CLEVELAND (AP) – The Cincinnati Bengals are finally off to a good start, hoping this is the year they shed their image as the NFL’s lovable Bungals.

Carson Palmer threw two touchdown passes Sunday and the Bengals opened a season they’re confident will be a winning one with an easy 27-13 win over Cleveland, spoiling Romeo Crennel’s coaching debut with the Browns.

The Bengals haven’t had a winning record since 1990. Now, in capturing their first opener since 2001, they’re 1-0 for the first time in three seasons under coach Marvin Lewis.

Bad starts have doomed Lewis’ first two seasons with the Bengals, who began the past two at 1-4 before recovering to go 8-8. Cincinnati’s favorable schedule – its first six opponents went a combined 38-58 in 2004 – have many believing the Bengals can challenge for the AFC North title.

Palmer picked apart Cleveland’s secondary, finishing 26-of-34 for 280 yards and one interception. He threw a 20-yard TD pass to Kevin Walter just before halftime and connected on an 18-yarder to fullback Jeremi Johnson in the third as the Bengals built a 27-10 lead and coasted.

Palmer’s only poor decision came on a ball he put up for grabs in Cleveland’s end zone with 5:18 left. But by then, the Bengals were in control.

Rudi Johnson rushed for 126 yards on 26 carries and 1-yard TD run, and Shayne Graham kicked two field goals as Cincinnati improved to 5-10 in season openers since 91. Chad Johnson, who had one of his worst games last season in Cleveland, had nine catches for 91 yards.

The rebuilt Browns had some nice moments, but not nearly enough to get a first victory for Crennel, New England’s former defensive coordinator who spent 24 years as an assistant and now has a giant challenge in front of him.

Cleveland was hurt by costly mistakes, an injury-depleted secondary and had two touchdowns called back by penalties. The Browns dropped to 1-6 in openers since returning to the league in 1999.

Making just his third start since 2003, Browns quarterback Trent Dilfer finished 26-of-43 for 278 yards and one touchdown.

Cleveland’s Frisman Jackson caught a 68-yard TD pass and had eight catches for 128 yards. Rookie Braylon Edwards, the Browns’ first-round draft pick, had two catches for 16 yards in limited playing time.

Palmer exposed the Browns’ banged-up secondary – starting cornerback Gary Baxter was out with a concussion and – on a 91-yard scoring drive in the second quarter that in effect put Cleveland away.

After two penalties moved Cincinnati back, Palmer threaded a beautiful 35-yard touch pass to T.J. Houshmandzadeh. Two plays later, Palmer hit Walter, who fought through rookie Brodney Pool’s tackle near the goal line for 20-yard score, giving the Bengals a 17-10 halftime lead.

In the first quarter, Dilfer didn’t see a wide-open Antonio Bryant on a pitch-back play and an illegal block by backup fullback Corey McIntyre wiped out Dennis Northcutt’s 73-yard punt return for a touchdown.

Phil Dawson’s 29-yard field goal gave the Browns a 3-0 lead in the first.

AP-ES-09-11-05 1634EDT


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