It took the Bengals’ first offense two series and a big play on a rookie’s first NFL touch to get revved up and into the end zone on quarterback Andy Dalton’s touch pass for a 26-yard touchdown pass to tight end C.J. Uzomah that gave them a 7-3 lead late in the first quarter.
That set the stage for a battle of rookie backups with Bengals’ fourth-rounder Ryan Finley and Giants first-rounder Daniel Jones each leading scoring drives that produced 10-10 half-time tie.
The touchdown drive sent Dalton and most of the first crew to the bench, not be seen again until the Sept. 8 opener in Seattle. Dalton goes in sharply on seven of 10 for 104 yards and it should have been eight of ten. He started the third series hitting wide receiver Auden Tate for a leaping 10-yard catch on a night head coach Zac Taylor gave Tate and undrafted rookie wide receiver Damion Willis starts in the biggest pre-season game. But it was a brief night for Tate when he left with a knee injury.
Backup rookie running back Rodney Anderson, coming off an ACL injury, checked in for his first pro series and promptly made a great fingertip catch in the flat scraping it off the turf, straightened, sent linebacker Lorenzo Carter careening past a move, and picked up 12 yards.
Dalton then sent Uzomah wide in a bunch formation on first down, went play-action and when Uzomah ran a circle route down the right side he made safety Jabrill Peppers pay for his aggressiveness with that 26-yard scoring pass with nine seconds left in the first quarter.
The Bengals deployed their third straight different starting offensive line of the preseason when they put Billy Price back at center and paired him with rookie Michael Jordan for his second straight start at left guard. And next to him was Andre Smith, making his second career start at left tackle in his 11th preseason in place of Cordy Glenn (concussion).
The line delivered on the first play of the game with the Bengals working out of a double tight end set. Tyler Eifert ran a route that took out a cornerback when they ran a screen to the other tight end, Uzomah, and he went up the sideline for 28 yards with Jordan, Price and right tackle Bobby Hart making their blocks.
Taylor opted to keep No. 1 running back Joe Mixon fresh for the Sept. 8 opener in Seattle and went with Giovani Bernard. He picked up three, but that was it for the first drive.
Massive Dexter Lawrence bull-rushed Jordan back into Dalton and tipped his second-and-seven pass. On third down, the Giants blitzed two linebackers off the left edge and they only picked up one. Tae Davis drilled Dalton as threw an incompletion to Willis.
The next offensive series was three-and-out, largely because Bernard got blown up on first down on a run to the right thwarted on an unblocked safety blitz by Antoine Bethea. They got five when Dalton flipped to Bernard and should have converted a third down when Dalton beat the blitz, but wide receiver Tyler Boyd let the ball go through his hands on a wide-open crossing.
The first defense, which is basically going with just two linebackers (Nick Vigil and Preston Brown) sometimes one, gave up a 15-play drive on Eli Manning opening series. The big one came right away when Manning converted his first third down, a third-and six that resulted in a 19-yarder when wide receiver Russell Shepard got inside slot corner Tony McRae.
But McRae and the rest of the defensive backs stiffened later in the drive. Cornerback B.W. Webb, playing for his old team, broke up a pass to Giants wide receiver Cody Latimer on the goal line and safety Jessie Bates III just missed the pick. When Manning couldn’t respond to a seven-man blitz on third down, the Bengals forced Aldrick Rosas’ 41-yard field goal after the Giants held it for eight minutes.
The defense re-grouped on its seconds series against Jones, despite being put in a hole by linebacker Malik Jefferson’s hold on the punt and a first-down 20-yard ramble by tight end Rhett Ellison, wide open and untouched in the flat.
But on third-and-four and fourth-and-four from the Bengals 30, cornerbacks William Jackson III and McRae had nice coverage on incompletions. The fourth down showed how lethal their pass rush can be in the first nickel package in the season debuts of perennial Pro Bowl tackle Geno Atkins and left end Carl Lawson. While Lawson bulled rushed left tackle Nate Solder back into Jones, Atkins was so much of a problem that left guard Will Hernandez was called for a hold that was declined.
Lawson came back on the next series, shot past Solder, and blew up Jones to cause an incomplete pass. And on third-and-16 from the Bengals 28, Lawson nearly got to Jones again, but Jones launched a bomb to Darius Slayton and Jackson lost the ball to give up a 27-yard completion to the 1 that set up Rod Smith’s one-yard touchdown with 6:22 left in the half to give the Giants a 7-3 lead. That was a big series for Jones, who gave the New York tabloids to drool over with a nine of 11 effort for 141 yards. One of them came on a 38-yard bullet to wide receiver Brtittan Golden over the middle working on McRae.
Then it was Finley’s turn (7-of-10 for 94 yards in the first half). He got the ball with 6:14 left and drove the Bengals to Randy Bullock’s 50-yard field goal with 29 seconds left. Willis made a circus catch over the DB for 19 yards, wide receiver Cody Core had a big catch on third-and-18 that turned into a first down with the help of a Giants penalty and wide receiver Alex Erickson converted a third-and-three on a 12-yard slant.
But the drive stalled when the Bengals allowed their first two sacks in seven quarters, the last one when rookie left tackle O’Shea Dugas didn’t get out far enough to block linebacker Tae Davis.
That offensive line featured Trey Hopkins at center and Price at left guard in an effort to make the group as versatile as possible for the opener. On the first series of the second half, Price was at right guard.