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Bengals at Jaguars Preseason Week 3: Starters continue to dominate in Cincinnati’s 26-21 loss to Jacksonville

Aside from a few injuries, the Bengals looked great in their third matchup of the preseason.

NFL: Preseason-Cincinnati Bengals at Jacksonville Jaguars Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

The Bengals’ first primetime game since their early January Wild Card playoff loss, injuries aside, went really well. Cornerback Adam Jones suffered what seems to be a minor injury in warm-ups, A.J. Green left the game early with a knee injury and Cedric Peerman suffered a fractured forearm — but that aside, Cincinnati couldn’t have looked better. The Bengals starters dominated on both sides of the ball, and players at virtually every position were making impact plays throughout the game.

With Jones, Darqueze Dennard and William Jackson, as well as many others, out for Sunday Night’s action, Chris Lewis-Harris earned the start at cornerback opposite Dre Kirkpatrick, tallying a special teams tackle on the opening kickoff and a tackle for loss on the Jaguars’ first offensive play.

Cincinnati’s defense got off to a quick start, as Rey Maualuga forced a fumble (recovered by Vincent Rey), leading to a quick screen pass for a touchdown to Giovani Bernard. On the play before Bernard’s touchdown, Andy Dalton just barely overthrew C.J. Uzomah on what should’ve been an easy touchdown. Though the tight end failed to haul in the touchdown, it was encouraging to see him get so open in the end zone.

The Bengals forced another Jaguars punt after Marvin Lewis won a challenge on what was originally ruled a third-down completion by Bortles. On the ensuing possession, a screen pass from Dalton to Jeremy Hill went for a huge 28-yard gain, thanks to solid blocks from Green and Russell Bodine. Yes, you read that right, Bodine had a great play, and it wasn’t his only one. A few plays later, the Bengals were forced to punt as Green was noticeably limping off-the-field.

During the game, he said "No, no, no, no. I'm fine. I'm fine now,” when asked if the injury was serious. The Bengals played it safe, keeping Green out of the action for the rest of the night. He likely could, but won’t, play on Thursday night in the Bengals’ preseason finale.

Kevin Huber pinned the Jags deep, forcing them to start on their own 10-yard line before a penalty pushed Jacksonville back to their own 5. For those paying attention, Huber is still great. A quick three-and-out, thanks to dominant play from Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap, gave the Bengals offense another shot at putting up more points on the board.

Cincinnati’s offense took over and continued to dominate, as Bernard put Jacksonville’s defense in a spin cycle on multiple great runs. The entire offensive line — particularly Bodine — looked great on each of Bernard’s carries. The center was later flagged for a false start, but that shouldn’t negate how great he looked in Jacksonville. Bernard and Hill each made a couple additional explosive runs on the Bengals’ third drive, which was saved by a huge fourth-down reception by Tyler Boyd. Jeremy Hill capped off the drive with a short touchdown run to give Cincinnati a 14-0 lead.

Chykie Brown was in on the action early, due to the Bengals aforementioned lack of cornerback depth in the game. He made back-to-back great plays, breaking up a pass and sniffing out a screen pass. Jacksonville started to move the ball down the field on the next few plays, as Bortles connected with Allen Hurns and Yeldon popped off a long run. Shawn Williams missed a critical tackle on Yeldon, allowing the back to scamper down the field for a big gain. This game may have signaled a few worries regarding Williams’ ability and the Bengals gave Derron Smith a huge amount of playing time, pulling George Iloka early, potentially to test out the backup safety.

Two huge pass breakups by Dre Kirkpatrick and Smith bailed out the rest of Cincinnati’s defense before a field goal put the Jags on the board, with a score of 14-3.

AJ McCarron entered the game on the Bengals’ fourth drive, starting things off with a quick completion to Brandon LaFell. On the following play, running back and special teams ace Peerman left the game with a fractured left forearm, leaving Tra Carson and Bronson Hill to take over at running back. The Bengals’ backups, still facing Jacksonville’s starting defense, couldn’t move the ball down the field, and Cincinnati was forced to punt.

The only notable play that happened for the rest of the first half: Michael Johnson absolutely plowed through Jags lineman, Luke Joeckel — a former second overall pick — for an easy pressure. Joeckel had been playing left tackle for the Jaguars but with free agent acquisition Kelvin Beachum healthy, he's expected to take over the left tackle duties with Joeckel moving to left guard. The half ended with a score of 14-3 in the Bengals’ favor.

Cincinnati’s starters were dominant throughout the first half, thanks to major boosts from the running back duo, interior offensive line and defensive line. Dalton ended the night 6-of-10 for 77 yards and a touchdown. Bernard and Hill added 48 yards and a touchdown on 11 collective carries, and Hill also added a 28-yard catch while Bernard added 25 yards on two catches, including a long of 19.

Karlos Dansby (two tackles) and Kirkpatrick (one tackle and one pass deflection) also looked really good. Uzomah looked pretty good, hauling in a 10-yard pass on three targets and setting up a few run plays with quality blocking. He likely would’ve had a touchdown pass if not for a Dalton overthrow. Still, it was nice to see Uzomah grab his first catch of the preseason.

Brandon Tate opened up the second half by dropping an easy pass from AJ McCarron on the first offensive play, but a 53-yard bomb from McCarron to Cody Core more than made up for the bad play by the veteran receiver. Alex Erickson finished off the drive with a 21-yard touchdown catch, giving Cincinnati a 21-3 lead.

The Bengals’ backups continued to dominate on defense, forcing a quick Jaguars punt. Margus Hunt did a good job sealing the edge on one particular run by Denard Robinson, which was nice to see. Hunt is nearly a given to make the roster due to the Bengals’ lack of depth at defensive end, so seeing him making positive plays is, well, necessary. The two teams swapped punts back and forth until the Jaguars finally pushed the ball down the field and scored a touchdown, thanks to a touchdown run by Joe Banyard. With the two-point conversion good, Cincinnati’s lead decreased to 10 points, with the score 21-11.

On the following Bengals possession, McCarron was running for his life behind Cincinnati’s reserve linemen. On the bright side, wide receiver Jake Kumerow was out on the field after missing last week’s game due to a hamstring strain suffered early in training camp. Cincinnati punted the ball back to Jacksonville, and the Bengals defense looked to make another stand.

Undrafted rookie defensive tackle David Dean looked great, generating some nice pressure and making a tackle. DeShawn Williams also looked nice; he pressured Chad Henne after making a pass deflection earlier in the game. However, the Bengals’ reserve defense couldn’t do much. It allowed Henne and the Jaguars reserves to drive the ball down the field for yet another score, as well as a two-point conversion. With the score, Cincinnati’s lead diminished to just two points, with the score 21-19.

Joe Licata took the field next, immediately connecting with Erickson on an 8-yard pass. Feeling confident after a first down picked up by a three-yard run from Carson, the quarterback tested the Jags’ secondary with a deep pass intended for Kumerow. Unfortunately, the wideout couldn’t haul it in. Bad protection on the next play led to a Jaguars sack and a Bengals punt.

The Bengals defense forced another Jags punt, and Erickson took over with a spectacular 39-yard return, which has people excited.

Unfortunately, things went south quickly, as Bronson Hill was stuffed for -7 yards. On the following play, Jags linebacker Hayes Pullard intercepted Licata’s pass and returned it for a touchdown, making it 23 unanswered points from the Jaguars. Licata ended the night 0-for-3 with an interception.

Keith Wenning came in on the next drive and looked pretty good, connecting with Tyler Boyd on a 16-yard pass and gaining a first down on a 13-yard scramble. The Bengals, unable to capitalize on Wenning’s two plays, eventually punted.

Ryan Brown finally showed back up after a quiet second week of the preseason, tallying a nice tackle for loss in an otherwise unspectacular fourth quarter for the Bengals. Kevin Huber punted nine times (377 yards) throughout, which goes to show how the reserves struggled moving the ball on offense.

Injuries aside, Cincinnati looked solid in its third preseason game. The starters played very well, plenty of backups showed promise and Erickson put on another show in the return game. It’s going to be hard for the Bengals to stash him on the practice squad, so he’ll be a guy to keep an eye on as this week continues.