KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Zac Taylor’s first drive as Bengals head coach and play caller couldn’t have been scripted any better in Saturday night’s pre-season opener, but the Chiefs stole everyone else’s lines the rest of the way when their legion of zoom offense sped past Cincinnati 38-17.
Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton took the opening kickoff and behind superb pass protection converted all three third downs on a 14-play sojourn through Arrowhead Stadium that ended in rookie running back Trayveon Williams’ one-yard touchdown run 7:15 into the game for a 7-0 lead.
“They did a good job overcoming adversity,” Taylor said. “They were behind the sticks a couple of times with penalties and third-and-longs, but they kept charging ahead. Guys stepped up and made plays, and that’s what we really haven’t had since. We need guys to step up and attack.”
The Bengals offense wouldn’t surface again until rookie quarterback Ryan Finley relieved back-up Jeff Driskel in the middle of the third quarter and promptly hit his first 10 passes. On a 10-yard touchdown flip to rookie running back Jordan Ellis sneaking out of the backfield untouched, Finley showed great poise holding on to the ball in the pocket before finding Ellis on his back side. That made it 31-17 with 11:22 left in the game and gave Finley a line of 12 of 13 for 100 yards and a 124.4 passer rating.
The Bengals’ first two defensive units also took shots from the Chiefs in the first half, first by resident magic man Patrick Mahomes and then by rookie quarterback Kyle Shurmur as the Chiefs rolled up 213 yards on their way to a 17-7 half-time lead that expanded to 24-10 into the third quarter.
“We need to finish plays and tackle better. We did a solid job in the run game, but overall it was not good enough,” said defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo.
The Bengals were victims of the new “NFC Championship Game rule,” when in the last two minutes of the half any pass can be reviewed (making the four-hour game reality) and that’s how with 1:53 left safety Brandon Wilson’s interception was wiped out by cornerback Tony Lippett’s 30-yard interference penalty. That turned into Harrison Butker’s 35-yard to make it 17-7 with 50 seconds left in the half.
Then the Bengals couldn’t capitalize on cornerback Darius Phillips’ 40-yard kick return when their back-up offensive line gave up back-to-back sacks, one on a blitz and one when left tackle Justin Evans got beat. Driskel even got chased on the Hail Mary Play and he couldn’t get enough on it as he ran away from the rush and it got picked off.
Phillips had no time to savor the moment. The return sandwiched two of his dropped punts. He got one back in the first half, but lost one after the first series of the second half and it turned into a Chiefs touchdown that made it 24-7 early in the third quarter.
The defense also lost back-up safety Clayton Fejedelem, their first alternate Pro Bowl special teamer with an ankle in that first half.
Dalton, looking in command of his new scheme by hitting seven of nine passes for 80 yards, overcame a bevy of that adversity Taylor talked about for the score:
- It appeared wide receiver Tyler Boyd fumbled away Dalton’s first completion of the season a quick flip over the middle, but the refs ruled Boyd dropped it.
- On the play after Dalton converted a third down to Boyd on a 10-yard arrow over the middle, left guard John Jerry was called for a hold on a sweep. But they converted on third when Dalton hit Malone on a nice sideline route when Malone beat cornerback Charvarius Ward for a 10-yard gain.
- Malone got behind cornerback Brashaud Breeland at the Chiefs 5 on first-down play-action throw, but Dalton underthrew it and it gave Breland time to recover and tip it away.
But Dalton found ways to live again. He converted another third down on a screen to Williams and his nifty 13-yard run was helped along by right guard John Miller running down field.
Then Dalton lofted a nice 26-yarder down field to wide receiver Auden Tate and he did what a 6-5 guy is supposed to do. Tate leaped to win the contested ball and wrenched it away from Ward at the Chiefs 1.
Williams then scored when he went behind Miller and center Billy Price before he later left with a bruised rib.
“It was a good start. We knew we were going to get only one series, so we wanted to take advantage of it,” Dalton said. “We overcame the potential turnover, converted third downs, and were able to punch it in. That’s how we wanted to start.”
When that first offensive unit went out, the Bengals struggled. Driskel went six of 13 for 54 yards and a 25 passer rating. After that first drive they rushed for 14 yards. Most of the eight penalties for 85 yards were on the offensive side. Jerry had two holds. Rookie tight end Drew Sample had a pass interference penalty and a false start. Malone, trying so desperately to find consistency, had a drop wide-open over the middle after his big third-down catch.
While the offense was plagued by penalties, the defense had trouble tackling in that first half.
On its first snap the defense lost Pro Bowl tight end Travis Kelce when he ran past safety Shawn Williams for 36 yards. Two plays later Williams and linebacker Jordan Evans lost tight end Blake Bell for 23 yards.
When left end Carlos Dunlap lined up offsides, that gave Mahomes three free throws from the Bengals 12 and he made them pay on a mind-blowing 10-yard scramble to set up running back Carlos Hyde’s tying one-yard touchdown.
Mahomes jetted out of the pocket on his scramble and headed to the sideline when nose tackle Andrew Billings’ dive didn’t get him and safety Jessie Bates III let him get away from the sideline for four more yards.
Even after Mahomes went back into his phone booth (or where ever Superman goes these days), the Chiefs got yards from Vanderbilt’s Shurmur and on that second drive he was aided by those missed tackles.
Rookie middle linebacker Germaine Pratt couldn’t finalize a run by Darrell Williams when he wriggled out of the grasp for an extra five yards. The Chiefs scored on Mecole Hardman’s 17-yard jet sweep to the right when linebacker Malik Jefferson got blocked on the edge and Brandon Wilson could get over in time as the Chiefs took a 14-7 lead with 11:45 left into the half.
Kevin Huber’s 50-yard punt pinned the Chiefs on the 2, but the second defense promptly allowed Kansas City to punch out, one on a 14-yard slant to Bell when he got in front of safety Trayvon Henderson and one on a 22-yard lob to tight end John Lovett, a rookie who was a quarterback at Princeton last season. Jefferson had coverage on him, but lost the ball.
Big plays kept leaking into the second half for the Bengals defense as they grappled with the K.C. speed. After Phillips’ botched punt return, it took quarterback Chase Litton just one play to find running back Darwin Thompson beating linebacker Hardy Nickerson out of the backfield over the middle and no one touched else touched him, either, on a 29-yard play that made it 24-7 about three minutes into the second half.
With Driskel still directing the offense, the Bengals cut the lead to 24-10 on rookie Tristan Vizcaino’s 47-yard field goal with about ten minutes left in the third quarter.
In the first half Taylor used all kinds of offensive line combos. Price centered the first and second line. Christian Westerman replaced Jerry at left guard. Veteran swingman Andre Smith played both right and left tackle. With that second group, Smith was teamed with rookie right guard Michael Jordan.
But the penalties kept them behind schedule and made the footing tough. In the middle of the third quarter they had just one more first down after Dalton’s drive.
Even Finley’s six-yard scramble, was wiped out by right tackle Kent Perkins’ hold. That gave them a total of 11 penalties for 115 yards early in the fourth quarter.
A killing portion of the game came in the punt return game. After Phillips dropped two, the Bengals put another punt on the deck when returner Quinton Flowers and cornerback Davontae Harris got tangled and the Chiefs recovered the fumble at the Bengals 35 to set up another touchdown when Brandon Wilson missed a tackle inside the five.
The Bengals return to action on Thursday, Aug. 15 for their second preseason game of 2019. It will be on the road again, this time against the Washington Redskins at 7:30 p.m. ET.