Brandon Ghee catches a pass during a drill at Tuesday's joint practice session between the Bengals and Falcons.
Updated: 8:40 p.,m.
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis likes to say the media "overstates" practice but he says that's OK because it gives people something to do.
"It's fine," he said after Tuesday's practice, where his defense appeared to take a split decision from Pro Bowl quarterback Matt Ryan in the final day of practice against the Falcons.
Working without Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez (family commitments) and Pro Bowl wide receiver Julio Jones (hamstring), Ryan microwaved the Bengals in the one-minute drill for a 60-second TD. But the Bengals came back to stone him, for the most part, in the red zone during seven-on-seven and they may have had as many as three sacks against Ryan when they defrosted Matty Ice in 11-on-11.
Ryan won't have Gonzalez or Jones in Thursday's preseason opener against the Bengals (8 p.m.-ESPN and Cincinnati's Channel 5) and he and the estimable wide receiver Roddy White are expected to play only a series or two.
So Tuesday was Cincinnati's last shot to get some decent work against the big guys. And when Ryan's right tackle, Mike Johnson, went down with what looked to be a severe knee injury on the first play of 9-on-7 early in practice, Bengals left end Robert Geathers proceeded to be in Ryan's face all day against a rotation of youngsters that have played a combined one NFL game in 2012 third-rounder Lamar Holmes and free-agent Ryan Schraeder.
After Bengals right end Michael Johnson lined up offside to start 11-on-11, Geathers got enough pressure that Ryan paused in the pocket long enough to get a foot stepped on before angrily heaving the ball out of bounds across the field.
"We were moving fast out there; guys are doing their assignments," Geathers said. "Sometimes in that one-minute situation they kind of let them keep it going, but whatever, we got good work."
Lewis pronounced the two days "good work," and with linebacker Vinnie Rey's tweaked knee that may keep him out only a week the only casualty, it was also lucky. The upbeat Lewis didn't even seem to mind Ryan's one-minute surgical strike.
"There's no pass rush so he better, the ball is supposed to go underneath. The quarterbacks ought to be efficient. We're judging on being in the right spots," Lewis said. "You overstate everything but it gives people something to do. It's fine. The quarterbacks ought to be. NFL quarterbacks, the ball shouldn't touch the ground. Keep him in tight coverage. We prefer it to be completed than one of the guys hit the ground."
But Ryan had his hands full with the Bengals in seven-on-seven, which also has no rush. Wearing shoulder pads and shorts compared to full pads Monday, the Bengals DBs knocked down Ryan in the end zone during red zone 7-on-7 with cornerback Adam Jones getting a hand out at the last instant on a deep ball to Falcons wide receiver Harry Douglas and Dre Kirkpatrick knocking away a pass near the end line.
And SAM linebacker James Harrison also had an interception of Ryan in seven-on-seven when middle linebacker Rey Maualuga tipped a pass intended for tight end Levine Toiloio over the middle and Harrison caught as he was going to the ground.
In fact, Kirkpatrick was all over the place Tuesday.
"Dre Kirkpatrick was a lockdown corner today," WILL linebacker Vontaze Burfict said. "They kept going to his side and he kept batting balls down. If we've got a player of the week, I'd say it was him."
Burfict had a pretty nice two days, too. He was part of the harassment in the 7-on-7 when Ryan went to his main man White and led him too far with Burfict and linebacker Emmanuel Lamur in coverage.
"Everybody was just competing, running to the ball and making plays. They run the same offense as we run. It was just a matter of getting into a progression and reacting to the ball," Burfict said. "It was more focusing on the detail that Zimmer taught us. Competing each down even though you're going to be tired. In the one-minute I was gassed, especially with this humidity, I was gassed. I think everyone was gassed but that's when you have to focus in and do all the little things. When you're tired you start busting coverages and stuff like that. But I think we did a pretty good job, being tired and still doing our job. We're not out playing some sorry offense each day. We try to come out here and get better. Just communicate and learn plays."
It was Burfict who made the most memorable play of the day Monday when he blew up the fullback and wrestled with running back Steven Jackson in the hole in a confrontation that ended with a shove and a bad word.
But on Tuesday before practice they said it was all good and Jackson, the three-time Pro Bowler and 10,000-yard rusher, noticed what the Bengals have on defense.
"I've always had great deal of respect for this defense because of Coach Lewis and I think they do a really good job," Jackson said. "It's something we call a snap in front where you have two linebackers within the A gaps. That really makes it difficult on a running back protection-wise. They have the stoutness of holding the line of scrimmage and getting pressure on the quarterback as well as the athletic ability getting underneath coverages.
"When you think about the AFC North, cold games and tough running within the tackles," said Jackson, who spent his previous nine seasons in the NFC West, "I think they fit what the division is and what the scheme asks." Cornerback Leon Hall, battling a tight hamstring, returned to the 11-on-11 team drill and knocked away a deep pass headed to Douglas in a period that saw the No. 1 defensive line pressure Ryan enough to have three sacks if it had been live.
When backup quarterback Dominique Davis came into the same drill, Harrison ended the last play of the period with a rush that forced Davis onto his back foot and the launch of a high incomplete pass to the sideline.
Hall looked to be OK after he sat out the one-minute drill and Brandon Ghee played the slot in a period Ryan dominated. Rookie cornerback Terrence Brown was shaken up when he broke up a contested ball in the end zone.