LANDOVER, Md. - After the first offense had more penalties (six) than pass completions (five), rookie back-up quarterback Ryan Finley lit it up again when he hit his first nine passes and steered the Bengals to their only touchdown of Thursday night's first half Washington took a 13-6 lead.
Another rookie quarterback, Washington's Dwayne Haskins Jr., snapped a 6-6 tie on the first play after the two-minute warning when he threw a 55-yard strike to wide receiver Robert Davis for his first NFL touchdown pass with Bengals rookie middle Germaine Pratt hanging all over Haskins on a blitz.
Davis ran past safety Trayvon Henderson, but Haskins was able to muscle it out there and the first half would fittingly end with Washington declining a personal foul penalty on Bengals tackle O'Shea Dugas in a half the Bengals suffered eight flags.
Finley, who hit his first 10 passes in his debut Saturday night in Kansas City, mercifully checked into the game late in a first quarter Washington's only points had come on safety Montae Nicholson's 96-yard pick-six off quarterback Andy Dalton's tipped pass.
It was a tough night for the first offense. They had as many holds as rushing attempts with four. They had six penalties and ran just 18 plays while Dalton finished five of nine for 36 yards. When they had to get out of their last series on third-and-19 with a line-of-scrimmage screen pass to wide receiver Tyler Boyd. The while thing ended up costing them Trayveon Williams for the night with an injured foot.
But Finley came in and eight completions later the Bengals had a touchdown when rookie tight end Drew Sample emerged from a bunch formation uncovered and Finley hit from five yards out. When Randy Bullock missed the extra point it was 6-6 halfway through the second quarter.
Finley again showed terrific pocket presence when he converted back-to-back third-down throws to wide receivers Cody Core and a diving Alex Erickson for 14 and 12 yards, respectively. He also took a shot from linebacker Josh Harvey-Clemons as he threw a 16-yarder to Core. He found tight end Mason Schreck wide open down the sideline turning a missed tackle into an 18-yard gain and hit rookie wide receiver Damion Willis over the middle for ten yards.
Finley finished the half 14 of 16 for 107 yards behind that second offensive line of Dugas, left guard Trey Hopkins, center Billy Price, right guard John Jerry and right tackle Andre Smith. On the series after the touchdown they produced the Bengals' longest run of the preseason, a nine-yarder from running back Quinton Flowers on first down, but Washington smelled out a play-action bootleg pass for a two-yard loss to short circuit the drive.
Pratt, the Bengals' third-round pick, played better than he did in his debut, but the Bengals were still burned by some big plays.
"(We have) way too many penalties on offense right now. Defensively, outside of two plays — a third-down play and the first one of the game — we've done a pretty good job," said Bengals head coach Zac Taylor. "We just have to come out (strong in the second half). It's only a seven-point game. We're in great shape. We have to come out and try to get this win."
The opening of the game was a flag fest. Seven penalties on the first seven snaps and when the dust cleared the Bengals had three holding penalties, two on tight end C.J. Uzomah and the other by right guard John Miller. A couple of meltdowns by Washington cornerback Josh Norman resulted in two 15-yard penalties to give the Bengals a first down at the Washington 14. Dalton went to the old red-zone stand-by, a fade to tight end Tyler Eifert into the right corner, but he overthrew him and Eifert could have kept running because he was done for the night.
But a hold on Uzomah turned the thing into second-and-20 and set up a third-and-seven, when nose tackle Daron Payne got a hand up and tipped Dalton's pass back into the arms of Nicholson and no one got a hand on him on the 96-yard pick-six. When Washington missed the PAT, it was 6-0 and only three minutes had passed.
With running backs Joe Mixon and Giovani Bernard getting a carry each, the Bengals never got anything going in the run game and on the second series they turned to Trayveon Williams and when they were facing a third-and-six, right tackle Bobby Hart false started to blow up the drive.
Then on their first two defensive snaps the Bengals, almost like five nights ago in Kansas City, imploded for 42 yards. On first down running back Adrian Peterson bounced it outside to the left for 25 unencumbered yards. Then quarterback Case Keenum fired a quick slant to tight end Vernon Davis sailing wide open for 17 more.
But Washington's own holding call negated a first down inside the 10 after Andrew Brown went offsides in the first nickel package and good pressure by end Sam Hubbard on third down forced what turned out to be a missed field goal.
The Bengals first offense could rush for just ten yards on four carries, and on their third offensive series, they went right to the pass. Dalton tried a first-down shot down the field, but wide receiver Josh Malone got tangled up with the DBs for an incompletion. After a quick throw for six yards to wide receiver Auden Tate, Dalton scrambled for nine yards to convert, but lost it on left tackle Cody Glenn's hold. After Uzomah false started, Dalton tossed a screen to Williams to get out of there for an eight-yard gain and William ended up leaving for the night with an injured foot.
"We have to clean up a lot of things, but we overcame some adversity, we kept our composure and we didn't let them score," said left end Carlos Dunlap of the Bengals' first defense.