In what was arguably the fastest and crispest a Marvin Lewis team has ever come out for a pre-season opener, the Bengals jumped out to a 10-0 lead over the Giants in the first nine minutes Friday night at Paul Brown Stadium on their way to a fairly complete 23-10 victory.
With 432 yards, the Bengals nearly doubled up the Giants' 224
And by the time there were five minutes left in the third quarter, the Bengals had 14 plays of at least 10 yards to six for the Giants. At that point, working with a mix of second- and third-teamers, Bengals rookie linebacker P.J. Dawson made his debut with a stop of running back Kenneth Harper that fueled the Cincinnati defense's fifth three-and-out of the night.
The first-team defense put New York through two three-and-outs and quarterback Andy Dalton took a seat when he hit all three of his passes for 31 yards in a microwave-quick, six-play 52-yard touchdown drive that never reached third down.
Even though the Bengals' first defense left after six snaps, Giants quarterback Eli Manning stayed in for two more series but it didn't get much better. He didn't engineer a point and completed four of eight passes for 22 yards in a stretch the Giants' longest plays were a draw and a screen.
"The first offense did some good things. I was particularly pleased with the tempo. And you always want to start your first drive of the year with a touchdown," Lewis said. "Defensively, the first unit also played well. I particularly liked the way we responded after the long kickoff
The Bengals offense picked up where it left off after picking apart the Giants secondary in Wednesday's practice. Dalton wasted no time going to his favorite target of this preseason when he hit tight end Tyler Eifert for 12 yards over the middle beating linebacker Jon Beason.
After running back Jeremy Hill busted up the middle for a 10-yard gain as the lone back, wide receiver A.J. Green scalded safety-turned-cornerback Bennett Jackson on a 16-yard route to the right sideline off Dalton's bootleg play-action.
Dalton picked up six by himself on a scramble and Hill plowed for five behind the interior for a first down. When Dalton lined up his receivers, they were in a bunch to his right at the Giants 3 and wide receiver Mohamed Sanu broke wide open for an easy touchdown.
"I think what everybody saw just shows that we came out fully prepared. We executed well, did what we wanted to do and scored a touchdown," Dalton said. "It's not that much, but sure, it's a good start to the season. The first-unit guys were glad we could earn ourselves a short
It was just as easy on defense. On the first series of the game, left end Carlos Dunlap dropped running back Rashad Jennings for a five-yard loss on second down and on the next snap Manning couldn't convert a back-shoulder throw to wide receiver Rueben Randle because cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick was draped all over it.
Manning had no better luck in his second series even though Akeem Hunt returned Bengals rookie kicker Tom Obarski's liner to the Bengals 35. Defensive tackle Geno Atkins flashed the three-time Pro Bowl form he's flashed all summer and dropped running back Andre Williams for no gain on first down. Then Dunlap, torturing former Bengals right tackle Marshall Newhouse, hounded Manning into an incompletion on a bootleg that fooled no one. On third down, wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., kept running down the sideline in an effort to get away from cornerback Adam Jones, but he couldn't and Manning threw it short.
Old friend Josh Brown then did what he rarely did in his month with the Bengals in 2012 and missed a 53-yard field goal to the right.
Obarski didn't when he cashed a 46-yarder in the wake of quarterback Josh Johnson's first series working behind everyone on the first offensive line but left tackle Andrew Whitworth. Johnson had been taking good notes. He also went to Eifert over the middle and this time got 18 yards. But the drive stalled when the Giants got a sack over the left side of the Bengals line and Obarski hit the field goal with 5:20 left in the first quarter for the 10-0 lead.
"It's a good start. Really, we just played against what we saw in practice against them this week," Dunlap said. "We were fortunate that they gave us some plays we were ready for. You can't read a lot into this, it's just one quarter of a preseason game, but I see it as the first
building block to getting where we want to be."
The first half had some casualties. Cornerback Darqueze Dennard walked to the locker room with a groin injury late in the half after running backs Rex Burkhead (neck) and Cedric Peerman (knee) were marked as questionable to return. None of them returned to the game.
Johnson manufactured a touchdown on long passes to two wide receivers playing in significant games. In his first NFL game, rookie Mario Alford slithered out of the slot into the flat and then raced past Bennett Jackson for the first down and 13 yards. Then four plays later, on third-and-11, Marvin Jones, playing his first game since the 2013 Wild Card Game, broke loose on a left sideline pattern against cornerback Chandler Fenner, pirouetted at the first-down marker, and picked up a couple of more for a 17-yard gain.
That set up running back James Wilder Jr.'s two-yard touchdown run to put the Bengals back into a 10-point lead at 17-7 with 4:44 left in the first half.
With Burkhead and Peerman on the bench, Wilder went to work behind an undermanned backup offensive line. With second-round pick Jake Fisher not playing after leaving Wednesday's practice with what appeared to be a shoulder injury and guard Trey Hopkins scratched with an unknown ailment, tackle Tanner Hawkinson was at left guard and veteran tackle Eric Winston was still in the game and played both right tackle and right guard. Wilder converted on a power play behind rookie fullback Mark Weisman and the pulling Hawkinson.
The Giants cut the lead to 17-10 on the last play of the half on Brown's 41-yard field goal. But the Bengals stopped one drive when they got back-to-back hits on Giants backup quarterback Ryan Nassib, one from right end Will Clarke and the other from rush linebacker Chris Carter off the edge. Clarke also batted down a pass late in the first half.
With backup quarterback AJ McCarron shelved, Johnson had a field day and his receivers had no problem beating the Giants defenders. His 42-yard pass to wide receiver Greg Little down the right sideline set up Obarski's field goal that made it 20-10 with 5:47 left in the third quarter. Little separated from defensive back Trevin Wade and made a nice reaching catch over his head while staying in-bounds at the Giants 10.
Early in the fourth quarter Johnson went deep for wide receiver Denarius Moore down the right sideline and Moore drew a 30-yard interference penalty on safety Josh Gordy to set up Obarski's tricky 21-yard field from the right hash. With 9:37 left in the game, Obarski's third field goal in his debut gave the Bengals a 23-10 lead.
Johnson left in favor of Keith Wenning with eight minutes left in the game after completing of 11 of 21 passes for 175 yards while rushing six times for 37 yards. He also had help from Wilder's 53 yards on 14 carries.
Alford, the seventh-rounder from West Virginia, had an exciting second half. On his first punt return, he made a bad decision when he fielded it at about his own five-yard line
But he came back and ran a reverse for 22 yards when the Bengals faked the power play with Hawkinson again pulling as Alford skittered the other way.
Wenning put the finishing touches on an offensive night that went over 400 yards when he got a first down to rookie wide receiver Jake Kumerow on third-and-four. Kumerow then threw a key block on rookie running back Terrell Watson's 26-yard run.
But Wenning threw a red-zone interception intended for wide receiver Tevin Reese and the big return set the Giants up deep in Bengals' territory. But sacks by rookie defensive linemen Marcus Hardison and DeShawn Williams, as well as rookie cornerback Troy Hill's pass defense in the end zone, blunted the Giants.
PRE-GAME NOTES: Backup quarterback AJ McCarron led the list of Bengals not expected to play in Friday night's pre-season opener against the Giants at Paul Brown Stadium.
McCarron hasn't worked since suffering an injury early in Monday's practice, when it's believed he suffered some kind of strain in the rib-chest area. That means Josh Johnson is going to get the bulk of the snaps after Andy Dalton gets a series or two of work.
McCarron said on Wednesday the injury isn't related to the shoulder tendinitis that took him out of most of last season.
Also not expected to play was right tackle Andre Smith, who has practiced this training camp but has been eased into it as he comes back from a torn triceps. Eric Winston got the start in his place. As expected, right end Michael Johnson, who reportedly suffered an MCL sprain the third day of camp, was scratched and former Giant Wallace Gilberry got the start.
Rookie Tom Obarski was expected to take all the kicks with Mike Nugent getting the night off. The Bengals Radio Network reported Nugent had tender hamstring.
Also not expected to play were backup cornerback Brandon Ghee and backup guard Trey Hopkins with unknown ailments.
For the Giants, wide receiver Victor Cruz, who took a few snaps in Wednesday's practice against the Bengals, was a scratch as he continues his comeback from last season's injury. Also sitting out was starting cornerback Prince Amukamara and starting guard Geoff Schwartz.