A stout effort by the Bengals defense that that sacked Minshew Mania twice and pitched a fourth-down goal-line stand along with their first first-half touchdown in five games staked the Bengals to a 7-6 halftime lead over the Jaguars Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium.
After holding running back Joe Mixon to three yards on six carries with 1:25 left in the half, the Jaguars allowed Mixon to get loose on linebacker Myles Jack and quarterback Andy Dalton found him for a two-yard touchdown wipe out a nightmarish offensive first half.
When the Bengals got the ball with 2:14 left, they had 30 yards, minus-six rushing, five punts and Dalton was just two of 11 for 17 yards, both catches by wide receiver Alex Erickson. And that’s who Dalton went to here. He hit Erickson over the middle on a 48-yard catch-and-run. After two devastating penalties, an illegal shift and Bobby Hart false start when the ball wasn’t snapped, set up second-and-18, Dalton hit Erickson on the right sideline for a five-yard catch and he slid off cornerback A.J. Bouye for 22 more to set up Mixon’s TD, Dalton’s only non-Erickson completion of the half.
That gave Erickson his first 100-yard day of his career with 110 on six catches and Dalton finished the half seven of 16 for 112.
The Bengals’ rebuilt secondary help up pretty well, except on the last series of the half. Cornerback Tony McRae eyed an interception on third-and-10 on a floater by Jacksonville rookie quarterback Gardner Minshew. But wide receiver Dede Westbrook came out of nowhere for a 33-yard catch that set up Josh Lambo’s 29-yard field goal with seven seconds left in the half. That marked the 29th time in the last 39 games the Bengals allowed points in the last two minutes of a half.
But McRae and Darqueze Dennard combined to break up an end-zone pass to Westbrook to set up the field goal. Dennard, in his first game since last season, was all over the place. His coverage of wide receiver Chris Conley on two third-down incompletions held them to that first field goal and forced a punt.
When the Jags took that 3-0 lead with 6:30 left in the half, they had 2-2 yards compared to the Bengals’ 13. The Bengals did a nice job containing Minshew (11 of 24 for 190 yards), and they didn’t let running back Leonard Fournette pound them with 72 yards on 12 carries.
The Bengals mustered a goal-line stand on fourth-and-one when middle linebacker Preston Brown went airborne with Fournette and knocked him back after great penetration by tackles Andrew Billings and Josh Tupou.
Cornerback B.W. Webb had to be the happiest guy in the building. Two snaps before right end Sam Hubbard tipped a Minshew pass and if Webb had caught the deflection he would have been gone for a pick-six. But Webb, playing with a cast on his broken right forearm, saw it bounce off his arm for a harmless incompletion.
But the offense could do nothing with it on third-and-one. After Dalton muscled a quarterback sneak out of the shadow on the goal for four yards, they tried to go wide to Mixon and he had no shot sweeping to his left and lost three yards on his first carry of the day.
But the Bengals defense forced a punt on the next series with tackle Geno Atkins’ second sack of the season and gave the offense terrific field position at the Cincinnati 47. Fournette did ramble for 19 on that first series, but they bottled him on this one and a holding call on right tackle Jawaan Taylor allowed them to get some good pressure, causing Minshew to have to move as he was throwing.
But, again, the offense came up empty. After a first-down slant to Erickson for 11 yards, Dalton threw three straight incompletions. He overthrew Mixon on first down, had his second-down pass tipped by tackle Marcell Dareus and couldn’t hit Erickson over the middle on third down.
But on fourth down, wide receiver Stanley Morgan downed Kevin Huber’s punt at the Jags 2 and that set up Atkins’ second of the sack of the day when the ends Hubbard and Andrew Brown, making his first NFL start, got pressure on Minshew in the end zone. Anthony Zettel, picked up Tuesday, also got some heat on what appeared to be his first snap of the season. Meanwhile, Atkins blew up guard Will Richardson Jr., and Minshew had the play of the day when he somehow dragged his knee out to the one-yard line.
The first quarter betrayed the offense again. Dalton was two of six for 17 yards, Mixon had two rushes for a yard and the team had an overall performance of 11 yards in a quarter they got outgunned, 110-11. The centerpiece was minus-six rushing, featuring a horrific play after Atkins’ second sack.
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After Mixon got four on his own on first down, they tried a zone read where Dalton faked to Mixon and then flipped it to Erickson coming across the other way to the left. But wide receiver Auden Tate couldn’t set the edge and end Yannick Ngakoue blew it up for an 11-yard loss. Then on third down Dalton hit wide receiver Tyler Boyd over the middle (with a great pass-pro block by 5-9 running back Giovani Bernard on 6-8 Calais Campbell and Boyd dropped it.
That ended the first quarter and the second quarter began the same way. Mixon got stoned on his first two carries from his own 12 and on the last one got a yard on his own because defensive tackle Taven Bryan just stood up a block in the right interior. Then on third down Dalton overthrew the doubled-team Tate on the sideline, leaving him two of seven for the game.
PRE-GAME SNAPS: The Bengals revamped defense featured three cornerbacks making their first starts of the season in positions other than where they lined up Sunday. First-year defensive lineman Andrew Brown was also supposed to make his first NFL start in place of the injured Carlos Dunlap (knee) and Carl Lawson (hamstring) at left end.
B.W. Webb, who has started four games in the slot this season, moved outside to replace Dre Kirkpatrick (knee) and Dennard came off the physically unable to perform list (PUP) to replace William Jackson (shoulder) on the other side. Tony McRae was scheduled to go into the slot to make his second NFL start.
Dennard got the nod for his 20th start after his first week of practice since the week of last season’s finale in Pittsburgh.
If it sounds like they’re banged up, they are. How banged up? Rookie Jake Dolegala, the No. 3 quarterback, was active for the first time this year. On Friday Bengals head coach Zac Taylor was asked if he’d keep that last spot open for one of the injured guys in a pinch.
“Every situation is always going to be unique in that regard,” Taylor said. “There are some weeks we don’t activate a guy playing, but if he can give you five snaps, (would you) take him over the third quarterback? Probably. Would there be a worst-case scenario where you had to get out of a game, this guy could go out there and not re-injure himself, then that’s something to consider.”
But Taylor didn’t think he could make that move. Joining Dunlap, Lawson, Kirkpatrick and Jackson on the inactive list were injured wide receiver A.J. Green (ankle), left tackle Andre Smith (ankle) and right guard John Miller (groin).