Cincinnati Bengals players didn’t need to wait for an MRI to know starting free safety Shawn Williams’ elbow injury was serious. His screams told them all they needed to know.
Williams stopped Kansas City running Akeem Hunt short of a first down on the first play of the second quarter, but as he went to the ground and tried to break his fall with his right hand, his elbow snapped inward.
Players immediately gathered around Williams and took a knee. Williams was carted off the field, and starting strong safety George Iloka, who was in street clothes on the sideline, followed him into the locker room.
“Obviously he’s going to be crushed,” Iloka said after the game. “It’s not what we want as a defense or a team or just people who are friends with him. I just told him to try to find some positive out of it. There’s always light on the other side of the tunnel. There’s nothing he can’t come back from.”
An MRI will determine the severity of the injury, which was reminiscent of the one tight end Tyler Eifert suffered in the 2014 season opener at Baltimore, costing him the rest of the season.
The best-case scenario would appear to be placing Williams, who has appeared in 63 of a possible 64 games in his first four seasons, on Injured Reserve, which would keep him out for a minimum of seven games.
Andy Dalton and the first-team offense played three series after being limited to one in last week’s opener, but the group still failed to find the end zone, settling instead for a pair of field goals sandwiched around a three and out.
“We are moving the ball, (but) we are getting stalled out,” head coach Marvin Lewis said. “We have to do a better job of that. We are making first downs, and getting into third down situations and not converting.”
One of the biggest reasons the Bengals went 6-9-1 a year ago was the inability to convert in the red zone, ranking 18th in touchdown percentage at 58.7 (29 of 54). The first-team offense is 0 for 2 this preseason.
The first-team defense is having issues as well. After allowing Tampa Bay to go 92 yards in 14 plays on the opening drive last week, the group gave up a 13-play, 80-yard drive to set the stage Saturday night. And that was followed by back-to-back touchdown drives, with the second-team defense surrendering TDs on the two possessions after that.
“It is a concern because we pride ourselves on not letting people score and they scored this week,” defensive end Carlos Dunlap said. “Thirty points. That’s a lot of points. That’s not something that’s in our resume or in our DNA as a defense, no matter who’s out there.
“Whether it’s preseason or what, that’s not something our defense hangs its hat on,” he added. “We’re not executing enough. We didn’t get off the field on third down. They moved the ball. There were a lot of third and shorts.”
The struggle to finish drives offensively has been a boon for kickers Randy Bullock and rookie Jake Elliott as they compete for the job.
And the longer look they get, the better it is for them because it’s a close battle.
Bullock and Elliott were a combined 4 for 4 against the Chiefs and are 7 for 7 in the preseason. Bullock made field goals of 47 and 26 yards Saturday night, while Elliott hit from 32 and 39.
For the second week in a row — and fourth if you count his performances in practice during training camp — defensive end Chris Smith took up residence in the offensive backfield.
Smith, whom the Bengals acquired in a trade with Jacksonville in the offseason, had five quarterback hits, including a sack, as he continues to state his case for a spot on the 53-man roster as a third-down pass-rushing specialist.
“It’s a privilege to pass rush, ” he said. “We’ve got to stop them on first and second down to get noticed on third down. I’m blessed to be part of the Bengals organization. Mr. (Mike) Brown and Mr. Lewis brought me in. They brought me in to rush, so I’m just trying to fulfill my duty.”
Rookie third-round pick Jordan Willis also recorded a sack for the second week in a row while rookie fourth-rounder Carl Lawson sat out with a shoulder injury.
Six or seven
One of the biggest questions when it comes to predicting the 53-man roster is whether the Bengals keep six or seven wide receivers.
If it’s six, it would seem as though the final spot will come down to either Alex Erickson, who made the roster as an undrafted free agent last year by starring as a kick and punt returner, or Josh Malone, the rookie fourth-round pick.
Both receivers were impressive against the Chiefs, starting from the opening kickoff that Erickson returned 39 yards after taking off from 8 yards deep in the end zone.
“I felt like it was an opportunity for us as kickoff return unit to get a return,” Erickson said. “We didn’t have any chances last game and that was the only chance we had tonight.”
Erickson also had three catches for a team-high 43 yards, including a 31-yarder to set up a field goal right before the half and a 6-yarder over the middle in which he took a big hit but hung on to the ball.
Malone also caught three passes on four targets for 35 yards. The only incompletion was on a go route when he hauled in a pass from AJ McCarron but could only get one foot down in the end zone.
One of the stars of the 23-12 win against Tampa Bay in the preseason opener was rookie running back Joe Mixon.
But he followed his impressive debut with a pedestrian performance against Kansas City, carrying six times for just 16 yards (2.7 average) in addition to catching one pass for 15 yards.
Mixon also recorded his first NFL tackle, bringing down Eric Murray after the Kansas City safety had intercepted AJ McCarron midway through the third quarter.
For the second year in a row and third time in the last four preseasons, the Bengals will play the dress-rehearsal third game on national television when they head to Washington to face former offensive coordinator Jay Gruden and the Redskins at 4:30 p.m. next Sunday on FOX.
Cincinnati Bengals (1-1) vs. Washington Redskins ()
When: 4:30 p.m., Aug. 27
Where: FedExField, Hyattsville, Md.
TV: Ch. 19, 45
Radio: 1530-AM, 102.7-FM, 104.7-FM