Matt Jones hauled in three passes for 42 yards. (AP photo)
Updated: 11:25 a.m.
CANTON, Ohio, - After his first NFL game in two years, Bengals wide receiver Matt Jones thanked the trainers but lost his plea to Cowboys head coach Wade Phillips.
On the night Batman and Robin made their debut, the Riddler ended up being the Bengals' leading receiver with three catches for 42 yards. And his 18-yarder on the right sideline with 4:36 left in the game was ruled out-of-bounds when Phillips won a challenge.
"I was telling Wade, 'Don't do that to us, 16-0 in a preseason game. Let that go.' You know how it is," Jones said.
Jones, the Jaguars 2005 first-round pick, has always been a mystery of sorts because he's never seemed to marry the production with his good hands, good straight-ahead speed, and leaping ability. He made the Bengals' biggest play of the night and got them past midfield for the first time with 3:33 left in the third quarter when he beat the cornerback and made a move on rookie linebacker Brandon Sharpe cutting back to the middle of the field for most of his 28 yards. Which he's not supposed to be able to do.
"I'm a basketball player, man," Jones said. "I can make a couple of moves."
"Out there playing with the 3s, I hope I can do something big," he said. "But it was good. The Lord has blessed me with a lot of athletic ability and Jordan (Palmer) made some good throws. It was just pitch and catch. It was pretty simple."
Jones is on the monster roster fight that may or may not be for the sixth and last receiver spot depending on the progress of Antonio Bryant's knee. He knows if he doesn't make it here, the only way to truly get a shot elsewhere is to get on film in the preseason. Just a couple of days ago, that didn't look good for the opener as trainers Paul Sparling and Nick Cosgray told him to get off his injured foot for a few days.
"They did the smart thing. I bruised my fifth metatarsal and they put me in a boot for a couple of days," Jones said. "A lot of treatment. Paul and Nick did really well to get that back. I'm good now, so thank you for the treatment."
Jones may not have been impressed with his outing against the third-teamers, but he feels being with the Bengals from Day One in the spring has allowed him to knock off his rust.
"I just see myself getting better every day," he said. "I'm young enough (27) that I definitely think I can help the team win."
But old enough that he thinks he should beat a 23-year-old third-team linebacker.
"Exactly," he said. "Exactly."
LIVE MIKE: Converted defensive end Michael Johnson had a nice debut at linebacker when he made his first start ever at SAM in place of Rey Maualuga (hamstring). He had two sacks just the way defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer drew it up in the offseason: One sack blitzing from backer and the other coming off the edge at end.
On the first sack, the blitz, he ran past Cowboys running back Tashard Choice, his teammate at Georgia Tech.
"He told me he was going to let me go by," Johnson joked. "He's always a lot of fun out there."
Johnson, who also had three tackles (two for a loss) and two quarterback hurries, doesn't see much fun the next two days. Monday is off and Tuesday the club returns to practice at Georgetown College.
"I've got a long way to go at linebacker," Johnson said. "I'm just going to go back to work and watch film tomorrow and Tuesday."
HALL WALK: Some intriguing moments Sunday night when the Pro Football Hall of Fame class walked down the middle of the 50-yard line sandwiched by both teams.
Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau strolled by a Bengals club he bossed for 45 games from 2000-2002 and the only guy who was there when he was there was wide receiver Chad Ochocinco. Wide receiver Terrell Owens, making his first appearance as a Bengal, greeted Jerry Rice, the man he replaced in San Francisco.
But LeBeau still has Bengals ties. He helped mentor a rookie NFL linebackers coach named Marvin Lewis in Pittsburgh nearly 20 years ago and Lewis, the man that succeeded him in Cincinnati, bolted out of the line to give LeBeau a hug.
"Good to visit with Dick there," Lewis said. "That was the good part of the night."
Quarterback Carson Palmer, the first man the Bengals drafted after LeBeau left, made sure he shook hands and said hello.
"I know him as a great coach. I wasn't around in his playing days. I think he's a Hall of Fame coach just because I've played against him for so long now," Palmer said. "But to see the highlights and have a chance to go to the Hall and see his videos, he was an amazing player. I think he played 12 straight years without missing a game, which is amazing. That speaks volumes of his toughness and the attitude he had and the way he went about his business. I know him as a coach and he's a Hall of Fame coach."
Palmer says LeBeau has talked to him after those Bengals-Steelers wars that are as much as anything a chess match between two guys that played in the Rose Bowl about 45 years apart. Throw in that LeBeau hired Bengals offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski and that matchup is more than unique. Just last month LeBeau said if he had Palmer, he thinks he might still be the Bengals head coach.
"It's a flattering thing for a guy like him to say; I don't know if that's necessarily true," Palmer said. "I would have loved to have had an opportunity to play for him. I don't know how much time he has left, but I would be happy to see him get a head coaching job and get out of Pittsburgh and quit calling plays for that defense."
Owens broke into the NFL in 1996 with Rice's 49ers and Rice still had nine seasons left.
"I was definitely moved to see Jerry. This symbolizes and caps off his career. He definitely had a remarkable career," Owens said. "I'm very fortunate and thankful to have played with him and become friends with him on and off the field. When he left San Francisco, I was kind of the guy to fill his shoes if that was possible. I tried to do whatever I could to retain some of the things I learned from him. Just watching him from a rookie on. It was a special moment."