It took the Bengals' fifth drive of the game, but it was worth the wait Friday night at Paul Brown Stadium as they took a 7-6 halftime lead on the Eagles on the strength of new big-play people Terrell Owens and Adams Jones.
Then taking a page from last season, the Bengals were able to ride their defense to a 22-9 victory before 55,702 after running back Cedric Peerman ran for two fourth-quarter touchdowns en route to 47 yards on 12 carries. The defense fittingly set up the final score when cornerback Morgan Trent came up with his second interception of the night and moments later Peerman high-jumped for a one-yard touchdown run with 3:14 left.
Even more fittingly, Trent finished the night with his third pick of the game with 1:17 left.
Earlier in the quarter, Peerman busted over right tackle and veered outside to run away from the field for a 22-yard touchdown run with 11:41 left in the game. When he converted a draw play with another explosive run up the middle for the two-point conversion, the Bengals had overcome a 9-7 lead carved when the Eagles' David Akers hit his third field goal with two seconds left in the third quarter.
The Bengals struck first on the night midway through the first half when one snap after cornerback Adam Jones reversed field for a 22-yard punt return, Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer unleashed his longest pass of the season on a 43-yarder down the right sideline over the right shoulder of Owens racing past cornerback Joselio Hanson to put the ball on the Eagles 6. Then on the next snap, with right tackle Andre Smith playing his first series, running back Bernard Scott swept right and cut back inside for the touchdown with 8:44 left in the half.
"That's what they brought me for here, right?" Owens asked. "Deep threat. Beat your guy, get down the field, make the catch. We've got it all in our arsenal. The coaches just have to call the plays for us and we've got to make the plays.
"We're doing OK. It's preseason and we're getting it together. But we've got to execute much better overall. Too many mistakes."
Meanwhile, the Bengals first-team defense rose up for its finest effort of the season. They started out with back-to-back three-and-outs to open the game and then a recovered a fumble by defensive end Jon Fanene. When the Eagles did score, on a 40-yard field goal by Akers with 5:49 left in the first half and then a 25-yarder with 43 seconds left in the half, it was against primarily the second defense.
The rest of the defense wasn't bad, either, with the Eagles converting just two of 15 third-down tries.
The Bengals did a dodge a bullet when a touchdown pass from Eagles quarterback Kevin Kolb gave the Eagles a 10-7 lead late in the half, but it was erased when left tackle Jason Peters was called for illegal formation.
The Bengals lost a starter in that drive when Gibril Wilson left under his own power with a knee injury and was deemed doubtful to return. They gave the Eagles just 167 yards and allowed them just one first down on seven third-down tries. Philadelphia rushed for just 41 yards while Kolb hit 11 of 17 passes for 126 yards.
Adam Jones was clearly the Bengals first-half MVP. He returned all three punts in the half and after the Eagles cut it to 7-6, he brought the fans to their feet with a 40-yard kick return courtesy of one cut left and another cut right.
But other than that, the Bengals' first offense continued to sputter with no consistency or pace. Unable to take advantage of Jones' kick return, the last drive was a prime example. Palmer's bid to give a pass to running back Cedric Benson so he could get out of bounds went awry when Benson got dumped inbounds.
Mike Nugent finally got his chance, if you want to call it that at the end of the half. His 59-yarder was pulled left and short, but he showed no signs of aggravating his groin problem.
The Bengals have yet to score a point in the first quarter in their preseason games and the closest they could come on their first four drives was a 52-yard field goal try by Nugent. But for the second straight game Nugent lost a chance to kick a field goal because of a penalty when guard Nate Livings moved before the snap with about 11 minutes left in the second quarter.
Same old story. The Bengals were in that situation because center Kyle Cook was called for a hold on Benson's five-yard run on first down. Then on second-and-20 Eagles right end Trent Cole blew through the Bengals left side and forced Palmer into an incompletion when he put him on his back.
The Bengals had seven flags thrown on them in the game's first 19 minutes and five were accepted. Palmer finished the night 15-of-23 for 169 yards, but two interceptions dragged his rating to 50.8. The Bengals couldn't run it consistently with Benson getting 30 yards on 10 carries.
"The positives were that we were able to get a lot of play in for some key guys and that the defense stepped up," said head coach Marvin Lewis at the half. "The defense stopped them a couple of times on a short field, and that was encouraging. And some key guys got in some good work, and nobody got hurt.
"But we've got to clean up the miscues. We're still having way too many mistakes and penalties, and it's setting us back."
After 19 penalties in the first two games, the Bengals added six more for 45 yards in the first half and finished the game with 10 for 75.
The second three-and-out bailed out the Bengals offense after it suffered Palmer's first interception of the preseason. On a third-and-one from the Bengals 45, cornerback Leon Hall came downhill and defensive tackle Tank Johnson penetrated to stop running back LeSean McCoy.
After Benson picked up a pre-snap penalty when he moved too soon on the second drive, he got it back with a punishing 11-yard run that put the ball across midfield. But on the next play Palmer tried to hit wide receiver Chad Ochocinco at the Eagles 30, but cornerback Dimitri Patterson stepped in front of The Ocho for an easy pick and Palmer immediately went up to The Ocho to commiserate about the route.
The Bengals got a first down on the first play of the game but then they went three-and-out on an ugly third-and-6.
Right tackle Dennis Roland was called for not being on the line, but Palmer's pass to rookie wide receiver Jordan Shipley was high and incomplete. The first down came when Palmer play-actioned on a naked rollout and hit Owens for a 12-yard gain on the sideline.
The Bengals defense then came up with its first three-and-out on a game's first drive. Cornerback Johnathan Joseph had wide receiver DeSean Jackson covered on a deep ball and then came up on third down to dump McCoy one yard shy of the first down when defensive end Frostee Rucker flushed out Kolb.
After the Bengals stoned the Eagles on a third-and-1, the offense could do nothing again on its third series. Rookie tight end Jermaine Gresham was split out wide and got a first down on a seven-yard pass, but nothing after that. Benson lost yardage on a swarming play over the left side and facing a third-and long Palmer went for The Ocho over the middle. It went high, glancing off his hands. If it was catchable, it would have been a great catch.
The Ocho did come back and made two leaping catches over the middle for 29 yards.
On Palmer's second pick late in the half, The Ocho got drilled by middle linebacker Stewart Bradley over the middle on a short pass where Bradley seemed to hit his helmet on The Ocho's, but there was no helmet-to-helmet call. The ball popped loose out of The Ocho's chest and bounced to safety Quintin Mikell at the Bengals 42.
The theme kept going into the second half, when the Bengals corralled backup quarterback Michael Vick for three sacks in the third quarter. Rookie defensive tackle Geno Atkins continued his preseason rampage. He picked up another sack to give him 3.5 in three games and his hit on Vick set up safety Kyries Hebert's diving interception. On the first snap of the second half, Michael Johnson dropped into coverage and helped Trent pick off Vick at the Eagles 17.
But the offense stalled and Dave Rayner missed a 34-yard field goal left.
While the defense rolled (rookie defensive end Carlos Dunlap added a sack, as did linebacker Brandon Johnson), the Bengals were trying to get their offensive line in order. Andre Smith, called for holding late in the first half, got bull-rushed on one sack of Bengals backup quarterback J.T. O'Sullivan and looked to struggle on another set against end Brandon Graham, the Eagles No. 1 pick.
But it was Smith's first action after just two practices as he coped with foot and conditioning problems. He came out in the middle of the third quarter when the Bengals moved rookie right guard Isaac Sowells out to right tackle.
Wide receiver Quan Cosby didn't get a chance to return punts until the second half, but again he wasted no time. He returned a kickoff 41 yards a week after he returned a punt for 43.
PREGAME NOTES: With the Bengals thin at tackle, Andre Smith was in uniform Friday night despite getting on the field for the first time this week since the end of last season and is expected to play behind starting right tackle Dennis Roland. That could happen as soon as the second quarter with Roland slated to also play some left tackle.
Backup tackles Anthony Collins (foot) and Andrew Mitchell knee were scratched for the Bengals' third preseason game pitting them against the Eagles.
Also out were starting defensive ends, Robert Geathers (foot) on the left and Antwan Odom (knee) on the right. Jon Fanene got the start in place of Geathers while Frostee Rucker lined up on the right. With head coach Marvin Lewis scheduled to announce the defensive starters, Fanene and Rucker joined a group that had the rest of the starters in place in their ensemble of black jerseys and white pants.
On offense, fullback Fui Vakapuna (shoulder) and wide receiver Antonio Bryant (knee) were again iced and replaced by Joe Tronzo and Terrell Owens, respectively. The offense also didn't have wide receiver Maurice Purify (knee tendinitis) and running back Brian Leonard (foot).
The defense was missing linebacker and fullback Dan Skuta (ankle), as well as two other backup linebackers in Abdul Hodge (toe) and Roddrick Muckelroy. That left only Michael Johnson, Brandon Johnson and Vincent Rey as backups, and rookie Joe Tronzo as the only fullback.
Owens wandered across the 50-yard line during warmups to say hello to some of his old mates from Philly.
For his captains, Lewis sent out only four in Brandon Johnson, running back Cedric Benson, defensive tackle Tank Johnson, and safety Chris Crocker. For the first time this preseason, the Bengals won the toss and got the ball.