Burrow return brief, Bengals fall in preseason finale

Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Khalid Kareem (90) reacts after a sack of Miami Dolphins quarterback Reid Sinnett (4) during the first half of an NFL exhibition football game in Cincinnati, Sunday, Aug. 29, 2021. (AP Photo/Aaron Doster)
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Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Khalid Kareem (90) reacts after a sack of Miami Dolphins quarterback Reid Sinnett (4) during the first half of an NFL exhibition football game in Cincinnati, Sunday, Aug. 29, 2021. (AP Photo/Aaron Doster)

Credit: Aaron Doster

Credit: Aaron Doster

CINCINNATI -- Joe Burrow received a standing ovation when he jogged onto the field to lead the Cincinnati Bengals’ first drive of the preseason finale Sunday against the Miami Dolphins. That was about as memorable as it got for the team’s starting quarterback.

His first game action since tearing his ACL in Week 11 of the 2020 season was short and not so sweet with Ja’Marr Chase dropping his lone pass, but the outing served its purpose of giving Burrow a few snaps to shake off the rust before the opener.

Most importantly, Burrow got through his three plays still healthy. The Bengals went on to conclude the preseason 1-2 with a 29-26 loss in front of an announced crowd of 34,667 fans at Paul Brown Stadium.

After an end around with Tyler Boyd, Burrow threw a simple bubble screen pass to a wide-open Chase, and the ball fell right through his hands. Right tackle Riley Reiff was called for unnecessary roughness on the play, and Burrow finished his day with a handoff to Joe Mixon on third-and-23 that led to a punt.

Chase’s one chance to make a play should have been routine, but instead led to even more concern with a fourth straight drop on passes thrown his way this preseason. The rookie No. 5 overall draft pick has been struggling with drops in practices, and it’s been carrying into games. Chase made a 16-yard catch in his lone action in the preseason opener at Tampa Bay, but he had three third-down passes fall through his hands Aug. 20 at Washington.

The Bengals haven’t stopped giving him chances but the issue now threatens to linger into the regular season, as the focus now turns to the opener Sept. 12 against Minnesota.

Chase didn’t get another opportunity Sunday. Cincinnati’s starting offense played just the one series along with Burrow, while the projected defensive starters did not play at all. Backups and players still competing for roster spots took the spotlight, and a few likely solidified their chances of making the team.

Rookie fifth-round pick Evan McPherson, who already was considered the leading candidate for the kicker job, left no doubts with a 57-yard field goal to end the first half, bringing the Bengals to within one going into the locker room down 14-13. His kick had plenty of distance and would have been a franchise record had it been in a regular-season game. Austin Seibert made his 36-yard attempt earlier in the game but hasn’t been able to outshine McPherson. The Bengals had a chance to try a field goal at the end to tie it but went for it on fourth down instead and Kyle Shurmur’s pass was incomplete.

Wide receiver Trenton Irwin continued his impressive preseason when he held onto a 23-yard catch after taking a hard hit in the first quarter, moving the Bengals to the Dolphins’ 31-yard line. Two plays later, on the first play of the second quarter, Brandon Allen connected with rookie running back Chris Evans on a deep pass for a 29-yard touchdown to tie the game at 7 after Miami had taken a lead on a 3-yard touchdown run Cincinnati Bearcats product Gerrid Doaks, who scored twice for the Dolphins on Sunday.

Evans has proven to be a solid third-down running back and finished with three rushes for 10 yards Sunday in addition to his long touchdown catch. The Bengals have Mixon and Samaje Perine as the top two backs, and Evans has done nothing to indicate he won’t make the team, despite his seven-round draft position. Jacques Patrick added a one-yard touchdown run and finished with a team-high 36 yards rushing.

Defensive end Khalid Kareem did some good things early to help his case in a competition to see what kind of depth the Bengals have on the edge. He tipped a pass on the first play of the game, had a tackle for loss and sacked Reid Sinnett for a 10-yard loss. Darius Hodge, a surprise this preseason as a college free agent, also appears a strong option for a rotational role as he contributed a sack, a quarterback hit and tackle for loss.

Safety Trayvon Henderson added an interception in the second quarter and returned it 25 yards in another strong preseason for him. As a rookie in 2018, he was in the mix for a roster spot, but tore his ACL running back an interception in the fourth quarter of the preseason finale and he’s bounced between the roster and practice squad in his two healthy seasons since then. Henderson finished the game Sunday with five tackles, a tackle for loss and tipped pass as well.

The Bengals will be making final decisions to get the roster down to 53 players by the deadline 4 p.m. Tuesday.