TAMPA, Fla. - Bengals rookie running back Chris Evans threw a bevy of moves at the Super Bowl champion Buccaneers in Saturday night's preseason opener and his one-yard run with 13 seconds left in the first half gave them a 7-6 lead.
Evans, a sixth-rounder out of Michigan, had seven carries for 17 yards, many of them coming on slithering second efforts, before putting his head and down and slamming in for the go-ahead touchdown.
The Bengals did everything with the football but sign it and send it by parcel post during the first half at Raymond James Stadium. They survived three turnovers. Even after the bulk of their offensive and defensive starters went to the bench, they rolled up 125 yards, sacked the Bucs twice and pushed the ball into the red zone on all three possessions.
But they fumbled the first two times they got inside the 20 and only a heads-up play by wide receiver Mike Thomas made sure quarterback Brandon Allen's interception didn't hurt them. When Thomas punched the interception back to himself, it would up setting up Evans' touchdown.
Check out some of the top photos from the Week 1 preseason game as the Cincinnati Bengals faced the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
How about that debut for third-round pick Joseph Ossai?
On third-and-10, all Ossai did to end the game's first series was sack Thomas Edward Patrick Brady, a play he shared with veteran Trey Hendrickson.
Lining up on the Bengals left edge, Ossai beat right tackle Tristan Wirfs inside. The Bengals stuffed the run to set up the sack with the Bucs' only significant gain under Brady coming when he matched up old friend Giovani Bernard on middle linebacker Logan Wilson over the middle to convert a third-and-eight for nine yards.
The Bengals took the first drive and rammed it into the Bucs red zone, but running back Samaje Perine coughed it up at the 18 to spoil what had been a nice set of downs for Brandon Allen. On the first third down of the year, third-and-seven, Allen rifled a 15-yarder to slot receiver Tyler Boyd over the middle.
Then first-rounder Ja'Marr Chase got his first NFL touch for 16 more. Allen faked to running back Joe Mixon and then whirled the other way to hit Chase on the left edge on a semi receiver screen. Left tackle Jonah Williams was way out in front of him and he got two blocks on the same guy.
Allen had a steady half of seven of ten for 77 yards and did what head coach Zac Taylor wanted. Each of the Big Three receivers got a touch. After Boyd and Chase checked in, Allen got the ball out quickly to Tee Higgins for an 11-yarder when he had some YAC.
But the Bengals second defense didn't respond to Perine's fumble and allowed Bucs backup quarterback Blaine Gabbert's 15-play, 79-yard touchdown drive for a 6-0 lead with 2:06 left in the first quarter.
Gabbert converted three first downs and the first one was the killer. No pressure on a third-and-10 and tight end O.J. Howard was able to catch a 15-yarder. The Bengals backup defensive backs, cornerback Tony Brown and safety Trayveon Henderson, allowed another big play to a tight end (an 18-yarder to Tanner Hudson) before the Tampa offensive line pushed back the young big guys (rookie tackle Tyler Shelvin was one of them) on Ke'Shawn Vaughn's two-yard touchdown run.
If it's one place where the Bengals defense got hurt in the half, it was third down, where the Bucs were 6-for-8.
Allen had another good drive going, jump-started by cornerback Darius Phillips' 40-yard kick return, and they got a big lift on third-and-one when Evans got hit in the backfield on the left side and spun away for six yards.
But when Allen hit wide receiver Mike Thomas for 10 yards on third-and-7 from the Bucs 28, Thomas tried to get more and when he spun the ball popped out for the fumble that the Bucs recovered at their 12.
That ensuing drive ended on a fourth-down sack by undrafted rookie linebacker Darius Hodge of the Bucs third quarterback of the half, Ryan Griffin, and it gave the Bengals the ball beyond their own 40 for the third straight time to open the game.
But on the next play, second-rounder Jackson Carman's first snap, he was called for a hold on a stretch play and the Bengals somehow regrouped when Thomas turned an interception into a completion when he knocked an interception out of the hands of safety Javon Hagan to redeem for his own turnover.
Then Thomas really redeemed himself when he got loose for a 22-yard play that was the Bengals' biggest play of the first half as Allen worked behind a second offensive line centered by Billy Price, a rookie right side of Carman and tackle Gunnar Vogel and left side of tackle Isaiah Prince and rookie guard D'Ante Smith.
The Bengals stormed into the red zone for the third straight time in as many drives as the game clock ticked under two minutes. But Vogel was struggling with first-round pick Joe Tryon and Evans could get just five yards to set up a third-and-five, when Auden Tate drew a pass interference penalty. The Bucs also kept the drive going when Tryon got called for hitting Allen late.
Evans kept banging it, but he couldn't get in from the 2 on second down with 16 seconds left.
But he did on the next play. With 13 seconds left in the half, Evans burrowed behind Carman and Vogel for the one-yard touchdown run and Austin Seibert gave them the half-time lead at 7-6 with the extra point.