Short-handed Bengals stun AFC-South leading Titans

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Without several players that started season on offensive, defensive lines, Cincinnati beats Tennessee 31-20

CINCINNATI -- The Cincinnati Bengals didn’t have a single opening-day starter available on the offensive or defensive lines Sunday, and running back Joe Mixon was out for a second straight week with a foot injury.

Somehow, that wasn’t a problem against the 5-1 Tennessee Titans.

Cincinnati used a lineup full of backups to beat the Titans 31-20 on Sunday in front of 9,712 socially-distanced fans at Paul Brown Stadium. Backup running back Giovani Bernard accounted for two touchdowns, and quarterback Joe Burrow wasn’t sacked despite four new starters on the offensive line.

Bernard scored his first touchdown of the day on a 12-yard run up the middle with 32 seconds left in the second quarter to give the Bengals a 17-7 lead at halftime. He then scored another one on a 6-yard pass from Burrow to make it a 31-14 advantage with 7:30 left in the game, and that was enough to seal it.

Tennessee responded with a Corey Davis touchdown reception from Ryan Tannehill, one play after Vonn Bell’s interception in the end zone was negated by an offside call, but holder Brett Kern’s two-point conversion pass was intercepted by Josh Bynes to keep it an 11-point game with less than six minutes to play.

Burrow was then intercepted deep in Bengals territory on the ensuing drive but bailed out on a defensive pass interference call. They were able to run down the clock before punting, and Tennessee only had time for one more play.

The Bengals had taken the first advantage of the game and never lost it – two weeks after letting go of a 21-0 lead early in the second quarter. After they settled for a field goal on their first drive going into the wind, Jessie Bates prevented a Titans touchdown, picking off Ryan Tannehill in the endzone. Cincinnati added to the lead in the second quarter after former Bengals cornerback Johnathan Joseph was called for pass interference trying to prevent Tee Higgins from making a touchdown catch. Samaje Perine punched it in from the 1-yard line the next play for his first touchdown since his rookie season with Washington in 2017.

Tyler Boyd got in on the scoring with a 7-yard reception in the corner of the end zone to make it a 24-7 lead with 13:55 left before Tannehill threw a pair of touchdown passes, split by Bernard’s second score of the day.

The Bengals were missing all five of their original starting offensive linemen, as left guard Michael Jordan joined the list of unavailable players Sunday when he came down with a non-COVID-related illness ahead of the game. Left tackle Jonah Williams (stinger), center Trey Hopkins (concussion) and right tackle Bobby Hart (knee) were reported out Friday, and right guard Xavier Su’a-Filo remains out since suffering an ankle injury in the opener.

Two backup linemen got their first career starts Sunday to fill holes. Rookie Hakeem Adeniji made his first career start at right tackle and Shaq Calhoun – who was cut four weeks ago and brought up from the practice squad Saturday – started at left guard before getting replaced on the second series by newly signed guard Quinton Spain. Fred Johnson got his first start of the season at the left tackle spot – fourth overall after playing three games at right guard – and Billy Price made his first start at center since 2018. Alex Redmond earned his fourth straight start at right guard.

After Carlos Dunlap was traded this week, the Bengals also were without any of their opening day starters on the defensive line. However, Carl Lawson had a key third-down pressure to force a punt in the first quarter and Henry got off to a slow start running the ball for the Titans before he found a rhythm on his one scoring drive with about six minutes left in the first half. Henry had 112 yards on 18 carries, and Tannehill finished with 233 yards and one sack by Logan Wilson on a key third down early in the fourth quarter.

Burrow threw for 249 yards and two touchdowns, one of just three games where he failed to reach 300 yards passing. Bernard finished with 62 yards on 15 carries. Higgins and Boyd each had six catches, combining for 145 yards and Auden Tate had seven catches for 65 yards.

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