ATLANTA — For the second straight week the Bengals flexed their depth in the second half and took a 24-19 win over the Falcons on Thursday night at the Georgia Dome.
With 5:46 left in the game rookie running back Jourdan Brooks's one-yard touchdown run gave the Bengals a 24-13 lead. The play was set up when rookie wide receiver Marvin Jones drew a 20-yard pass interference call in the end zone.
Atlanta narrowed the deficit to 24-19 with 2:03 remaining on a seven-yard touchdown pass from Dominique Davis to LaMark Brown, but the two-point coversion failed. After Atlanta forced a Cincinnati punt, the Falcons drove to the Bengals 26, but a fourth-down pass was incomplete and the Bengals moved to 2-0 on the preseason.
Fellow rookie receiver Mohamed Sanu caught a 12-yard touchdown pass from backup quarterback Bruce Gradkowski on the first drive of the second half to give the Bengals a 17-13 lead as their first two quarterbacks finished with triple-digit passer ratings.
No. 3 quarterback Zac Robinson tried to make it three and had a 97.5 on 6-of-9 passing for 86 yards that included a 20-yarder to rookie tight end Orson Charles.
The Bengals are 2-0 in the preseason for the first time since going 4-0 in 2006.
Safety Jeromy Miles preserved the lead when he picked off Falcons backup quarterback Chris Redman in the end zone late in the third quarter. But the Bengals couldn't take advantage of rookie receiver Marvin Jones's second 40-plus-yard catch in as many games when his 42-yarder from Robinson set up Thomas Weber's 47-yard field-goal attempt that was wide right for his second miss this preseason.
After two sluggish drives, Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton unleashed three third-down darts and the last one was a 50-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver A.J. Green that gave the Bengals a short-lived 10-3 lead midway through the second quarter.
But the Falcons offense dominated the final 10:38 of the half and Atlanta took a 13-10 halftime lead on Matt Bryant's 22-yard field goal with 1:15 left in the quarter.
Another preseason game. Another knee injury.
This time it was Pro Bowl tight end Jermaine Gresham leaving the game after his 25-yard catch-and-run set up Mike Nugent's 54-yard field goal to give the Bengals a 3-0 lead with 2:03 left in the first quarter.
After three starters left Friday night's opener, indications were Gresham's injury wasn't serious because he was sitting on the bench with no ice pack for the rest of the half.
Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan lit up the Bengals in his 20 minutes of work and drove his team 88 yards with a variety of big throws to his wide receivers before a two-yard touchdown pass to fullback Lousaka Polite beating SAM backer Manny Lawson made it 10-10 with 5:49 left in the half.
That was it for the red-hot Ryan after he finished 18-of-21 for 174 yards a rating of 117.1.
Then with the aid of Bengals cornerback Terence Newman's tipped pass from Redman that went for a 23-yard completion to wide receiver Harry Douglass, the Falcons were able to get the go-ahead field goal.
When Dalton went out after his TD pass, it got ugly for the Bengals at the end of the half even though the first offensive line was in there with Gradkowski. In two series they had just six plays with Cedric Peerman rushing twice for minus-three yards and Gradkowski never looked downfield on four passes, completing three for five yards. One was for a loss and one was for no gain.
Gradkowski did finish 4-of-6 for 17 yards for a 107.9 rating jacked by the TD to Sanu.
Ryan hit his first 11 passes although the Bengals did a good job of making him check it down until the big drive. They forced a field goal when the Falcons had it on the Bengals 5, thanks to right end Michael Johnson's pressure on second down and rookie middle linebacker Vontaze Burfict's coverage of tight end Tony Gonzalez on third down.
Burfict undercut the route and Ryan had to get rid of it at an angle that Gonzalez couldn't grab it, forcing Bryant's 20-yard field goal that tied at 3 early in the second quarter.
Burfict left the game soon after when he was hit in the head and it looked a hit by safety Taylor Mays took out a teammate for the second straight week. Last week Mays was involved in the scrum in which middle linebacker Rey Maualuga sprained his knee.
Ryan opened it up on the 88-yard drive working against primarily the first defense. He jammed it in to wide receiver Julio Jones for a 15-yard gain and then looked off Newman and seemed to fool him on a 16-yard play. Jones then knifed inside cornerback Nate Clements for a 23-yard gain that put the ball on the 2 to set up Ryan's touchdown pass.
Dalton, who finished 8-of-14 for 125 yards and a 110.7 passer rating, saved his best for his third and last drive. On third-and-seven he threaded the ball over the middle to tight end Donald Lee for a 22-yard gain down the seam, and on third-and-6 he beat the blitz with a quick six-yard throw to wide receiver Brandon Tate standing at the stick.
It was far from a smooth drive. Left tackle Andrew Whitworth had a rare hard time with right end John Abraham and fullback Chris Pressley flinched on a false start. But Dalton and Green took care of that on third-and-15 from the 50.
Green, who flogged himself for dropping a touchdown pass Friday night, screwed cornerback Asante Samuel into the ground with a double move down the right sideline and Dalton put right there with 10:32 left in the first half for a 10-3 lead.
Dalton, who doesn't say much, didn't blink at halftime when he took a shot at the critics questioning his arm strength.
"My arm feels great, and you can tell everybody that it's not even close to what I've got if I need it," Dalton said. "On the play before, the corner sat on the route. So we came back and put a double-move on, and A.J. wound up singled up, and I just gave him a chance to get the ball."
Green caught two balls for 59 yards, but he was the only wide receiver to have a catch longer than six yards in the first half. Running backs Brian Leonard and Cedric Peerman each had a fumble in the half and Leonard lost his.
"I was generally pleased with the way we played our offense," said head coach Marvin Lewis at halftime. "Our execution was crisp overall, and of course the pass from Andy to A.J. was good. But, of course, we had the two dropped balls. You can never let that get into your program. Defensively, we got a couple of tipped balls, which was good, but you've got to come down with those and get the turnovers."
At the start of the play he got hurt, Gresham beat outside linebacker Sean Weatherspoon in coverage, shook his tackle, and then made cornerback Darrin Walls miss in the open field before he hurt the knee at the end of the 25-yard play.
Before the bomb to Green, Dalton struggled with his deep ball accuracy on the first two drives. He double-clutched on an incompletion to Green on the sidelines and on the snap before Mike Nugent's 54-yard field goal from the Atlanta 36, Dalton had Green open in the end zone but he was a little late with the throw and Green ran out of room in the back of the end zone.
If the game counted, it would have tied Nugent's career long.
"It felt great—a good, solid, straight hit—but the best thing was the whole operation by the unit," Nugent said. "Perfect snap, great hold, good protection. When it's like that, all I have to do is kick it."
Last week Ryan led a touchdown drive on his first possession against Baltimore with 5-for-5 passing and on Thursday against the Bengals he hit his first 11. But the Bengals got him off the field for two straight punts to start the game.
On the first drive the Bengals forced him to check down and on third-and-five middle linebacker Roddrick Muckelroy and safety Reggie Nelson stopped Gonzalez a yard shy of the first down.
The Bengals offense came out slowly. They dropped back on the first three snaps and on third-and-one Dalton couldn't find anyone open and when he threw it away, the Falcons were called for roughing the passer.
But on the next snap the Bengals suffered their first turnover of the year when safety William Moore swiped the ball from Leonard at the end of his seven-yard run into the open field at the Bengals 48.
So more defense. Ryan couldn't get a first down after the turnover. Defensive tackle Domata Peko teamed with Lawson to drop running back Michael Turner for a one-yard loss and on third down rookie tackle Devon Still and left end Jamaal Anderson flushed Ryan from the pocket. He only had time to dump it to running back Jacquizz Rodgers and Nelson unloaded on him for a seven-yard loss to force the second straight punt.
The second half was reserved for reserve questions. Tackles Anthony Collins and Dennis Roland took turns playing left guard while right guard Otis Hudson took a false start but looked to play pretty aggressively, and defensive end Dontay Moch and tackle Nick Hayden combined for a sack.
INJURIES: Lewis's injury list contained few surprises.
All three players who hurt their right knees in Friday night's opening win over the Jets were out, led by left guard Travelle Wharton's torn ACL.
With middle linebacker Ray Maualuga (sprained MCL) saying he'll be back for next week's game against the Packers at Paul Brown Stadium and left end Carlos Dunlap out for four weeks, Roddrick Muckelroy got the start in place of Maualuga and Jamaal Anderson got the nod at left end. Clint Boling gets his first NFL start at left guard about a half-hour drive from his hometown of Alpharetta, Ga.
The list of injured: left guard Travelle Wharton (knee), middle linebacker Rey Maualuga (knee), cornerback Brandon Ghee (wrist), cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick (leg), cornerback Adam Jones (muscle pull), cornerback Jason Allen (muscle pull), left end Robert Geathers (knee), left end Carlos Dunlap (knee), defensive tackle Pat Sims (leg), running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis (foot), running back Bernard Scott (hand), wide receiver Ryan Whalen (hamstring), cornerback Shaun Prater (knee) and safety Tony Dye (foot).
Strong safety Taylor Mays suffered a concussion Friday night, but was cleared in time to practice and started.
Kirkpatrick, the Bengals first-round pick who hasn't worked this training camp because of a bone spur around the knee, looked to have a rigorous pregame workout while covering Whalen. With the club hopeful Sims is going to get back to practice before the Green Bay game, it could also be close to getting Kirkpatrick back. There seems to be some hope he'll be able to play in the Aug. 30 preseason finale in Indianapolis.
OFFICIALLY SPEAKING: Four of the seven replacement officials working Thursday were in one of their first pro games. The three with pro experience were umpire Mike Hannon, head linesman Ed Schmid, and line judge A.J. Thomas.
Referee Robert Dalton came in with 11 years of experience in Division II college football while back judge Peter Shafer had the most experience with 18 years in all three divisions. Field judge Keith Norman came in with four years of experience in Divisions I and II and side judge Barry Wilson had six years in Division III.
Hannon has a year of experience in Division II and III and Schmid has two years in Division I and III. Thomas has worked 14 years in other pro leagues.
CAPTAINS: With a nod to his University of Georgia products A,J. Green and Geno Atkins, Lewis made them game captains along with Reggie Nelson, Dan Skuta and Kyle Cook.