Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis couldn’t have asked more a more ideal preseason opener than the one he got Thursday night at Paul Brown Stadium.
The first-team offense scored touchdowns on two of its three drives, and the first-team defense had two dominant series where it held the Chicago Bears to minus-1 yard. There also were plenty of mistakes from the young subs to keep the clicker in the film room warm. And in the end, a bunch of backups who struggled most of the second half found a way to craft a 91-yard, touchdown drive for a 30-27 victory .
»RELATED: View photos from the game
“Tonight is evident why you have the opportunity to play these games,” Lewis said. “To have the younger players play, and for them to have the chance to play when the game is on the line like that, was very cool for them at the end.
“It’s a good start to things,” Lewis added. “There are a lot of things to coach from this game, as we figured.”
Here are five things to know about the game:
Bill Lazor’s first series as interim offensive coordinator last year produced a 10-play, 79-yard touchdown drive after the Bengals had failed to reach the end zone in their first two games.
Lazor’s first series with interim tag removed Thursday night was a 6-play, 64-yard march that Andy Dalton capped with a 24-yard touchdown pass to running back Joe Mixon.
“We wanted to be efficient, we wanted to kind of spread the ball around and get a lot of guys involved, and we did that,” said Dalton, who completed 6 of 8 passes to five receivers for 103 yards and two touchdowns with one interception.
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The pick came on the first play after the scoring strike to Mixon when receiver John Ross fell down, giving Bears corner Kyle Fuller an easy pick which he returned 47 yards for a touchdown.
“I lost my feet; terrible job by me,” Ross said. “It was a perfect ball by Andy. I just fell.”
But Dalton went right back to Ross on the next drive for a 20-yard pass that gave the Bengals first and goal at the 3. Two plays later Dalton hit Tyler Boyd for a 3-yard TD and a 14-7 lead.
“We never want the slip,” Dalton said. “Obviously it’s unfortunate, but I came right back to him and he made a great play and made a couple guys miss. He’s a special player. I think he’s going to make a lot of plays for this offense.”
The controversial new helmet rule came into play twice, and both instances involved Bengals safety Clayton Fejedelem.
Chicago wide receiver Demarcus Ayers drew the first flag when he the officials ruled he lowered his head to strike Fejedelem with 9:27 left in the second quarter. Then with 11:02 remaining in the third quarter, Fejedelem got hit with a 15-yard penalty for lower his head to finish off teammate Hardy Nicker’s tackle of Chicago running back Ryan Nall.
Fejedelem said neither play should have been penalized.
“I have no problem with the guy tackling me the way he did,” Fejedelem said of the play in which he carried the ball 49 yards on a fake punt. “How else is he going to tackle me in the middle of the field?
“On mine, I had no intention there of lunging and hitting the guy or anything, but what am I going to do, let him fall another 3, 4 yards forward,” Fejedelem said. “My face was up, I was staring at my guy. I hit him with my eyes up. Right now it almost seems like if there’s a loud clap or a loud play and it looks vicious they’re going to lean toward the side of the flag for safety reasons.”
Fejedelem also was the center figure in the most surprising play of the game, his fake punt in which he carried the ball 49 yards to set up a field goal that gave the Bengals a 17-14 lead.
Rarely do teams tip their hand on trick plays in the preseason, and Fejedelem said neither Lewis nor Bengals special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons had any intention of doing so.
“I called that on my own,” Fejedelem said. “They came out, and they were missing a guy out there. They only had 10. They were missing a man in the box. He was probably standing on the sideline, probably drinking some Gatorade. So it was a no-brainer to call it. And it worked out great.”
Fejedelem said the last time he ran with the ball in his hands, other than after his interception at Cleveland last year or the two he had at the University of Illinois, was as a running back in high school.
Wide receiver Auden Tate’s game-winning touchdown came on a 33-yard pass from Jeff Driskel in which the quarterback just hung the ball in the air and the rookie use his 6-5 frame and pterodactyl-like catch radius to haul in the 50-50 ball.
“I usually think of 80-20,” Tate said. “Any ball in the air, our coach teaches us it’s our ball or it’s nobody’s ball. So we just go get it.”
Tate opened eyes in the offseason with his body control and strong hands, which is why his first snap of the game came late in the first half when the Bengals got to the 11-yard line with 5 seconds remaining.
But quarterback Matt Barkley’s fade pass fell well short of Tate in the end zone.
“That was all on me,” Tate said. “I looked back, and I ain’t used to seeing the bright lights. I just lost it in the lights I could’ve adjusted if I could’ve seen it, but I didn’t see it.”
Three plays before the touchdown, Tate made a great catch at the Chicago 10 despite a pass interference call on Chicago corner John Franklin, but it was wiped out when tackle Kent Perkins was flagged for holding. On the next snap Tate made another impressive snag, but that, too, was negated when officials called him offensive pass interference.
Two plays later he won the game.
“It’s just a testament to hard work at camp and hard work in the offseason and just showing the I’m doing something right,” he said. “So I’m going to try to keep it going.”
Since the day Teryl Austin was hired Jan. 8, defensive coordinator has put an emphasis on turnovers, something that was a glaring deficiency for the Bengals the last two seasons.
Thursday night the defense came up with three, which was more than it had in any regular season game in 2017. The third was actually a situation where the Bears were lateraling the ball to anyone they find on the final snap of the game, but still, it was encouraging start to the Austin era.
“It was big getting them at two different levels with the linebacker getting a pick and then we got one in the secondary,” said cornerback KeiVarae Russell, who intercepted Bears quarterback Tyler Bray at the Bengals 2-yard line to thwart the visitors’ opening drive of the third quarter.
“That’s big time,” Russell added. “Coach doesn’t just preach it to the secondary, he preaches it to the entire defense – force fumbles, picks. No matter what position you play, get around the ball.”
Linebacker Brandon Bell had the first interception when Chase Daniels’ pass went off the hands of Bears running back Taquan Mizzell at midfield with 22 seconds left in the first half.
Eddy Wilson, whom the Bengals just claimed off waivers from Seattle on Saturday, recovered the fumbled lateral on the final play of the game.
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