Surprise star lifts Bengals to win in preseason opener

A player making his first appearance in a Cincinnati Bengals jersey stole the show, but his name wasn’t Joe.

Rookie running back Joe Mixon was indeed impressive in his NFL debut, but the night belonged to third-string quarterback Jeff Driskel, who threw for one touchdown and ran for another to rally the Bengals for a 23-12 victory against Tampa Bay in the preseason opener Friday night at Paul Brown Stadium.

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Driskel, whom the Bengals claimed off waivers from San Francisco at the end of the 2016 preseason, entered the game at the start of the third quarter with the Buccaneers leading 9-6 and directed a seven-play, 70-yard drive that he capped with an 18-yard touchdown run that featured a move Mixon would have been proud of, a juke that resulted in two Buccaneers defenders running into each other.

On the next drive, after Tampa Bay had cut the Bengals lead to 13-12, Driskel drove the team 84 yards in 12 plays, hitting rookie wide receiver Josh Malone for an 8-yard touchdown on third and goal.

Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Jeff Driskel (6) runs in a touchdown during the second half of the team’s preseason NFL football game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Friday, Aug. 11, 2017, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Gary Landers) (Staff Writer)

The former University of Florida and Louisiana Tech quarterback finished 8 of 9 for 97 yards and a touchdown, while carrying three times for a game-high 36 yards.

Mixon was the star of the first half, keying the team’s first scoring drive with an 11-yard reception in which he made three Tampa Bay defenders miss. That led to a Randy Bullock 54-yard field goal that tied the game at 3-3. Mixon kicked off the next series with back-to-back runs of 8 and 13 yards, and rookie Jake Elliott finished that possession with a 49-yard field goal to keep the kicking battle in a dead heat.

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Bullock added a 45-yarder with 2:48 left in the game for the final points of the night.

Averaging 5.2 yards per carry, Mixon finished with 31 yards on six attempts to go along with the reception. Starting running back Jeremy Hill added 26 yards on seven carries, while Giovani Bernard did not play for precautionary reasons as he’s still less than nine months removed from ACL surgery.

Tampa Bay opened the game with a 14-play scoring drive that ended with a Robert Aguayo 20-yard field goal against the Cincinnati first-team defense.

Andy Dalton and the Bengals offensive starters answered with a 12-play march to the Buccaneers 5. But on third and 2, Tampa Bay cornerback Vernon Hargreaves jumped in front of Brand LaFell to intercept Dalton at the pylon.

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That marked the end of the night for Dalton, along with wide receiver A.J. Green and tight end Tyler Eifert, as AJ McCarron came on to direct the back-to-back field goal drives with the help of Mixon.

McCarron finished 5 of 8 for 49 yards before turning things over to Driskel after halftime.

The Bengals defense held Tampa Bay to 330 yards with the help of another handful of players making their debuts in stripes.

Rookie defensive end Jordan Willis had two quarterback hits, including the team’s only sack, while defensive end Chris Smith, obtained in a trade with Jacksonville in April, added two quarterback hits and a tackle for loss.

Undrafted rookie safety Demetrious Cox intercepted former Bengals quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick in the red zone at the Cincinnati 11.

The Bengals will be back in action Aug. 19 at Paul Brown Stadium against the Kansas City Chiefs.

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