- Coley Harvey, ESPN Staff Writer
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What it means: The Bengals kicked off December exactly the way they had hoped before they boarded the plane Friday for the West Coast. All last week they talked about going 5-0 across the final five games of the season. Now they have Game 1 in the books. This one was important, in part, because they had to travel so far. It also was important because they continue to factor in discussions of the first-round bye and home-field advantage in the AFC. The more wins the Bengals can amass across the next few weeks -- including an important one against another division leader next week -- the longer they will be in those conversations.
Stock watch: Running game -- rising. Cincinnati's ground game has been turning a corner in recent weeks, and it certainly made its presence felt Sunday. BenJarvus Green-Ellis paced the rushing attack, going for 92 yards on 20 carries. Rookie Giovani Bernard wasn't too far behind, going for 57 yards on 14 carries. It was a positive step forward for an offense that predicates itself not only on achieving balance between the run and the pass but also upon having diversity among its top ball carriers. Both Green-Ellis and Bernard had runs that went for double-digit yards, including Bernard's 19-yard scamper in the third quarter that helped set up the Bengals' second touchdown. While a fourth-quarter Green-Ellis fumble cost the Bengals a chance to ice the game earlier, it didn't end up hurting them.
Dalton's roller coaster: By halftime, Andy Dalton's passer rating was 21.2. He ended the day at 83.6. Perhaps there was no better indication of how up-and-down Dalton's day was than the juxtaposition of those two numbers. Early in the game, it appeared his recent troubles would continue. It seemed he would be lucky to reach 100 yards passing. He did, finishing at 190. He also had a touchdown pass and an interception. The intercepted ball came when he threw long on a deep route to receiver A.J. Green. With pressure in his face, Dalton didn't get completely into his throw, and it sailed. He now has thrown at least one interception in the past five games. That's his longest stretch with an interception since last season, when he was intercepted at least once in each of the year's first eight games.
What's next? The Bengals hope to keep their winning ways going next week when they host the Indianapolis Colts in another important conference contest. Both 8-4, the Colts and Bengals could be playing for a higher seeding in the playoffs. As both appear on their way to division titles, this game could serve as an important tiebreaker.