It doesn’t count in the record book, but the Cincinnati Bengals earned their first win under Zac Taylor on Thursday.
The Bengals overcame a sloppy start and beat the Washington Redskins 23-13 in their second preseason game on the road. They were coming off a disappointing loss at Kansas City in the preseason opener.
Cincinnati now prepares to play its final two preseason games at home, hosting the New York Giants on Thursday and the Colts on Aug. 29 at Paul Brown Stadium.
“Like I told the guys, it feels good to win,” Taylor said in his postgame comments. “You’ve got to get used to winning. This week, as we get ready for the Giants, we’ve got a seven-day week that’ll be like a normal week. So, I told those guys we’ve got to raise our standards in every area coming off this week because this week wasn’t quite good enough, and we got a lot to improve on.”
Here are five takeaways from Thursday’s win:
1. Dalton struggles aren’t a concern
The Bengals still haven’t seen much from the first-team offense when Andy Dalton has been in games, but it’s nothing to be alarmed about yet. A string of penalties – mostly by Washington – on the first drive made it hard to get into much of a rhythm and Dalton ended up throwing a pick-6 when his pass intended for Trayveon Williams was tipped at the line of scrimmage and intercepted at the 4-yard line.
On the next two drives, the offensive line had three penalties combined (two false starts and a hold), and the Bengals were forced to punt.
Running back Joe Mixon had a nice run wiped away by offsetting penalties on that first drive and then Williams took over after five snaps combined between Mixon and Giovani Bernard. Williams then was injured after playing eight snaps on offense.
If anything is alarming, it’s still the struggles of the first-team offensive line.
2. Finley steps up again
What a drastic turnaround rookie fourth-round draft pick Ryan Finley has made since the offseason and beginning of training camp.
After a strong debut last week, he put together another good performance Thursday completing 20 of 26 passes for 150 yards and two touchdowns and a passer rating of 115.9.
Finley had struggled with accuracy during the offseason workout program and even at the start of camp didn’t look comfortable throwing the ball. Something has clicked for him in the last two weeks. He completed his first eight passes Thursday and completed his first 10 against Kansas City.
3. Defense steps up
Five days after giving up 400 yards and 38 points to the Chiefs, the Bengals’ defense did a much better job getting to the football and making plays. They held Washington to 212 yards and one offensive touchdown.
“I thought defensively we really did a nice job in this game,” Taylor said. “Guys tackled better, guys played with more energy, those are things that we asked them at halftime, ‘Let’s create some turnovers and let’s be great tacklers.’ I thought they came out and did that.”
In the third quarter, Jordan Willis sacked Redskins rookie and former Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins and forced the fumble, which Kerry Wynn recovered, and that put the offense on the 25-yard line for a short scoring drive.
4. Young receivers stand out
Second-year receiver Auden Tate has been gaining attention this preseason, and rookie undrafted free agent Dameon Willis is showing he belongs in the conversation as well.
Tate almost had a touchdown at Kansas City and did make it to the end zone against the Redskins on a 3-yard pass from Finley after Wynn’s fumble recovery. He finished with four catches for 16 yards but has showed throughout training camp that he can be a big target and has great hands.
Willis had five catches on five targets for a team-high 59 yards receiving but also had a touchdown wiped out by an offensive pass interference call that created some controversy.
“We’ve been impressed by the receiver groups as a core,” Taylor said. “I think [wide receivers coach] Bob Bicknell and [assistant quarterbacks coach] Dan Pitcher have done a great job with those guys and being on top of the details because that’s so important in the system is that guys are doing the little things the right way.”
5. Special teams corrections
After a rough preseason opener on special teams, the Bengals were much cleaner in that phase of the game Thursday. Alex Erickson was back to returning punts after Darius Phillips muffed two punts at Kansas City (losing one of them), and Erickson ended up with a 75-yard punt return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter, but Phillips was still utilized on kickoff returns and had three without incident.
Rookie kicker Tristan Vizcaino had a 57-yard field goal in the fourth quarter.
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