ATLANTA --Jake Browning led a go-ahead drive that featured five Bengals rookies touching the ball finished off by a Chase Brown plunge into the end zone with under a minute left, before a Falcons field goal at the gun sealed a 13-13 tie Friday night at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
The Bengals got a big night from their rookie wide receivers, capped by an 18-yard grab by Andrei Iosivas that set up a first and goal with Brown's touchdown scored two plays later. Cincinnati's offense, which had gone 21 possessions without finding the end zone, finally got in for six on perhaps the cleanest drive of the preseason. Iosivas, a sixth-round pick out of Princeton, led the way on Friday with five catches for 44 yards.
Atlanta answered with a six-play, 53-yard sprint into field goal range that started with a 19-yard completion to Xavier Malone followed by a 25-yarder to John FitzPatrick. Younghoe Koo knocked through his second field goal of the night with two ticks remaining to seal the draw as the Bengals now turn to their preseason finale next Saturday at Washington.
The kid wideouts came up clutch late in the first half as well, with Iosivas and fourth-rounder Charlie Jones both contributing to a speedy four-play possession that set up an Evan McPherson 50-yard field goal at the buzzer. That drive was piloted by Trevor Siemian, who finished seven of 14 for 62 yards after hitting his first four passes
Staring at a nothing first half on third-and-10 from their own 47 with 16 seconds left, Jones (four catches for 36 yards) cleverly boxed-out cornerback Clark Phillips III on the sidelines for 11 yards and then Siemian ripped a 10-yarder over the middle to Iosivas. McPherson then drilled his kick to tie it at three at the half for his second 50-yarder of the preseason.
He improved to 6-for-6 for the summer after he hit a 38-yarder to end the last play of the first drive in the second half to give the Bengals a 6-3 lead.
It was a good first half for the men of specials teams coordinator Darrin Simmons. Rookie Brad Robbins punted 52 yards out of his own end zone. On his first punt of the season, Drue Chrisman hit a 40-yarder that pinned the Falcons at their eight. Running back Chris Evans ripped off a 35-yard kick return.
The Bengals' first defense got the best of both worlds. They got plenty of work to take them into the Sept. 10 regular-season opener in Cleveland.
It took them 15 plays, but they got the play they preach endlessly down there on the goal line. And it looked like it came right out of the defense's dominating red zone lockout drill from this training camp. Slot cornerback Mike Hilton, as he has all summer, was the instigator. On third-and-six, the pride of the pride of the University of Cincinnati and Zac Taylor recruit, Falcons quarterback Desmond Ridder, went for wide receiver Scotty Miller and Hilton, a Greater Atlanta-area product was all over him at the 5. He knocked the ball high in the air and defensive end Joseph Ossai grabbed it at the 3.
The Falcons rolled up 103 yards on the drive, but suffered 38 yards in penalties. There were some missed tackles, one on rookie running back Bijan Robinson's 12-yard run and cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt couldn't corral Mack Hollins on the sideline for a ten-yard gain. And they got a good rush on Ridder in the red zone, but he scrambled for a first down before Pro Bowl guard Chris Lindstrom suffered his second holding call of the drive. It was a theme of the first half with the Falcons racking up 10 penalties for 62 yards.
The Bengals unsuccessfully challenged a third-and-12 play, where rookie cornerback DJ Turner had pretty decent sideline coverage on 2022 first-rounder Drake London. But the 6-4 London snatched it from the 5-11 Turner.
The Bengals came out crisper offensively than last week with Siemian hitting those first four passes for 41 yards, including another good route by wide receiver Trenton Irwin for 14 yards, and on his return from an injury that wiped all but all of last season, tight end Drew Sample was wide open for a 13-yard catch on a rollout.
But old friend Jessie Bates III, the new Falcons safety came up to drop rookie wide receiver Andrei Iosivas two yards shy of a first down at the Falcons 23, the last play of a quarter consumed by the first drive of each offense.
On the first play of the second quarter on fourth-and-two, Siemian went for it all on a go route to Irwin to the front right pylon and Irwin never got a chance to jump for the ball as he looked for pass interference call on cornerback Dee Alford.
With the plan to play the offensive starters shelved when quarterback Joe Burrow got hurt, the coaches went to work on firming up the back-up offensive line's depth chart. The only offensive starter who did play, Jonah Williams, no doubt got the call because this is the first time he's playing right tackle in his career and he's also coming back from offseason surgery for a dislocated kneecap. And his main competition, Jackson Carman, got the start at left tackle as the Bengals could be on the hunt for the first tackle off the bench.
Carman, a left tackle at perennial playoff power Clemson, filled the backup role last year and played for Williams in the final two playoff games when Williams went down in the AFC Wild Card.
Backup guard Max Scharping, playing center for the first time in his life, got the start against the Falcons looking to improve on last week's understandable up-and-down debut. Trey Hill, the incumbent backup center, got the nod at left guard and Cody Ford, after drawing praise from the coaches in his Bengals debut last week, lined up right guard.
If the Bengals keep only nine offensive linemen, those are the key guys in the scrum because all three of them may not be able to make it. Although the Bengals originally signed Ford in free agency as a backup tackle, they've been impressed with his play at guard. There has been no indication they were going to play him at tackle Friday, but he does give them guard-tackle flexibility.
Williams and Sample were the only offensive regulars used Friday night.
On the first series of the second half, Scharping went back to guard and Hill went back to center and it was the Shed Jackson show with Jake Browning checking in at quarterback. Jackson, an undrafted rookie wide receiver from Auburn gunning for a practice squad spot, had a 26-yard catch-and-run negated on what amounted to a Charlie Jones pick, but Jackson came back to convert a third-and-eight on a nine-yard catch and then drew a 30-yard pass interference penalty.
And Browning showed his scrambling ability on third-and-four when he went for 12. On another third down he had Iosivas on a jump go ball in the left corner of the end zone, but it was slightly underthrown and went off the helmet of cornerback Natrone Brooks.
The Bengals didn't allow a sack until early in the fourth quarter, when it came right up the middle, and it basically ended a promising drive with the Falcons leading, 10-6. Browning hit 10 of his first 13 passes for 97 yards and ran for 17 more as the game went into the middle of the fourth quarter. Jones and Iosivas were big again. Jones converted a third-and-seven on the sidelines for a ten-yard catch and on third-and-11 Iosivas muscled a 16-yard catch even though Natrone Brooks was called for pass interference. Jones also had an 11-yard catch called back on a hold on Carman.
On fourth-and-three from the Falcons 28, Browning's passing to tight end Devin Asiasi was a yard short.
With 5:35 left in the game, Browning got chased out of the pocket and when he threw on the run his sidearm was picked off at the Bengals 42 by rookie safety Demarcco Hellams.