EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. _ The Bengals mixed a pugnacious effort Sunday night from their back-up defenders and relentless special teamers with a clutch touchdown drive by quarterback Jake Browning, but it still wasn't enough to fend off the Giants in a last-minute 25-22 preseason loss.
New York converted a fourth-and-one and quarterback Davis Webb beat the blitz to wide receiver Alex Bachman in the middle of the field for a 15-yard touchdown pass where Bachman slid off rookie cornerback Delonte Hood's missed tackle with 35 seconds left.
Bengals linebacker Clay Johnston, scrapping for the fifth and final backer spot, typified the reserves' bid to win jobs with a monstrous 20-tackle game that included Cincy's only sack of the night.
As the Bengals tried to get into field-goal range, rookie left guard Cordell Volson was called for a false start with nine seconds left at the Giants 43 citing miscommunication, and the game ended when Browning's short pass to wide receiver Trenton Irwin was fumbled and lost on linebacker Tomon Fox's hit.
Bengals head coach Zac Taylor said the Bengals got out of their next to last preseason game with edge Khalid Kareem's hamstring injury and offensive lineman Lamont Galliard's calf issue.
Before the Bengals' drive when they were down 18-16 with 8:53 left in the game, they had converted just one out of 10 third-down tries. But rookie wide receiver Kendric Pryor made hellacious back-to-back third-down catches from Browning, the No. 3 quarterback, to keep the go-ahead drive alive and the highly scrutinized left side of the offensive line did the rest.
With the help of undrafted rookie Justin Rigg's block on the perimeter, left tackle Hakeem Adeniji and Volson (a tandem that played the whole way) sealed off a 17-yard run by running back Jacques Patrick. Then Patrick scored the touchdown with 3:05 left when he walked in standing up between Volson and Adeniji to give the Bengals a 22-18 lead.
Rookie wide receiver Kwamie Lassiter then dropped a wide-open two-point conversion setting the stage for Webb's heroics. After holding starting quarterback Daniel Jones to seven points in three series, Webb, the No. 3, hit 22 of 27 for 204 yards and two touchdowns.
After a torpid first half on offense, Taylor rolled out the same unit to open the second half and was rewarded with a nice effort by his offensive line in an 11-play drive that chewed 5:28 and gave the Bengals a 16-7 lead on running back Trayveon Williams' standing-up-one-yard touchdown run on third down behind a right side of center Trey Hill and right guard Desmond Noel.
Noel, an undrafted rookie, was rushed into the game when Galliard hurt his calf and Hill went back to center. Williams, who rushed for 25 yards on seven carries in the series after they had just two yards on four carries in the first half, punched out the final nine yards running up inside with olson also supplying some movement.
At that point, Taylor went from Brandon Allen to Browning at quarterback, but when it was feared that Browning had suffered a concussion, rookie Drew Plitt conjured up last week's heroics with Pryor for a 17-yard gain.
Browning was cleared, but it was Plitt's play that set up Evan McPherson's 58-yard field goal try early in the fourth quarter. Money Mac had already cashed three-for-three earlier in the night, including a 50-yarder, and he was six-for-six this preseason. But after a high snap from rookie long snapper Cal Adomitis that was pulled down by veteran holder Kevin Huber, McPherson had enough leg but pulled it left.
Webb then engineered a go-ahead touchdown drive with the killing play a third-and-14 completion against a two-deep zone where the linebackers showed a blitz up the middle before backing out.
After 22-yard touchdown pass to Bachman, Webb ran in a two-point conversion on a rollout he caught the Bengals in between to give the Giants an 18-16 lead with 8:53 left
The Bengals back-up defenders and aspirational special teamers dominated a first half the Giants played many of their starters and took a 9-7 halftime lead even though their offense generated just two first downs.
The Bengals got monstrous stops on the first two series as Clay Johnston led the charge with 10 first-half tackles. Edger Joseph Ossai shut down a fourth-and-one run and on the next series first-round safety Dax Hill came up with a sliding interception on a tipped pass off the hands of tight end David Bellinger.
When the Bengals took that 9-7 lead with 9:55 left in the second half on McPherson's third field goal of the night, a 31-yarder, they had just 49 yards of offense. After running back Chris Evans popped a 73-yard kick return to the Giants 24, they lost two yards on three plays with two Allen incompletions and settled for McPherson's 44-yard field goal to cut the lead to 7-6.
Then after safety Michael Thomas stripped C.J. Board on the ensuing kickoff and it was recovered by linebacker Keandre Jones at the Giants 15, the Bengals got just two yards and took the Mac field goal for that 9-7 lead.
And their average drive start on the first four series was the Giants 35 while New York started only at its own 21. And yet Cincy only had three field goals. Allen had a rough first half on 11 of 17 passing for 73 yards with a couple of misfires in the red zone and the running game also had a hard time with Evans getting two yards on four carries.
Allen, though, had pretty decent time and got sacked only once in the half and it was on cornerback Khalil Dorsey's blitz. He double pumped when the Bengals couldn't shake the Giants' man coverage. That turned into Drue Chrisman's second punt of the night and he launched it 56 yards. But it wasn't high enough and wide receiver Richie James ripped off a 17-yard return on which Chrisman himself made an athletic tackle.
But now working against quarterback Tyrod Taylor and the Giants backups, the young defense again held. Rookie edge Jeffrey Gunter batted a pass for the second straight game, second-year edger Raymond Johnson III had a sack negated by a penalty on cornerback Jalen Davis and Tyrod Taylor threw short on third down with rookie cornerback Allan George in coverage.
Evans, who had a 41-yard kick return in the opener, got another big one. He started all the way on the left numbers and sprinted to the right sideline, roughly shaking off kicker Graham Gano on the sideline along the way for about 15 more yards. Gano left with a concussion and punter Jamie Gillan was left to do the duties.
Safety Michael Thomas, a 2018 special teams Pro Bowler with the Giants, was named a Bengals captain along with the other Michael Thomas, the wide receiver. Safety Thomas, who had five tackles on 25 defensive and special teams snaps in the opener, was at it again with his forced fumble.
The Bengals back-up defenders staved off Daniel Jones and about half of his fellow starters until two minutes into the second quarter, when the Giants took a 7-3 lead on an 11-play drive featuring three catches for 40 yards by wide receiver David Sills V.
McPherson, who set an NFL record last year with the most 50-yard field goals in the regular and postseason, drilled his third 50 in five quarters for 2022 to give the Bengals their first lead of the preseason with 2:25 left in the first quarter, 3-0.
That bailed out the offensive line. After right tackle D'Ante Smith was called for holds on two straight runs in the first series, they got two more holding calls on the line in the next series. The one on Galliard, then at right guard, was declined and a third one on Smith wiped out a first-and-10 from the Giants 16.