For the first time in seven months, the Bengals played in a live NFL game on Friday night.
While Week 1 of the preseason means little in terms of the outcome, getting to welcome Mike Zimmer back to the Queen City made this an abnormally special night for the first preseason game.
Zimmer also brought with him a talented Vikings team poised for another winning season and playoff berth, making this a great test for a Bengals team looking to contend for a title.
While it was an ugly game with little scoring, there were a lot of solid performances by various Bengals that should have fans feeling good overall about this game.
However, there were also some ugly outings by several players who probably have put themselves far too close to the roster bubble for comfort.
Here is our first edition of Bengals Winners and Losers of 2016.
With Andy Dalton only getting a series of work, this was a night for backup quarterbacks to leave their mark for the Bengals. AJ McCarron had some good moments in 2015 while showing a lot of promise, and he continued to build off that with a solid first preseason outing.
McCarron finished the night 11 of 16 for 125 yards including a beautiful pass to Tyler Boyd and a touchdown throw to Alex Erickson.
AJ McCarron completes a 40-yard toss to Tyler Boyd with 1:54 remaining in the second quarter. https://t.co/kwlWXYlQw1— Josh Kirkendall (@Josh_Kirkendall) August 13, 2016
McCarron continues to look like someone who will be starting for an NFL team someday. The Bengals hope that's not for at least another year, but they have to feel great with their backup situation.
After a great performance in training camp, seeing Tyler Boyd do well in his first preseason game came as no surprise. Though Boyd only caught one pass, it was as good of a play as anyone had on Friday night.
TYLER BOYD LIVES UP TO THE HYPE!!!!!! https://t.co/t9FLHhin66— sarah (@sarahpamerica) August 13, 2016
What's great about this is Boyd was viewed as a guy who would do most of his damage from the slot in the short-to-intermediate passing game, yet his only catch this night was a 40-yard bomb. All due respect to Marvin Jones, but Boyd looks like he's fully capable of having the same level of production in this offense that Jones had in 2015.
There's no question who the biggest winner of this game was for either team. Alex Erickson entered this game on the outside looking in at a suddenly fierce battle for the final receiver spots.
He left it in prime position to make the final 53-man roster. Erickson started his big game off with a second-quarter touchdown on a quick out route from the slot.
Erickson would stay quiet for much of the next two quarters... until his 80-yard punt return score with 2:45 remaining that pulled the Bengals back into the game and made the score 17-16.
While they would go on to lose the game, Erickson scored as big of a win as a fringe roster player can have in the preseason. All but four of the points scored in the game were courtesy of Erickson.
The Bengals wasted no time making life miserable for Teddy Bridgewater and the Vikings offense. The game's first two plays saw Geno Atkins get to Bridgewater, though it was the second time that allowed Atkins to finish the job.
Geno Atkins with a QB sack. https://t.co/Rz0PZEp0oE— Josh Kirkendall (@Josh_Kirkendall) August 12, 2016
Then Carlos Dunlap blew by former Bengal Andre Smith for an easy sack.
And on the following play, Carlos Dunlap forces an incomplete (against Andre Smith). https://t.co/I42Vb5Bc1C— Josh Kirkendall (@Josh_Kirkendall) August 12, 2016
It was only one series, but the Bengals' front seven is already looking as scary as it was last year. Atkins and Dunlap also look primed for another huge year.
Tyler Boyd and Alex Erickson may have made the highlight-reel plays, but Cody Core quietly had himself a nice NFL debut. Playing with the backups, Core hauled in three passes for 33 yards and looked good in the process.
Coming off a big training camp thus far, Core has firmly entrenched himself on the final roster, and he may even be the fourth receiver if the regular season began today.
Even when the starters came out, the second-team defense looked good thanks in large part to Will Clarke. He was one of the biggest surprises of this game with how well he did vs the run and pass.
Clarke finished the night with a modest two tackles, but that only begins to show his impact. He was frequently getting push into the backfield and disrupting runs. Clarke did the same rushing the passer, but he also displayed some nice burst off the edge.
Frankly, Clarke looked like a different player than what we’ve seen in the past two years. That’s great news for a Bengals defense badly needing more from him and Margus Hunt...
To say this was a bad night for Hunt would be quite the understatement. As big of a winner as Erickson was, Hunt was equally as awful, not to mention being the biggest loser of this game.
Hunt entered the first preseason game safely on the roster, probably even as the third defensive end. But in one game, he somehow managed to put himself on the roster bubble, possibly even on the outside looking in. That's how bad Hunt was on Friday. He was frequently pushed back in the run game and got no push rushing the passer.
On the other side, Clarke looked like a guy far superior and more deserving of that third end role. Heck, undrafted rookie Ryan Brown looked like he deserves to be on the roster more than Hunt.
After ending 2015 as the Bengals’ backup behind AJ McCarron, Keith Wenning entered this preseason hoping to make his case for a spot on the final roster as a third quarterback.
Wenning made a better case for not even making the practice squad. He finished the night 3-of-8 for 28 yards with a bad interception. He effectively killed the Bengals offense in the second half until Joe Licata came in. It’s just one game, but Wenning showed nothing to suggest he’s even worth a practice squad spot.
Who was your biggest winner and loser for this game?