This orange-and-black chunk of the world seemed to be getting back closer to normal Friday night in downtown Cincinnati as the Bengals played the first game in Paycor Stadium.
Quarterback Joe Burrow ran and tossed a ball lightly during pregame warmups.
Free safety Jessie Bates III, who has yet to sign his franchise tender, let the world know he was attending the game in his suite.
Evan McPherson, the greatest rookie kicker in NFL history, is back to kicking 50-yarders and Who-Dey Nation saluted him by announcing it is back bigger and better than ever. The crowd of 60,760 snapped, crackled and popped even though it was a 36-23 loss to the NFC West Cardinals in a mere preseason opener.
McPherson, who set the record for most 50-yard field goals in a season last year that included a Bengals-record 58-yarder, pounded a 58-yarder and a 56-yarder in the first half and is getting used to the crowd.
Two weeks ago when the crowd came to a practice in the stadium, McPherson ended the festivities with a 65-yarder.
"It's kind of weird because, normally for a field goal, you just stay quiet and that's pretty much it, but it was really cool to see the crowd get involved," McPherson said. "It kind of brought me back to the 65-yarder at Back Together Saturday. The crowd cheering me on kind of gave me a little extra adrenaline."
Head coach Zac Taylor still won't budge on a Burrow timeline with the appendectomy recovery. But it's got to be close, right? Backup quarterback Brandon Allen suffered a concussion in the first series, the Bengals play the Giants in New York in eight days and he says they don't need to bring in another quarterback.
"He's been running and doing some stuff like that. I think he's getting better every single day," Taylor said. ""I wouldn't think (they'd sign a new one), but it's hard to see. Brandon feels pretty good right now. We'll just see where we he's at and assess that and figure out where we need to go."
Taylor had no inside information to offer on Bates, but he felt like he could joke.
"He was in my suite, I think," said Taylor, laughing, when asked if he knew Bates was in the building. "I didn't know that, no."
But there was no joking about the crowd. These folks are serious and they turned it into a regular-season atmosphere.
"It's as good a crowd as I've seen for a preseason game," Taylor said. "You could feel the energy and the excitement. I wish we could have come out a little faster to give them something to cheer about in the first half. But we appreciate the excitement. Just driving to the stadium you could feel energy around the city, just for preseason game number one. That's really cool to see and we appreciate that."
TO-DO-LIST: Penalties. Too many, Taylor said. They turned the game early when running back Chris Evans' 60-yard run on the first play was called back by tight end Thad Moss' holding call and the first defensive series was marred by a third-down 40-yard pass interference call on rookie cornerback Allan George.
Make it 11 penalties for 104 yards. There were four on the offensive line, two holds on Hakeem Adeniji, a false start on rookie guard Desmond Noel and a holding call that was declined on left guard Jackson Carman.
"It's the first preseason game, so there's always going to be stuff you got to work out," Carman said. "That's why we're out there doing it, getting better and learning."
The O-line had trouble getting going, generating less than two yards per the running backs' 23 carries.
"We have to be more disciplined – have to be much more disciplined," Taylor said. "You can look at it as simple as this … those are those momentum changers early in a game. You lose a touchdown there and kick a field goal and that maybe is where the game starts to change. Those little moments we've got to be on top of. I'm just putting that one out. I've got to see the clips to really know what happened."
EVANS' UN-EVEN NIGHT: It may have been the greatest -3-yard rushing performance in NFL history. That's what second-year running back Chris Evans got on eight carries. But his first carry, a nifty skirt –to-the-right-edge 60-yarder when all hell broke loose in the middle got called back on tight end Thad Moss' holding call. So did a little duck-and-juke to the edge for a five-yard touchdown. Also negated by a Moss hold.
"I didn't find out until after the play and I was heartbroken," Evans said of the long one. "I was mad because I was running as fast as I could. Dude had an angle, but I got it on tape so I'm not mad about that. I got it on tape the coaches know what I can do. I'm not mad about the highlight or anything as long as the coaches know what I can do. Whether we fix the blocking or not, I've got that on tape. Anything they need me to do, I'm going to make the most of it."
But Evans did have a decisive catch-and-run 41-yard kick return, doing what injured Brandon Wilson has advised him.
"Get it and hit it," Evans said.
DAX DEBUT: First-rounder Dax Hill came out of his first NFL game in pretty good shape. He played the entire first half and got his hand on two balls along with a tackle.
"He jumped out at you," Taylor said, "He made two real good plays, one down there in the low red (zone) and one on the field there on third down. Those are big time plays, so that's what stands out and then you'll evaluate the rest of it and see how he was. But that was exciting to see from Dax."
He nearly had an end-zone pick on a third-down pass on the second drive of the game. He high-pointed the ball over tight end Chris Pierce Jr., but couldn't hand on when he hit the ground.
"I have to go back and look at it," Hill said. "I don't know if he punched it out or I lost it when I hit the ground."
Hill said the speed of the game was no problem. "It only got fast in two minutes," Hill said. "But other than that, it was slow."
HOMETOWN HERO: Drew Plitt, the Bengals' third quarterback who probably won't be here when Burrow comes back, was full of good timing. With Burrow throwing and running Friday before the game, it seems inevitable Plitt may have played his last game for his hometown team.
If it is, Plitt, the suburban Cincinnati product from Loveland, went storybook. He threw the Bengals' first touchdown in Paycor Stadium history. He hit all six passes as a Bengal for a perfect 158.3 passer rating. He threw a 25-yard touchdown pass to rookie wide receiver Kendric Pryor, his first in the NFL, too.
"We'll discuss it. I have it right now," Plitt said of the ball, "but if he wants to cut it in half and split it, we can do that."
The last time he was in the building? It was the second day of this year and he was in the club seats watching the Bengals clinch the AFC North with that 34-31 walk-off win over the Chiefs.
"Just excitement. Thrill. For me, it's a dream come true," Plitt said. "I know it's a cliché, but I'm going to say it all the time. Growing up in this city and being able to come to work every day, and it's really not a job if you look at it the way I am. It's awesome."