TAMPA, Fla. - The Bengals had their rookie show last week for the veterans, but they brought their show on the road with a little help from the vets in Saturday night's preseason opener in a 19-14 win over the Super Bowl champion Bucs.
Rookie running back Chris Evans rushed for a touchdown, rookie defensive end Joseph Ossai had a sack and undrafted rookie linebacker Darius Hodge registered five quarterback hits and one and a half sacks.
They were up 16-6 before Bengals quarterback Kyle Shurmur threw a pass right into the arms of linebacker Joseph Jones for a 15-yard pick six. When the Bucs converted the two-pointer after the Bengals couldn't get down scrambling quarterback Kyle Trask, the Bucs closed to 16-14 with 11:10 left in the game.
Fifth-rounder Evan McPherson's second field goal of the third quarter, a 31-yarder, gave the Bengals a 16-6 lead with three seconds left in the third quarter after a first half sixth-rounder Chris Evans scored the go-ahead touchdown and the third-rounder Ossai logged half a sack against the GOAT.
McPherson's field goal came courtesy of Hodges' third-down rush of Trask to force a punt, the second drive-stopping play of the night for the former Marshall defensive end.
The Bengals dominated the third quarter, thanks to second-year cornerback Jalen Davis' coverage that forced interceptions on consecutive drives. The first one was grabbed by safety Trayvon Henderson, a feel-good interception that put the ball on the Tampa 35. The last time Henderson had a preseason pick was three years ago on a play he tore his ACL.
That set up McPherson's first NFL try and the University of Florida product came back to drill a 40-yarder to give them a 10-6 lead with about nine minutes left in the third quarter.
Time for Davis to come back and get his hands on another pass. This one bounded into the hands of another safety, six-year vet Kavon Frazier, to put the ball at the Tampa 28. That's when veteran kicker Austin Seibert matched McPherson with a 24-yard field goal that made it 13-7.
Evans threw a bevy of moves at the Buccaneers in the first half 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 down and slamming in for the touchdown.
The Bengals did everything with the football but sign it and send it by parcel post during the first half 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.
How about that debut for 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. As the Bengals radio network noted, Wirfs gave up only sack last year. However, Ossai left in the third quarter with a wrist injury.
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 and the running back converted a third-and-eight for nine yards.
Check out some of the top photos from the Week 1 preseason game as the Cincinnati Bengals faced the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
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 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. But Cincy allowed just one of seven the rest of the way.
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 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 the ball 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 by a receiver in the game 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 in the half. 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 wide receiver 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.