When AJ McCarron took over at quarterback for the Bengals in the third quarter of the team's second preseason game, he entered a game that started as a nightmare for the Bengals. The Bengals were losing 23-3 and Andy Dalton had gone six for 13 in completions for 46-yards, 0 touchdowns and a QBR of 15.7. His longest pass of the night was his first of the game, a 14-yard pass to A.J. Green with 10:47 left in the first quarter.
McCarron stepped in against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the third quarter and all thoughts were, well, it can't get any worse, can it? It didn't.
McCarron did a satisfactory job, especially for a backup quarterback playing his first live-action game in the NFL. McCarron missed all of the 2014 preseason on the Non-Football Injury list for a pre-existing shoulder injury. Once he was activated to the team last December, he didn't play at all during his rookie season. Last week against the New York Giants, McCarron missed the game with a rib injury.
McCarron completed 11 of 15 passing attempts for 97 yards, had 3-yards rushing and a QBR of 90.1, about six times that of Dalton's rating in the game. McCarron handed off the first play of the quarter to Rex Burkhead and on the next play he scrambled, netting 3-yards rushing. On third down, McCarron attempted his first ever NFL pass, which was incomplete to Greg Little.
On the next Bengals offensive drive, McCarron got his first NFL completion as he threw a two-yard pass to Rex Burkhead.
After having only 3:38 total minutes of possession in the third quarter and after going 0/2 on third down conversions, the score remained 23-3 at the end of the third quarter.
The Bengals' first offensive possession of the fourth quarter resulted in a safety, when Cedric Peerman attempted to run the football out of the end zone. But, when McCarron took over again with 7:43 remaining in the fourth quarter, some good did result, including a 12-play, 80-yard touchdown drive.
It started when McCarron targeted tight end Tyler Kroft three times in a row for a 12-yard completion, an incompletion and another 8-yard completion. McCarron then fired off three passes to Peerman for six, three and eight yards respectively. He hit Jake Kumerow for a 16-yard completion and targeted Peerman again for another two yards. Finally, the Bengals ran a running play, during which James Wilder Jr. went up the middle for nine yards. Another McCarron pass to Kumerow resulted in pushing to Tampa Bay's five-yard line, from where Wilder ran it up the middle for a touchdown. Wilder then successfully completed a two-point conversion.
McCarron's first touchdown drive was executed well, making the score 11-25, which according to Bengals.com, is a score that's never been recorded during the regular season. With only two other plays for McCarron and the Bengals' offense in the game, McCarron completed a pass to Kumerow for 15-yards and then on the final play of the evening, he was sacked for the first time during the game.
It wasn't a great way to end the night, but, after what we saw in the first half of the game, McCarron's NFL debut was nice to take in. It wasn't great, but it wasn't terrible. And keeping in mind that this was his first live NFL action, McCarron's continued growth will be exciting to watch.
The two Bengals players with the best performances in the game, McCarron and Wilder, both had family in attendance for the game. McCarron's wife was there to cheer him on in his NFL debut and Wilder's father was in attendance, a former Buccaneers player, who on Monday night, wore a Bengals jersey in support of his son.
"Having family here seeing my first game was definitely special," McCarron said, "and, hopefully, we've got more to come," McCarron told AL.com.
McCarron told the Enquirer his first game was an awesome experience. "Being in the atmosphere, feeling like you're in the game and everything, it was just an awesome experience," he said.
"We got in a good rhythm and put together a good drive, which was good for us and good to see the guys get that mojo back in them and some excitement."
Getting into a rhythm isn't something the first team offense was able to do. We may be seeing more Dalton and less McCarron on Saturday when the Bengals play the Bears for their third preseason game, but McCarron's Monday night performance was a good starting point for the young quarterback.