CINCINNATI -- Carolina rookie quarterback Cam Newton took a step back on his road to NFL stardom.
Cincinnati's Andy Dalton, another rookie, took a huge leap forward.
Dalton, Cincinnati's second-round draft pick from Texas Christian, led four first-half scoring drives and the Bengals held on for a 24-13 preseason victory Thursday night.
Dalton was an efficient 11 of 17 for 130 yards and a touchdown for Cincinnati (1-2), putting together a 107.5 quarterback rating, a vast improvement over the 30.9 figure he took into the game. He credited a running game that finished with 191 yards, 63 in the first quarter, which he said helped open up the passing game.
"We came out running the ball well," said Dalton, who didn't play in the second half. "We had some miscues we need to fix, but we were able to bounce back. The way we were running the ball, they had to stack the box, and we were able to take advantage."
"The big thing is we've got to continue to run the football," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said.
Newton, the overall No. 1 pick by Carolina (1-2), went into the game with a 65.2 quarterback rating after two games. He rushed for 41 yards in the first half, including a 16-yard scramble for a touchdown. He played the first three series of the third quarter before giving way to second-year quarterback Jimmy Clausen and finished 6 for 19 for 75 yards and a 44.8 rating.
"It's unacceptable on my part," he said. "I've got to make the proper reads and get in a comfort zone. Third-and-long is not a situation we want to be in. A checkdown is not a bad thing."
First-year coach Ron Rivera refused to pin all the blame on his prized rookie.
"I thought he had his moments," Rivera said. "He felt the pressure at times. At times, we didn't help him. We have to protect better, he has to make better reads. It was great to see Cam in an extended role, but he has a long ways to go."
Newton reverted to the Heisman Trophy-winning style he used while leading Auburn to last year's national championship to account for his first touchdown as a pro.
After Carolina cornerback Chris Gamble recovered a Benson fumble at the Cincinnati 46, Newton led Carolina on a six-play scoring drive. He completed just one of four passes on the possession, but he capped it by scrambling 16 yards for the score. Cornerback Jonathan Wade hit Newton at about the 2-yard line, but Newton spun out of Wade's grasp and dived into the end zone with 6:17 left in the first quarter.
The Panthers gained possession because Dalton and Benson miscommunicated on a handoff, producing Cincinnati's sixth turnover of the preseason. The touchdown lifted opponents' combined advantage over the Bengals in points off turnovers to 34-0.
Dalton and Benson shook off the fumble to lead the Bengals on their most impressive drive of the preseason. Dalton was 3 of 4 for 27 yards and Benson carried the ball 11 times for 53 yards, including a 1-yard run around left end for a touchdown to tie it.
They took their first lead on their next possession with Dalton finding fellow rookie A.J. Green for a 40-yard touchdown.
"It's like a dream come true," said Green, Cincinnati's top pick and the overall No. 4 selection. "I've been thinking about it all day, honestly -- 'When am I going to get my first TD?"
The Bengals followed up by converting their first takeaway of the year into another score. Armanti Edwards fumbled a punt, Manny Lawson recovered for Cincinnati at the Carolina 12, and Scott went untouched around left end on the next play for a 21-7 lead with 1:29 left in the half.
The Bengals got one more possession with 51 seconds left in the half and Dalton completed four consecutive passes for 37 yards, setting up Mike Nugent's 55-yard field goal with eight seconds remaining.
"That was big for me, and that was big for the offense to get into the two-minute drill," Dalton said. "You have to make sure everybody's on the same page, and we did a great job of doing that."
Gamble, an Ohio State product, left the game in the second quarter with a dislocated thumb and did not return. "They put it back in," Rivera said. "He'll get it treated, and he should be back." ... Bengals TE Bo Scaife left the game in the first two minutes with a right shoulder injury. He did not return. ... Nugent's 55-yard field goal doesn't count in the team record books, but it matched the official record -- Chris Bahr's kick against the then-Houston Oilers on Sept. 23, 1979. ... The attendance was announced at 41,735 in 65,515-seat Paul Brown Stadium.
At age 30, receiver Stevie Johnson should see plenty of targets in 2016 -- as long as he can stay healthy.
Retired WR Calvin Johnson agrees with QB Matt Stafford that the Lions should be less predictable and tougher to defend this season.
Asked Saturday at a charity bowling event if the Bills' medical staff would allow him to practice early in training camp, wide receiver Sammy Watkins told ESPN, "You never know."
Jeremy Fowler weighs in on who needs to step up for the Ravens offensively with many of their key players recovering from injuries.
Jeremy Fowler gives his prediction on how he perceives the Browns quarterback situation playing out.
Jeremy Fowler shares his thoughts on Steelers RB Le'Veon Bell's recovery from a torn MCL and PCL heading into Pittsburgh's training camp.