September 10, 2014

Matt Ryan shredded what appeared to be a porous defense in Week 1, but a repeat effort is likely to prove considerably more difficult in a demanding road environment.

The Cincinnati Bengals put a nine-game regular-season home winning streak on the line Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons, who will be out to accomplish something they didn't do all of last year - win consecutive games.

Ryan, the NFC offensive player of the week, threw for a franchise-record 448 yards and three touchdowns on 31-of-43 passing in last Sunday's 37-34 overtime home win over New Orleans. The Falcons racked up a franchise-record 568 yards, leading coach Mike Smith to refer to it as possibly Ryan's top game as a pro.

The seventh-year veteran, though, was more guarded.

"It's a good start. We've got a long way to go," said Ryan, whose team last strung together wins Dec. 16-22, 2012. "That's one thing that I have learned in six years previous to this, is it's a long season. You can't get too high and too low after Week 1.

"It's certainly a good start for us in the (NFC South). It's what we wanted to do ... but we've got to get back to work. We're going against a very good defense against Cincinnati next week."

Four players caught at least five passes with Julio Jones' seven for 116 yards leading the way in his first game back after missing 11 in 2013 with a foot injury.

Return man Devin Hester added five receptions for 99 yards, two shy of his career high. He didn't catch a pass in his final season with Chicago but could be looked to on slot targets to help fill the middle of the field after the retirement of tight end Tony Gonzalez.

"That's really what it's all about when you have playmakers," Smith said. "The more you have, the better opportunity you have to move the football and score points."

The Bengals have allowed over 20 points twice during their home win streak, though they gave up 27 in a loss to San Diego in the wild-card round in January. They've also won three straight and nine of 11 against the NFC but have dropped the last three meetings with Atlanta.

Starting 2-0 has been tricky as Cincinnati hasn't done so since winning its first three in 2006.

The defense Ryan spoke of wasn't quite at its best in Cincinnati's 23-16 win in Baltimore last Sunday, surrendering 420 yards. At home, the Bengals haven't approached conceding that kind of number in 13 games since allowing 431 to Pittsburgh on Oct. 21, 2012.

Still, the Bengals held Baltimore scoreless through the first half while the offense settled for field goals and a 15-0 lead. That was erased in the fourth quarter as Cincinnati fell behind by a point, but Andy Dalton and A.J. Green hooked up for the 77-yard game-winning touchdown with 4:58 left.

Dalton threw for 301 yards and a TD on 25-of-38 passing without an interception after throwing six in his final two games of 2013, including the playoffs. Green had six catches for 131 yards after going the final seven games of last season without cracking 100 yards. He thinks Dalton is primed for a career year.

"He's going to be a top five quarterback," Green told the team's official website. "That's how I feel. He's poised."

The running game wasn't quite up to speed at 3.0 yards per carry on 26 attempts, which might have played a role in the team being unable to stay on the field in the second half with 10 minutes, 11 seconds of possession. The Bengals also converted just 4 of 14 third downs.

"If you don't convert third down you're not going to get as many runs as you'd like," coach Marvin Lewis said. "That's going to be big."

That doesn't mean Giovani Bernard wasn't involved in the offense. The second-year running back was held to 48 yards on 14 carries but also caught six balls for 62 yards. Consider it a part of first-year offensive coordinator Hue Jackson's spreading of the field.

"We try to create space for our players to make plays in," Jackson said. "We need to still get more chunk plays. Obviously we got the biggest chunk at the end of the game which was sensational. When you are spreading people out there's potential for big plays to happen with the kind of athletes that we have here."

The Bengals' rushing fortunes could change against Atlanta, which gave up 139 yards to the Saints and has yielded 14 straight 100-yard efforts. The 148.3 yards allowed per game in that time trails only Chicago for the worst mark in the league.

The Bengals placed tight end Tyler Eifert on the injured reserve list Wednesday with a chance to return at midseason from an elbow injury.

The Falcons will be without rookie offensive tackle Jake Matthews, who suffered a left ankle injury in the opener. The No. 6 overall pick worked on the side Friday but was unable to participate in practice for the third straight day.

Gabe Carimi, who has taken all the snaps with the first-team offense this week, will start in Matthews' spot.

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