Updated: 11:55 p.m.
After Lions quarterback Dan Orlovsy hit Kevin Kasper in the right flat for a seven-yard score that put the Lions up 27-26 with 1:59 remaining, Bengals third-string quarterback Jeff Rowe drove the Bengals 51 yards to the Detroit 30 with no timeouts remaining. After a seven-yard pass to Skyler Green put the ball on the Lions 30, Rowe spiked the ball to stop the clock with one second remaining.
Shayne Graham, who was a perfect 4-for-4 on field goals up to that point in the game, missed a 47-yard attempt wide left as time ran out.
"You couldn't have asked for a better situation," Graham said. "It would have been a great way to pay the fans back with the way last year ended. But I just didn't hit it the way I wanted. Just a couple inches to the left. The snap was perfect, everything was perfect, I just didn't hit it."
Things started to unravel for the Bengals when Orlovsky engineered the Lions inside the Bengals 10 with less than three minutes remaining. The Bengals defense stiffened and forced a 25-yard field goal by Kenny Byrd that cut the Cincinnati lead to 26-20.
On the ensuing kickoff, Detroit tried on onside kick that went right though Bengals wide receiver Jesse Holley's hands and was recovered by Detroit at the Cincinnati 37.
Two plays later, Orlovsy hit Kasper in the right flat for the score that put the Lions up 27-26.
"We got in a lot of good work, a lot of things happened in the game. We have to finish," Bengals Head Coach Marvin Lewis said. "(The rookies) found out what it's like to play in the NFL. The guys who are going to play a lot, they only gave up one big play."
When asked if there would be a sting to this loss with the way his team lost, Lewis said, "It doesn't hurt at all."
Earlier in the fourth quarter it appeared the Bengals had sealed the win when 310-pound rookie defensive tackle Matt Toeaina went 81 yards for a touchdown rumble off ubiquitous linebacker Andre Frazier's deflected pass of Orlovsky that gave the Bengals a 16-point lead.
Rookie RB leaves game
The one moment of true angst came earlier in the game when rookie running back Kenny Irons limped off the field on his left ankle after a seven-yard run and was then carted from the sidelines with unspecified left knee and ankle injuries after picking up 17 yards on four carries.
Lewis told reporters after the game it's a significant knee injury and there will an MRI tomorrow. The fear of course, is that Irons may have suffered a season-ending anterior cruciate injury.
When Irons went down it conjured up memories of Ki-Jana Carter's injury on his third carry as a Bengal in his first game at Detroit 12 years ago. Irons got hurt on his fourth carry.
But there were other concerns, too, as well as some bright spots in what can only be classified as a classic opener. The Bengals first offense had some fits and starts and is still looking for its first touchdown of the season and the love of head coach Marvin Lewis. The same could be said for the rest of offensive crew because the only guy that scored a touchdown in the first three quarters—wide receiver Chris Henry on a nine-yard pass from backup quarterback Doug Johnson—won't play in the first eight games of the season.
The offense did do enough to take a 6-0 lead on field goals of 23 and 48 yards from Graham and Green's 37-yard punt return set up Graham's 47-yarder with about seven minutes left in the first half.
But not enough for Lewis.
"We've got to keep working hard in the red zone on both sides of the ball," Lewis said at the half. "We hold them (out of the end zone) at the end but we didn't get touchdowns in the first quarter when we had a chance. It's crucial we perform well in this area.
"I was pleased with our special teams play. The effort and execution were both there. I'm most displeased with the pre-snap penalties we had on offense."
That's what killed the Bengals on a drive late in the third quarter that no doubt would have secured their sixth straight preseason victory dating back to Sept. 2, 2005. The newest Bengal, running back Curtis Brown, scored on a four-yard run the first time he touched the ball but it was called back on rookie center Dan Santucci's holding call. When wide receiver Reggie McNeal committed a false start, the Bengals needed Graham's fourth field goal, a 39-yarder in the last minute of the third quarter that made it 19-10.
To say the Bengals defensive rookies had an adventurous debut is a huge understatement. Even before Toeaina's heroics.
The young secondary got fried with 6:30 left in the half with rookie cornerback Leon Hall and rookie safety Marvin White on the field. Lions wide receiver Shaun McDonald was all by himself deep down the middle for an 83-yard touchdown catch from quarterback J.T. O'Sullivan that cut the Bengals lead to 9-7.
White got it back almost right away when he outfought tight end Darnell Sanders on a pass over the middle and got up with the interception of O'Sullivan at the Lions 23. The Bengals scored four plays later when Doug Johnson hit Henry for a nine-yard touchdown on a sideline route in which he beat linebacker Alex Lewis to the pylon for the 16-7 lead with 1:08 left in the half.
But O'Sullivan had his way with the Bengals, finishing the half 7-of-13 for 167 yards and he brought the Lions back again, picking on Hall against the ballyhooed receiver Calvin Johnson in a battle of first-round picks. O'Sullivan hit Johnson for consecutive passes of 24 and 21 yards (the second was a great leaping catch over the middle), and then Hall couldn't get to a 24-yard completion to McDonald.
But Hall (he shielded Johnson off in the end zone) and everyone else bucked up from the Bengals 11 and forced Jason Hanson's 29-yard field goal with eight seconds left.
Carson Palmer hit seven of his first eight passes, but his last two throws of the night were a misfire to Chad Johnson at about the Detroit 10 and a botched screen pass that fell incomplete. Johnson had a night like his unit. The classic car is running, but it needs some more tuneups. He did catch two balls for 40 yards, but he also had a false start and stepped out of bounds on what would have been a completion.
"Marvin said it best. We want to win whatever we do, whether it's preseason or not, whether it's practice or not, you want to win," Palmer said. "The good thing is it doesn't count against our record and we can put it behind us."
The Bengals are quite serious about sprucing up their running game and on their second drive they got a first down when running back Rudi Johnson converted a third-and-three on a three-yard run up the middle.
Henry, working as the third receiver with the first group even though he's suspended for the eight games, caught an eight-yard out before Johnson got wide open under a zone for a 22-yard gain.
But a false start on left tackle Andrew Whitworth and the two incomplete passes resulted in Graham's 48-yarder that made it 6-0 with 3:09 left in the first quarter, an example of Lewis' ire at the pre-snap sloppiness.
Still, Palmer had been seven of eight until that point and finished 7-of-10 for 93 yards and a 99 passer rating. Rudi Johnson looked in midseason form with 32 yards on five carries.
On the first three plays of the season, Rudi Johnson broke a 20-yard run to the outside behind the block of Whitworth. Palmer then zipped an 18-yard completion to Chad Johnson and threw a 30-yard pass to wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh off play-action to put the ball on the Detroit 13.
But the Bengals couldn't get into the end zone on third down as Palmer got some heat from the left side and had to get rid of it short to Houshmandzadeh.
The Bengals defense then gave up some big plays early and late in the half, like an 11-yard run by Tatum Bell and a 23-yard catch by wide receiver Roy Williams in a zone on the first series. But end Justin Smith went inside a stunt with linebacker Rashad Jeanty and sacked quarterback Jon Kitna to force a punt. Kitna's second and last drive also ended in pressure when defensive end Bryan Robinson batted down a pass.
Later, backup defensive tackle Michael Myers forced an intentional grounding call and rookie safety Chinedum Ndukwe cut down 250-pound running back T.J. Duckett on the Lions 10 to stet up the punt that resulted in Green's return to the Lions 21.
But Doug Johnson, who finished 11-for-20 passing for 150 yards, went backward for minus eight yards, seven coming when defensive end Corey Smith slapped the ball out of his hand.
Safety Madieu Williams led the Bengals with three tackles in the half.
Defensive tackle Jonathan Fanene left the game in third quarter with muscle cramps and wasn't supposed to return.
And then there was Toeaina, the sixth-rounder from Oregon, going all the way. He had a Halloween escort with black and orange all over the place as cornerback T.J. White roared up the sidelines and threw a hellacious block while linebacker Matt Muncy warded off Orlovsky.
Frazier, the third-year linebacker, has been everywhere this preseason. In the third quarter, with help from a big hit by linebacker Eric Henderson on the two-yard line on the hulking Duckett, he stripped the ball out of Duckett's hands and the Lions touchdown was reversed when the Bengals challenged.
More adventure for the rookies. Ndukwe scooped up the fumble in the end zone.
They chatted a bit in between, some of which were Palmer's tosses to Chad Johnson and Johnson looked like he was suffering no ill effects of the ankle he sprained this past Monday in practice and he wasn't one of head coach Marvin Lewis' 19 pregame scratches.
The latest injury to surface came about 45 minutes before game time when it was announced that backup safety John Busing was out with an undisclosed ailment.
The Bengals had more than double what was on the Lions inactive list. Detroit sat eight players, including running back Kevin Jones, defensive tackle Shaun Rogers, and defensive end Dewayne White.
Bengals wide receiver Bennie Brazell has recovered sufficiently enough from his groin problem to be up, but not so the other three leading No. 3 receiver candidates in Tab Perry (hip), Antonio Chatman and Glenn Holt (hamstrings). Perry did practice Tuesday and is expected to go when the Bengals return to practice Saturday.
The 18 include linebacker David Pollack (neck) and running back Chris Perry (ankle), who haven't been on the campus of Georgetown College, as well as players who haven't practiced yet in tackles Willie Anderson (foot) and Levi Jones (knee), fullback Jeremi Johnson (groin, hamstring), cornerback Blue Adams (neck) and USFL product Jimmy Verdon, a defensive end.
Starting cornerback Johnathan Joseph looks like he's close to returning from the small broken bone in his foot that he suffered on June 2 at minicamp, but while he goes through the process of checking with his South Carolina surgeon, Keiwan Ratliff starts in his place at right corner.
Chris Manderino gets the starting nod at fullback in place of Jeremi Johnson while Andrew Whitworth and Scott Kooistra start at left and right tackle, respectively.
Also down for the Bengals are the three tight ends they lost in practice last week, as well as backups at fullback, Stan White (ankle), tackle Adam Kieft (foot), and defensive end Frostee Rucker (leg).
The most interesting guy to watch has to be Sklyer Green, the second-year wide receiver who played two games last season for Dallas after the Cowboys drafted him in the fourth round and before the Bengals took him off the practice squad in December. Not only will he be getting a slew of snaps at receiver with Brazell and Reggie McNeal, but he's the only punt returner the Bengals have against the Lions. He'll also return kicks, along with McNeal and rookie running back Kenny Irons.
The Bengals defense, dressed in white jerseys and black pants, came out as a unit instead of announcing its starters individually. One of the Lions starters was right cornerback Stanley Wilson in his third year out of Stanford, son of former Bengals fullback Stanley Wilson. The Bengals game captains were tight end Reggie Kelly and linebackers Landon Johnson and Caleb Miller.
The Bengals won the toss and sent Green and Irons back to receive.