The Bengals drilled the Rams with a suffocating defense and a resourceful 173-yard passing effort from quarterback Jake Browning in a 16-7 win in Saturday night's preseason finale at Paycor Stadium.
Despite switching to a 4-3 defense to compensate for lack of bodies, the Bengals defense continued to swarm in the third quarter. Rookie defensive tackle Zach Carter had a third-down sack-strip that was recovered by the Rams. Then on the next series, linebacker Tegray Scales punched out the ball from running back Trey Ragas and it was recovered by rookie cornerback Delonte Hood at the Bengals 30.
But the offense couldn't do much and it was left to 14-year vet Kevin Huber and first-year challenger Drue Chrisman to hammer out the punting job. They gave special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons plenty to think about.
Huber earned his second fair catch on his second kick of the night that went to the Rams 11. Then Chrisman, who also forced a fair catch on his first punt Saturday, had a shot and he showed off his power with a 65-yard missile that hit inside the 5 and bounced into the end zone for a 45-yard net.
The defense held the Rams to just 162 yards and nine first downs heading into the fourth quarter, but the defense was on the field for a bunch in that third quarter. The wear showed on the first few plays of the fourth quarter when Hood didn't play the ball on quarterback Bryce Perkins' 32-yard loft job to wide receiver Lance McCutcheon down the left sideline and rookie edge Jeff Gunter couldn't finish off a sack and Perkins reversed field for a scrambling three-yard touchdown that broke the shutout with 11:25 left.
That's when the Bengals offense got going. With Browning moving in and out of the pocket, he sifted nine of 11 passes for 63 yards in a 75-yard drive and got 12 of them wheeling right out of the pocket on a nifty scramble.
Browning (19 of 24 passing) converted two third-down passes to rookie wide receiver Kwamie Lassiter II and the last one overcame an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on a Bengals bench that appeared to object to the post-snap scrum involving left guard Jackson Carman and Rams defensive lineman Earnest Brown IV.
On a hometown evening the Bengals captains were all Cincinnati guys, Browning threw his first touchdown pass in eight career preseason games to University of Kentucky rookie tight end Justin Rigg as the Springboro, Ohio product scored from three yards out with 4:34 left to give the Bengals a 16-7 lead.
The Bengals took a 9-0 halftime lead on, how else this preseason? Three Evan McPherson field goals that belied how they dominated the Rams in the first 30 minutes. They gave them just 75 yards and had the ball twice as long racking up 11 first downs to the Rams' three.
But they were 0-for-3 in the red zone. It looked like they did get a touchdown with six seconds left in the half when Browning, on his first series in relief of Brandon Allen, threw a seven-yard pass to tight end Thaddeus Moss just over the goal line, but Moss was called for interference and they needed McPherson's chip shot.
Browning was six of seven in the drive for 70 yards, three of them for 42 yards in the final two minutes to wide receiver Trenton Irwin in overcoming a holding call on Carman. Irwin, the third-year man who has been a practice squad staple in this offense, picked up 20 yards involving about half YAC over the middle on his way to six catches for 59 yards in the half and nine for 93 for the game, joining Lassiter and rookie Kendric Pryor with 90-yard games this preseason. Pryor, like Lassiter, undrafted, finished with 65 yards on five catches while Lassiter had 42 on five catches and dropped a punt that he recovered.
Rookie safety Tycen Anderson led the defense with five tackles in the half and linebacker Keandre Jones led them for the game with nine.
Huber got the first fair catch of the preseason with a 44-yarder to the Rams 13 to end the Bengals' first possession of the game and when cornerback Tre Flowers broke up a third-down slant, it was the Bengals turn to get a punt and returner Trent Taylor made them pay with a 31-yard return that put the ball on the Rams 41.
Wide receiver Stanley Morgan, who dropped a third down catch for a first down, then atoned with a 32-yard catch off quarterback Brandon Allen's well-protected play-action pass.
But last week's red zones woes followed Allen from New York. On second down, running back Trayveon Williams lost a yard heading into the right side of the line and on third down Allen broke a cardinal inside-the-20 rule when he didn't throw it away and took a 16-yard sack.
It gave McPherson a shot to make it 7-for-8 in the preseason and no problem for a 38-yarder (Huber held) that gave the Bengals a 3-0 lead halfway through the first quarter.
On the next series Allen should have thrown a pick, but it was dropped on the sideline. There was also the obligatory holding call that wiped out a long Chris Evans run, this one on left tackle D'Ante Smith's fourth holding call in the last five quarters. It was Chrisman's turn to punt and he also got a fair catch, this one on a 42-yarder to the Rams 29.
But the Bengals defense was immense not allowing a first down until about 13 minutes. They got another third-down pass defensed from safety Trayvon Henderson and he really should have picked it. But he got the turnover when they really needed it. At the Bengals 4. Henderson forced Rams running back Jake Funk to fumble and tackle Domenique Davis, looking to grab a roster spot, grabbed the ball.
The offensive woes continued despite Allen making a big 38-yard throw to Pryor while taking a shot from ubiquitous rookie end Keir Thomas II in the end zone. He also converted a fourth-and-one to Irwin in the middle field on a 10-yard muscle shot to the Rams 45.
Lassiter made his only catch of the half on an 11-yarder to get them to the 19, but they just couldn't solve the red zone. Carman gave up a sack and they needed McPherson's 39-yarder for a 6-0 lead midway through the second quarter.
The defense then reeled off its third three-and-out, capped when ends Noah Spence and rookie Jeff Gunter met at Perkins and Spence got the sack.