It was an inauspicious start to the season for the Cincinnati Bengals.
But the real joke was Cincinnati's second half. But let's start from the beginning.
Adam Jones returned the game's first punt 50 yards to Chicago's 27-yard line. Instead, Cedric Peerman's illegal block essentially penalized the Bengals 47 yards back to their own 26-yard. This wouldn't have been so bad had Andy Dalton's interception on the second offensive play of the season didn't result in a quick touchdown by Martellus Bennett with 9:52 remaining in the first quarter.
But it was that kind of afternoon.
Tremendous strides and obvious successes infrequently translated but was never sustained -- especially in the fourth quarter when the Bears dominated. Perhaps this was the basic result of the Bengals playing their first regular season game of the year after having such limited work during the preseason. Who can say. Everyone else is in the same boat, so that excuse to me, at least, is a push.
Cincinnati's offense generated a quick three and out in response to Chicago's game-opening touchdown, then Shawn Williams was flagged for a facemask on Devin Hester's return, moving Chicago from their own 25-yard line to the 40. Fortunately, it wasn't a problem with Cincinnati's defense holding Chicago to a three and out. Then the Bears dropped a sand wedge to the three-yard line and oddly enough, that's when Cincinnati's offense started to recover.
A series of quick and efficient throws, positive runs, combined with a 42-yard reception by A.J. Green, eventually led to a game-tying touchdown and eventual initiation of rhythm. Green faked a slant route, one that Charles Tillman intercepted earlier in the first quarter, and spun towards the sidelines for the wide open touchdown reception. Eventually Cincinnati's momentum led to 245 yards on in the first half, converting five of seven first downs and a second touchdown scored by A.J. Green on a wide open 45-yard score. Considering that the Bengals committed multiple turnovers and penalties that could have significantly hurt Cincinnati, they needed the second quarter momentum.
Defensively the Bengals began the afternoon stout. Five of the Bears first six possessions resulted in punts, with four of those drives going three and out. It wasn't until the 6:30 mark in the third quarter when Chicago surpassed the 100-yard mark on a 30-yard reception that gained their first first down since the first quarter.
But in truth, the Bears discovered a flaw in Cincinnati's defense while Cincinnati's offense slowly collapsed.
Unable to secure a quarterback sack Sunday afternoon, Cutler found chunks of yards while extending plays because routes were being developed. Cincinnati added a variety of man coverages that never contain Brandon Marshall. During Chicago's 80-yard touchdown possession, Cutler avoided the pass rush and almost appeared to be scrambling, forcing defenders to react. Instead, he lobbed the football at the last second for a 30-yard gain. A possession later, he faked a handoff rolling out to the right, when he scrambled to the left and found Matt Forte with a 24-yard gain.
Vontaze Burfict put a stop to Chicago's fourth quarter possession with an interception, but that didn't give Cincinnati any gains because, Mohamed Sanu lost a fumble following a ten-yard reception that led to another Chicago touchdown.
Back to the chunk-yardage plays. With 11:22 remaining in the fourth quarter, Jay Cutler eased the football to Brandon Marshall, who beat Terence Newman for a 38-yard gain down the right sidelines. Cutler recovered after a first down offensive hold with an 18-yard scramble on second-and-20 taking advantage of Cincinnati completely ignoring the quarterback. Chicago attempted and converted the fourth down with 8:32 remaining in the game.
The Bengals were losing their grip and their lack of focus was apparent.
Prior to the fourth down conversion, the Bengals didn't have enough men on the field, forced to use their second time out. After Matt Forte's conversion, they had to extinguish their final time out because there were too many defenders. The Bears took a 24-21 lead with just under eight minutes remaining on a 19-yard touchdown to Brandon Marshall.
How did Cincinnati respond? Dalton was sacked on first down and nearly threw his third interception on third down. Chicago artfully sustained possessions as the Bengals defensive front failed to generate a pass rush while receivers and tight ends were easily beating Cincinnati's man coverage schemes.
And it was only fitting that Rey Maualuga ended Cincinnati's afternoon after an unnecessary roughness, which gave Chicago an automatic first down with over a minute remaining and no timeouts left.
The Bengals have a lot of work left as they lick their wounds and get ready for Pittsburgh on Monday Night Football.
A couple of notes:
- Wide receiver A.J. Green led the Bengals with 162 yards receiving, two touchdowns and two receptions over 40 yards.
- Tyler Eifert and Jermaine Gresham combined for ten completions for 82 yards receiving.
- Despite being forced out of the game multiple times with an injury, linebacker Vontaze Burfict posted a team-high eight tackles and an interception.
- The Bengals failed to generate a quarterback sack for the first time since Nov. 4, 2012 against the Denver Broncos.
- The Bengals generated 140 yards in the second quarter, converting four of five third down opportunities.
- Dalton completed nine of 11 passes for 117 yards in the second quarter, along with a touchdown.
- On the other hand, Chicago posted 141 yards on offense in the fourth quarter, including 12:21 on time of possession.