CINCINNATI - Brandon Weeden silenced critics and Trent Richardson silenced Bengals fans Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium.
What the two Cleveland Browns rookies couldn't do was play defense.
In role reversal from the previous week it was the defense that let down the offense as the Browns lost a 34-27 decision in an AFC North Division game. The Browns had 439 yards of offense behind a 322-yard passing effort by Weeden and a 109-yard rushing effort by Richardson, but the Bengals had the biggest prize of all as they evened their record at 1-1.
The Browns are 0-2 for the fourth time in the last five seasons. As was the case in last week's 17-16 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, there were some positive signs but not enough to make the plane ride home a happy journey.
"That's football. You just have to put a whole game together and make something happen," defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin said. "It's just not happening right now, and we have to find a way to make it happen."
Weeden was the target of relentless criticism last week after registering a passer rating of 5.1 against the Eagles. Trigger-happy fans and members of the media called for backup Colt McCoy, forgetting that few rookie quarterbacks are instant hits.
Working with better protection than he had against the Eagles, Weeden was able to find open receivers and connect with them. He completed 26-of-37 passes, including two for touchdowns.
Weeden's final touchdown throw covered 24 yards to Greg Little and cut the Bengals' lead to 31-24 with 7:11 remaining in the fourth quarter. The Bengals then sealed the win with an 11-play, 58-yard drive that culminated with a 37-yard field goal by Mike Nugent.
"I wish I had a dollar for every hour I put in this week," Weeden said. "I busted my tail off and really dissected what we do. I felt pretty confident out there. For the most part it was a lot better than last week, but there's still a sour taste.
"You have to make plays here and there. That's what I was talking to (Bengals quarterback) Andy Dalton about after the game. This league is about one play, two plays here, and that's the deciding factor. As a team we still have a long way to go, but we're definitely taking steps in the right direction."
Richardson also had a rough first game, gaining just 39 yards on 19 carries. He found his stride Sunday, adding four receptions for 36 yards to his rushing total. One of his receptions on a swing pass went 23 yards for a touchdown.
"I had a big stat day but it doesn't mean anything when you're not winning," Richardson said. "To pull out this 'W' we have to get it going. It's getting better every week."
As well as Weeden played, Dalton was a little better. The second-year quarterback was 24-of-31 for 318 yards and three touchdowns.
The Bengals had three big plays that doomed the Browns. Adam Jones returned a punt 81 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter. Ben Tate beat safety Eric Hagg on a 44-yard touchdown pass, and Andrew Hawkins caught a pass just behind cornerback Trevin Wade and weaved his way through the secondary on a 50-yard touchdown play.
"I'm proud of my guys," Browns coach Pat Shurmur said. "I thought they did a heck of a job. Now they gave up some big plays, and in the end that was the difference. I think you have to temper your comments on what's good when you lose the game."
Jones' punt return was followed by a 50-yard field goal by Browns kicker Phil Dawson. Dalton then connected with A.J. Green, who caught the ball in front of cornerback Dimitri Patterson near the goal line for a 10-yard touchdown.
"I've been saying all along that we have a lot of talented receivers," Dalton said. "It's great to get in the game and great for these guys to make the plays that they did."
Richardson's 32-yard touchdown run cut the Bengals' lead to 14-10. Nugent kicked a 39-yard field goal to give Cincinnati a 17-10 halftime advantage.
Browns running back Chris Ogbonnaya lost a fumble after gaining 21 yards on a short pass from Weeden after Nugent's field goal. Defensive end Michael Johnson recovered at the Browns' 43, but the Bengals weren't able to capitalize on the turnover.
Tate's touchdown in the third period extended the Bengals' lead to 24-10. Richardson answered by taking a swing pass and dazzling the crowd as he made several defenders miss.
Dalton, after almost being sacked by Rubin, then connected with Hawkins on a pass thrown across his body. Hawkins did the rest of the work.
"Hawk is so talented when he gets the ball in his hands and when he's got some space," Dalton said. "It's just getting him the ball."
Little's touchdown and Nugent's field goal followed Hawkins' touchdown. Dawson kicked a 25-yard field goal with 20 seconds to play, but the ensuing onside kick was recovered by Green.
Dalton hooked up with Jermaine Gresham for 22 yards four plays before Nugent's final field goal. Gresham bobbled the ball when hit by safety T.J. Ward, but he managed to regain possession and keep both feet inbounds. Shurmur appealed the play but was overruled.
"I saw it go up in the air on the bobble," Ward said. "I tried to rip the rest of it out. I thought he was out of bounds."
The Browns return home Sunday to host the Buffalo Bills.