rushing for a 7-yard touchdown in the first half and weaving his way back into the end zone in the third quarter on a 27-yard touchdown reception. The fans who had been pleading with head coach Marvin Lewis and offensive coordinator Jay Gruden for greater involvement out of the speedy Bernard got their wish. In all, he touched the ball nine times (eight runs, one catch). In last week's loss, Bernard rushed four times and caught one pass.
What's next: Cincinnati (1-1) has a big test this Sunday when it hosts Green Bay (1-1) in a nonconference showdown at Paul Brown Stadium. A win over the Packers would go a long way toward convincing critics that Cincinnati is to be taken seriously in the league this season.