CHICAGO — Forget the bombs of 42 and 45 yards, not to mention the 34-yard pass interference call on Bears Pro Bowl cornerback Charles Tillman. If you want to know how Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton and wide receiver A.J. Green dominated much of Sunday's 24-21 loss at Soldier Field, go back to that third-and-10 play in a 7-7 game in the second quarter and the Bengals pinned on their own 9 after two brutal running plays.
With Green deking the Bears inside and Dalton deep in the pocket with plenty of time, Dalton dropped a feather in between cornerback Zack Bowman and strong safety Major Wright on the Bears sideline as Green piled up 129 of his 162 yards in the first half. Dalton had his 14th career 90-plus rating in his 33rd start with 26-of-33 passing for 282 yards with two touchdowns and two picks.
"A.J. had a good day. We have to find ways to get him the ball. He did some good things. It's what we expect out of him, and it's what he expects out of himself," Dalton said.
As expected the Bengals used a heavy diet of double tight ends in which they lined up Jermaine Gresham and rookie Tyler Eifert in a variety of spots and Green said it helped free him up. It didn't help the running game, which stalled for 63 yards on 21 carries, but Gresham and Eifert each caught five balls.
"I think it helped," Green said. "I felt like there were guys all around me making plays. Tyler did a great job and so did Jermaine."
Both tight ends piled up some yards after catch, with Gresham bulling and Eifert running, but the Bengals couldn't pull off one last drive after they went up, 21-10, in the middle of the third quarter in an 80-yard drive that came on the heels of 97- and 91-yarders.
H-back Orson Charles wiped out the next drive with a hold on rookie running back Giovani Bernard's 14-yard run behind the right side and on the next possession wide receiver Mohamed Sanu fumbled at the Bears 17 early in the fourth quarter. The Bengals had the right play called when Dalton beat the blitz with a quick throw to Sanu and when Sanu tried to get more after the first down, cornerback Tim Jennings simply put his helmet on the ball to pop it loose and recover it.
Then what turned out to be Cincinnati's last series of the game, Dalton took his only sack on first down when Eifert appeared to slip on his route. On third down Dalton tried to get it to wide receiver Marvin Jones, but linebacker James Anderson read him and knocked it away.
"We would have liked to have the timeout, but we didn't. You have to make sure you're sharp, and you don't have any miscommunications, and you kind of have to go from there. But, it's a situation you don't want to be in at the end of the game," Dalton said of having no timeouts left. "You don't ever want to hurt yourself. You don't want to ever do anything (that would put you in a bad place). We had some big plays when those penalties happened, too. So, we've got to watch the film, we've got to correct it and make sure we use the right technique. We can't have that."
SECONDARY LOOK: The Bengals secondary gave up some plays it didn't give up in the last eight games of last season.
The Bengals gave up two touchdown passes Sunday after giving up four in the second half of last season. They also gave up a 38-yard pass in Chicago's winning touchdown drive when wide receiver Brandon Marshall muscled past cornerback Terence Newman for a 38-yard completion on third-and-three from the Bears 26. In the final eight last year the Bengals gave up just two passes longer than 28 yards.
Newman could be seen claiming that Marshall used his hands to get past him, but no one could handle the big Bears receiver during his 104-yard day. The Bengals gave up only one 100-yard game through the air all last season when San Diego's Danario Alexander went for 102.
Marshall caught the winner when he found himself matched up with safety Reggie Nelson on a 19-yard touchdown in the left corner, a throw apparently set up by tight end Martellus Bennett's route down the middle.
"They double Martellus going down the middle, flipped it back and jumped Alshon (Jeffrey) and Marshall was one-on-one in the corner, which you love to throw," said quarterback Jay Cutler. "I put one up for him. Wish I could have thrown it sooner so he might not have had to take that hit, but he did a good job of catching it, clutching it."
Marshall said he was surprised he was working against Nelson.
"I didn't understand it. Fourth quarter, with a safety on me one-one, I can only ask for that and dream about that," Marshall said. "I tried to sell the inside route. He jumped it a little bit and we had a clear lane. "
DEBUTS: The Bengals had a couple of high-profile debuts Sunday with Eifert on offense and veteran linebacker James Harrison on defense.
Eifert caught five balls for 47 yards and Harrison had one tackle according to the press-box stats. The Bengals sent Harrison off the right edge on the TD pass to Marshall.
"They brought James off the edge; the line did a good job picking him up," Cutler said of his retooled offensive line that allowed no sacks.
Eifert started in a two tight-end set, keeping head coach Marvin Lewis's streak alive of starting at least one rookie in an opener during his 11 seasons. He caught the first snap of the season for three yards on a bootleg pass and then had a 17-yard catch on a similar play in the first touchdown drive.
"I think just because they've been preaching to me how fast it is that I kind of psyched myself out expecting it to be faster," Eifert said. "A lot faster. It's definitely faster, but it's not something I can't handle. Just to get the first play under your belt, that was good, but getting that first catch is nice, too."