DETROIT — The Bengals' new era got off to a gritty start Friday night here at Ford Field during their preseason opener when the Lions bolted to 21-3 lead in the game's first 18 minutes on their way to a 34-3 victory.
By the time Andy Dalton dropped back to throw his first NFL pass, the Bengals trailed, 14-0. And it got picked off by cornerback Chris Houston when Dalton tried to hit his fellow rookie racing one-on-on down the right sideline. But Dalton got hit as he threw it with penetration over right guard and the ball hung inside for Houston's easy pick running next to A.J. Green.
It got a little better but Dalton couldn't get his first team into the end zone against Detroit's first and second defense and left with two minutes left in the first half and Mike Nugent lining up for a 42-yard field goal.
This is the kind of night it was: Nugent made it, but it was ruled no play because the clock had ticked down to the two-minute warning. Nugent, who hasn't missed a field goal during team drills at camp, then went wide right.
Dalton completed 11 of 15 passes for 69 yards and looked like he knew where he was going with the ball. But the Bengals let him get hit too much, particularly for a defense that wasn't blitzing. He got sacked once when left guard Nate Livings got beat by Corey Williams and he got manhandled by the other tackle, Ndamukong Suh, after he hurried an incompletion. Suh was called for roughing the passer when Dalton's helmet came flying off, but the Bengals couldn't convert in the red zone.
A short pass to tight end Jermaine Gresham got only three yards and cornerback Amari Spievey had wide receiver Jerome Simpson so well covered that when he caught a jump ball in the corner of the end zone he was out of bounds. It forced Nugent's 27-yard field goal early in the second quarter that cut the lead to 14-3.
The Bengals' best drive came on the first one when Dalton handed it five straight times to running back Cedric Benson for 35 yards. The night before the game head coach Marvin Lewis challenged the offensive line to step up against the Detroit defensive line that generated 39 sacks last season.
And they responded out of a series of double tight-end sets, revealing a Benson that looked in October form. But facing a third-and-two from the Detroit 45, Dalton tried to hit fullback Chris Pressley in the flat and the ball fell incomplete when Pressley tried to turn his head back.
Dalton got warmed up on his last drive, hitting eight of nine passes. The lone miss was a weird moment when he tried to hit wide receiver John Standeford on a post at the goal line, a ball that was broken up by cornerback Brandon McDonald. Standeford, wearing the Ocho's No. 85, showed up for the trip and has yet to practice with the team.
Dalton went after Detroit's second defense on a drive that started from the Bengals 11. On third-and-five he reacted to pressure by throwing a quick seven-yard hook to Green. Green, who had four catches for 29 yards, came back for an 11-yard toss-and-run before Dalton found slot receiver Jordan Shipley down the middle for a 10-yard pass on third-and-six from the Detroit 34. But the drive blew up when running back Brian Leonard's first down run off a screen pass (including the Leonard Leap) was negated by a hold on Livings.
Rookie running back Jay Finley couldn't make McDonald miss on a short pass over the middle that got just a yard and Dalton's nine-yard throw to tight end Chase Coffman over the middle on third-and-19 set up Nugent's miss.
Benson finished with 37 yards on six carries, a 6.2-yard per clip, and Simpson had two catches for 17 yards, but the big play was missing. The team's longest play in the first half was Benson's 16-yard run.
The defense also came out struggling and went into the half down 24-3 even though Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford took just 10 snaps.
"First thing is you can't turn the ball over," Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis said at halftime. "We gave it away twice and they got two touchdowns. And on offense, you've got to score touchdowns and not settle for field goals. End of story for this half."
The Bengals won the toss, deferred and that wasn't a good idea. The Lions ripped off at least five yards on six of the first seven plays and scored when Stafford floated a 26-yard touchdown pass down the right sideline to wide receiver Calvin Johnson beating cornerback Leon Hall 3:31 into the game.
Then rookie running back John Griffin chose to run the ball out of the end zone on the ensuing kickoff. Another bad idea. Linebacker Isaiah Ekejuba got a clear shot on him, popped him and the ball came loose at the Bengals 16. On fourth-and-one, Stafford picked on Hall again and lofted a jump ball for wide receiver Nate Burleson in the right corner and he juggled it, but got his hands back on it in time to get both his feet in-bounds and overturn a challenge for a 14-0 Lions lead five minutes into the game.
Working against mostly the defensive number twos, Lions backup quarterback Shaun Hill gave the Lions a 21-3 lead early in the second quarter when the Bengals defense lost contain on him and he scored on a seven-yard run. The Bengals had trouble in the middle of the field defending the pass with tight end Tony Scheffler working on safeties Robert Sands and Tom Nelson for an 18-yard gain and middle linebacker Dan Skuta got burned on a 10-yard pass to running back Aaron Brown on third-and-three.
The Lions put together a two-minute drill at the end of the half to take a 21-3 lead on a hurry-up 37-yard field goal by Jason Hanson as time ran out. The Bengals had two chances to sack quarterback Drew Stanton on the last completion, the last miss by defensive end Victor Adeyanju. Stanton went after cornerback Fred Bennett on the drive, beating him on a 32-yard pass to Derrick Williams.
The Lions got a 28-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Zac Robinson to wide receiver Nate Hughes with 13:36 remaining to give Detroit a 31-3 lead, and former Bengals kicker Dave Rayner booted a 44-yard field goal with 3:55 remaining to give the Lions the final margin of victory, 34-3.
Bruce Gradkowski followed Dalton in the second half and finished 6-of-11 for 58 yards passing. Jordan Palmer relieved Gradkowski with 13:36 left and finished 1-of-4 for seven yards and an interception. Dan LeFevour took over for the final series and completed his only pass fror seven yards.
The Bengals ended up not having six receivers healthy. Besides the four that were iced before the game, Andre Caldwell and sixth-rounder Ryan Whalen didn't play.
PREGAME NOTES: The last call for the Bengals' new era came and went with a slew of wide receivers and running backs sidelined by injury here Friday night at Ford Field.
The secondary also took a shot with backup cornerbacks Brandon Ghee (hamstring) and Jonathan Wade (shoulder) as well as safety Gibril Wilson (knee) on the shelf.
Head coach Marvin Lewis doesn't confirm injuries during the preseason, but it's believed the receivers are suffering from muscle pulls. Out are rookies Landon Cox, Jamere Holland and Andrew Hawkins as well as veteran punt returner Quan Cosby. Backup running backs Bernard Scott and Cedric Peerman are also out, so look for rookie tailbacks Jay Finley, John Griffin and Jonathan Williams to get plenty of work after Cedric Benson goes for the first quarter or so.
With defensive tackle Tank Johnson shelved with an unknown ailment, Geno Atkins got the start. Left end Carlos Dunlap, last year's leading sacker, didn't dress after missing all this week with a knee issue. He was on the field before the game doing rehab with defensive line coach Jay Hayes and strength coach Chip Morton.
Also out is guard Otis Hudson with some sort of leg injury that isn't expected to sideline him more than a few weeks. Rookie defensive tackle Lolomana Mikaele (bicep) has a more serious injury and tight end Garrett Mills doesn't look close to being back. Plus, there are the players who have yet to practice yet this summer in cornerback Adam Jones (neck), linebacker Keith Rivers (wrist), and defensive tackle Pat Sims (knee).
The toll stood at 18 and the Lions halved it with nine. The most significant were left tackles Jeff Backus and Jason Fox, tight end Brandon Pettigrew,and their top three draft picks in defensive tackle Nick Fairley, wide receiver Titus Young, and running back Mikel Leshoure.
Lewis sent out for his captains right guard Bobbie Williams and left tackle Andrew Whitworth for the offense, tackle Domata Peko and safety Chris Crocker for the defense, and linebacker Dan Skuta for special teams.
With offensive coordinator Jay Gruden calling his first game, Friday night's logistics were a little different. While former offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski called plays from upstairs relaying plays to quarterbacks coach Ken Zampese, Gruden is staying on the sidelines to make the call with Zampese his eyes and ears in the box. With usually five receivers active, Gruden wants new wide receivers coach James Urban on the sidelines.