DENVER — Scribbled in black marker just below Andy Dalton's name on his locker was a message for the Cincinnati quarterback: Throw to No. 84.
Sorry, Jermaine Gresham, Dalton didn't heed the advice.
Instead, Dalton connected with fellow rookie A.J. Green 10 times for 124 yards in the Bengals' 24-22 loss to the Denver Broncos on Sunday.
This could be the start of a potent relationship.
"He's primed to be great," Green said.
Dalton showed flashes of that for the Bengals (1-1) as he picked apart a banged-up Broncos secondary, finishing with 332 yards, two touchdowns and no turnovers.
After the game, Dalton wasn't in any sort of mood to search for positives.
He was thinking about all the opportunities that slipped away to grab a win in the Mile High City, a place the Bengals haven't won since 1975 when Ken Anderson was leading the team.
Cincy has lost nine straight in Denver.
Trailing by two late in the final quarter, Dalton and the Bengals elected to go for it on fourth-and-1 at the Broncos 36.
The play was a naked bootleg for Dalton, but it was disrupted by defensive end Robert Ayers, forcing Dalton to simply toss the ball away.
Later, on their final drive of the game, the Bengals had the ball in Denver territory, only to have Dalton take a sack. They wouldn't recover from it and turned the ball over on downs.
"Doesn't matter what I did. We lost," said Dalton, who bruised his right wrist and forearm in a win at Cleveland last weekend. "I need to play better."
Still, this performance offered a possible glimpse of things to come. With the Broncos (1-1) focused on stopping Cedric Benson, Dalton had a good game.
And his favorite target was Green, throwing to him quite often, especially in the second half when the Bengals tried to rally from a 14-point deficit.
"We're young and we're going to get better as every week comes," Green said. "We have a lot of stuff to work on to get the team to where we want it to be. But Andy was finding everyone today."
Jerome Simpson had a big day as well, hauling in four passes for 136 yards. He turned in the longest play of the game, taking a pass over the middle and racing 84 yards before being dragged down at the Broncos 9.
Two plays later, Dalton hooked up with Green for a 5-yard score in which the talented receiver from the University of Georgia acrobatically dragged his foot as he was falling out of bounds.
Simpson was agitated with himself for dropping a pass late in the fourth quarter with the team on the move. Not any pass, but one in which he was wide open.
Sure, it was a little behind him, yet one that Simpson said he usually makes. It could've put the Bengals in position to kick a game-winning field goal.
"I think about the drops more than I think about the good plays," Simpson said. "I have to go in there and make those catches. I'm usually pretty sure-handed. I just lost concentration there, I guess."
Not Green. Not on this day.
He caught everything in his vicinity.
So exhausted was Green after the game, he needed help to take off his shoulder pads. Green played virtually every snap in the second half with Jordan Shipley going out with a left knee injury.
Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said he didn't know the severity of Shipley's injury. It could be one less dependable target for Dalton.
"That's how football is," Dalton said. "Guys, unfortunately, get hurt playing this game. Guys have to step up."
The Broncos certainly were a banged-up team, missing five starters, including Pro Bowlers Champ Bailey and Brandon Lloyd.
Bailey sat out with a hamstring injury and Lloyd with a groin injury. Defensive end Elvis Dumervil (shoulder), running back Knowshon Moreno (hamstring) and linebacker D.J. Williams (elbow) also were sidelined.
Given all the injuries to Denver, a lost opportunity?
"This is the NFL. Everybody can play," Green said. "Last year, Green Bay lost so many key players and went to the Super Bowl. That's not an excuse."
Willis McGahee ran for 101 yards and Eric Decker caught two touchdown passes from Kyle Orton as John Fox earned his first win as Denver's coach.
"That game was interesting," Fox said.
Sure was.Comment on this story
Especially after the Broncos lost receiver Eddie Royal to a groin injury in the first half.
The Broncos were so thin at wideout that backup quarterback Tim Tebow even lined up to play the position.
"Everybody stepped up," Orton said. "This was one of the best wins that I've been a part of, and I've been a part of a lot of them."
Notes: The Bengals were 1 for 11 on third down conversions. ... Benson was held to 59 yards on 16 carries. ... Shipley was walking around the locker room on crutches after the game, wearing a brace on his left knee.