For Bengals wide receiver John Ross, the talent is always there. In a five-minute span during Thursday’s pre-season opener the Bengals won, 30-27, he showed both his remarkable ability and the inconsistency that dogged the University of Washington product last year in his first season with the Bengals.
Now healthy and re-focused, Ross gave the 35,633 fans at Paul Brown Stadium a glimpse of his big-play potential with a terrific 20-yard catch-and-run that set up a touchdown late in the first quarter at Paul Brown Stadium.
But even more impressive, it came after a mistake on his first target of the pre-season. He slipped running a route, which allowed Bears cornerback Kyle Fuller to intercept an Andy Dalton pass for a 47-yard pick-six that tied the game at seven midway through the first quarter.
“I’ve run that route 100 times a week. That never happens,” Ross said. “Everybody from the head coach to my offensive coordinator to my receivers coach, A.J. (Green), Andy (Dalton) told me, ‘Don’t worry. It happens. You’ll get it.’ I go back and go to the next play and I’m rolling. That’s already out of my head.”
On his next target Ross turned a mundane five-yard completion into a 20-yard highlight, displaying the speed and agility that made him the Bengals’ first-round pick in 2017. Ross took a short pass on the left sideline on first-and-10 from the Bears 23, froze cornerback Marcus Cooper Sr., when he head faked to the sideline and left him in the dust to set up Tyler Boyd’s three-yard TD catch to get the lead back that Ross let Fuller take.
“That’s all I think about. Making a play,” Ross said. “I saw him over pursue, I went underneath, the safety took a great angle and I couldn’t get into the end zone. I was just thinking about getting the ball and making a play.”
He nearly made another spectacular play late in the second quarter when back-up quarterback Matt Barkley went for him on the back line of the end zone on third-and-six from the Bears six. He made a nice leaping grab and got one foot down but not the other.
“The coaches in the press box said I was very close. About an inch. That close,” Ross said. “I could have done better with my feet. I’m watching magic with A.J. about 100 times a week. That’s something I’ve got to work on.”
But Ross felt like he got plenty of good work, even though he had just the one catch. Especially for a guy that had 17 snaps all last season. He must have had more than that playing Thursday’s entire first half.
“One of the coaches told me after the game, ‘You got your feet wet,’” Ross said. “That’s how I felt. I felt like I made a lot of good plays out there. I got some good separation. I haven’t played that much football in a long time and it felt great.”