LANDOVER, Md. - Back-up rookie quarterback Ryan Finley and his twos rescued the Bengals' first offense Thursday night with two touchdown passes as the Bengals ran past the Washington Redskins 23-13.
Finley's performance set the stage for rookie Tristan Vizcaino's 57-yard goal and Alex Erickson's 75-yard punt return touchdown in a span of two minutes with 6:18 left that broke it open for the Bengals and gave Zac Taylor his first win as head coach.
Vizcaino's kick would have broken the team record of 55 yards, last set by Mike Nugent in a 2012 game, and it was the longest since Nugent's 57-yarder in the 2014 Wild Card.
The field goal was set up by No. 3 quarterback Jeff Driskel's dizzying run on a third-and-nine scramble he punctuated twisting through two defenders.
The Bengals' back-up defenders came with good pressure in the second half and Erickson's return was set up by rookie Immanuel Turner's sack. After the Bengals botched three punts by their back-up returners on Saturday night, Erickson, the No. 1, dropped back three times Thursday with the last one going all the way.
Defense got the Bengals back in the game in the middle of the third quarter. End Jordan Willis, who staked his claim to this roster with another solid game, forced a fumble from Washington rookie quarterback Dwayne Haskins Jr., and lineman Kerry Wynn jumped on the fumble at the Washington 25 in his Bengals debut.
The Bengals third offensive line of right tackle John Jerry, rookie right guard Keaton Sutherland, center Billy Price, rookie left guard Michael Jordan (who also started) and left tackle O'Shea Dugas held up pretty well down there. Rookie tight end Drew Sample, who caught the first touchdown and looked more comfortable Thursday than he did in his debut, went rolling to grab a 10-yarder. Wide receiver Auden Tate did the rest to overcome Jordan's false start.
After Tate leaned back over the middle to grab a seven-yarder, he got inside cornerback Deion Harris for a three-yard touchdown and when Vizcaino converted the PAT it was 13-13 with 3:11 left in the third quarter.
Finley finished his night 20 of 26 for 156 yards and a 115.9 passer rating and after the first offense had more penalties (six) than pass completions (five), he 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, Haskins 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 Dugas in a half the Bengals suffered eight flags.
Finley, who hit his first ten 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 rookie running back Trayveon Williams, Williams ended up getting eight yards and an injured foot that sidelined him for the night.
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.
View the best game action photos from the Bengals' second preseason game against the Washington Redskins.
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 wide receiver Tyler Boyd to get out of there for an eight-yard gain. The whole thing ended up costing them Trayveon Williams 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.