John Ross made his NFL debut on Sunday.
LANDOVER, Md. -Head coach Marvin Lewis couldn't have scripted the Bengals' dress rehearsal anybody better in the first 18 minutes of Sunday's third pre-season game when the first offense got its first touchdown of the preseason on an 87-yard drive the first time they got the ball and Bengals defensive coordinator Paul Guenther threw old friend Jay Gruden a bevy of looks on third down before a getting a 62-yard interception return from WILL linebacker Vontaze Burfict during a 23-17 loss to Washington.
That tag team of offense and defense gave the Bengals a 14-3 lead with 11:18 left in the first half after they held Washington to one yard in the first quarter, but then script the gradually played off and out as many of the starters and regulars went stage right after halftime.
The offensive numbers for the Bengals were modest, but their young pass rushers showed up and veteran Randy Bullock may now have a foothold in his kicking completion with rookie Jake Elliott. In the third quarter Bullock drilled a 53-yard field goal and when Elliott got a 44-yard chance he sliced it right for his first miss in four tries while Bullock went to 5-for-5.
Burfict left the game for concussion protoc
ol during the ensuing drive the Washington first offense scored its first touchdown of the preseason to cut it to 14-10 and when the Bengals offense had troubles of their own on third down on a three-and-out, Washington's Dustin Hopkins responded with a 44-yard field goal with 1:02 left in the half that made it 14-13.
Burfict, who also hurt his back on the hit, was cleared for a concussion. While he was out, Gruden attacked the middle of the field with slants and screens against a mix of starters, regulars and backups that were as soft in the second quarter as they were stingy in the first quarter.
But they did bow their backs on the last drive of the half when rookie pass rusher Carl Lawson made up for getting flagged in the neutral zone on third-and-four and came back to induce a holding call on five-time Pro Bowl left tackle Trent Williams. They forced the field goal when cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick had good coverage on Pro Bowl tight end Jordan Reed on third-and-nine in the end zone.
The Bengals took a 7-0 lead with 3:45 left in the first quarter on a 15-play drive that had something old and something new. Rookie wide receiver John Ross got his first touch for an eight-yard gain on a jet sweep to the right and rookie running back Joe Mixon had a big-time juke on a six-yard gain he veered outside and old reliables A.J. Green and Andy Dalton converted to third-and-longs as Green offered another clinic to bewildered Washington Pro Bowl cornerback Josh Norman with four catches for 43 yards in the drive.
The most impressive play of the 15 may have been the last, when left tackle Cedric Ogbuehi and tight end Ryan Hewitt pulled and the right side of the line caved in while wide receiver Brandon LaFell hit his seal block as running back Jeremy Hill walked in for a three-yard touchdown run. Dalton clicked on five of six passes for 55 yards, highlighted by Green snatching a sideline route on third-and-13 from his own 10, burning Norman for 17 yards. Then on third-and-11 from the Washington 17, Green picked up 14 more cutting over the middle
The Washington offensive line just couldn't block the Bengals on its first four third downs.
On the first third down, they went with five defensive linemen, moving end Chris Smith to tackle inside Wallace Gilberry on the right side and Geno Atkins in the middle with Carlos Dunlap inside Carl Lawson on the other side. And the red hot Smith worked a stunt and got his second sack of the preseason.
On the second third down, right end Michael Johnson forced an intentional grounding call on Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins.
On the third third down, Lawson secured his first NFL sack working against Williams and that set up Burfict's pick on third-and-five from the Bengals 40. Burfict patiently waited for Cousins to look to the right sideline to running back Chris Thompson, he jumped the throw and walked in before stiff-arming Cousins at the goal line and leaping into the front row.
The Lawson sack capped a strong three-and-out stand from the Bengals 31, where Mixon never put away a handoff from Dalton for the Bengals' first fumble of the preseason. Hopkins' 51-yard field goal cut it to 7-3.
Ross took his first Bengals snap on the first punt of the game and returner Alex Erickson faked a reverse to him, but both tight Ryan Hewitt and linebacker Vincent Rey were each nabbed for holding.
Dalton, who finished his day and the half eight of 13 for 70 yards, couldn't get into much of a rhythm after that first drive. He got run out of the pocket on the third down where Ogbuehi gave up a pressure and right tackle Jake Fisher was called for a hands to the face that was declined when Dalton's scramble came up short of the first down.
Hill (15 yards on five carries) left with an ankle injury as Giovani Bernard took his first four runs of the preseason for 25 yards, including a vintage nine-yard slither.
His opposite number for Washington, No. 25, Thompson, had one catch for 27 yards on one of those screens and running back Rob Kelley had 57 yards on 10 carries against a Bengals defense that gave up five yards per rush in a half Cousins had a miserable 49 passer rating on nine of 16 for 100 yards.
The Bengals kept in their first offensive line for backup quarterback Andy Dalton and when they did have mass changes, Andre Smith checked into the game for the first time at left tackle and the Bengals moved it to get field-goal tries as Smith looked good on the left side.
But it was the defense that carried the second half for them. On Washington backup quarterback Colt McCoy's third snap, rookie right end Jordan Willis hit his arm and tackle DeShawn Williams came up with the fumble.
Williams was active. On the next series he had a stop and then on fourth-and-two rookie tackle Ryan Glasgow dumped running back Samaje Perine for a three-yard loss.
But they got sloppy late on offense and special teams. They failed to pick up a cornerback blitz on third-and-12 and got McCarron sacked and on the next play they failed to block on the edge for a Kevin Huber punt and Huber got sacked by a free runner for an eight-yard loss at the Bengals 27.
That translated into a touchdown that put Washington ahead, 20-17, and when the Bengals had a chance to take the lead midway through the fourth quarter when they drove into the red zone, McCarron threw high and behind wide receiver Alonzo Russell going across the middle. Safety Fish Smithson picked it and went 62 yards the other way to set up Hopkins' chip-shot field goal for a 23-17 lead with 3:41 left in the game.
Third-string quarterback Jeff Driskell gave the Bengals a chance to win when he had three zone-read runs of 14, 10, and nine, spiced by a 30-yard throw to wide receiver Kermit Whitfeld to put the Bengals on the 8. But Driskel lost four yards on a zone read and on fourth down wide receiver Chris Brown got boxed out in the end zone by Jeremiah McKinnon.
PRE-GAME HITS: With Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton expected to have almost all his weapons for Sunday's dress rehearsal third pre-season game, the defense is almost as healthy when they show down against Jay Gruden's men of Washington.
For unexplained reasons, starting tight end Tyler Eifert isn't expected to play. He was at all of last week's practices, but Tyler Kroft gets the start. So does Trey Hopkins at right guard instead of Andre Smith for the third straight game.
On defense, starting safety Shawn Williams (dislocated elbow) is out and so may be the other starting safety, George Iloka (knee). That would team back-up Clayton Fejedelem, starting his third straight game with Iloka out, with back-up Derron Smith.
Also expected not to play is back-up linebackers Hardy Nickerson (back) and P.J. Dawson (hand), as well as back-up tight end C.J. Uzomah (foot) and back-up rookie safety Brandon Wilson (knee).
Eifert, plagued by injuries all last season when he played just eight games, had back surgery after the season and missed all of the spring but has been full go since training camp.