Even though naysayers will say the preseason doesn’t matter, it is still an upgrade from training camp 11-on-11 drills. The Cincinnati Bengals hosted Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Friday night at Paul Brown Stadium and came away with a win, their first of the 2017 preseason.
The Bengals offense came alive in the second half after jumping ahead on the first drive, the team was able to rally behind third string quarterback Jeff Driskel and take the lead. Driskel went eight for nine with 97 yards, one touchdown, and had a passer rating of 148.6 He also led the team in rushing yards with 34, and his rushing touchdown was the spark that ignited the Bengals offense.
Unfortunately, the game didn’t answer all of the questions we have regarding this season, but it offered a good look for what’s to come with some glimmers of hope throughout the exhibition contest.
John Ross, Giovani Bernard, Dre Kirkpatrick, Tony McRae, Cedric Peerman, Brandon Wilson, George Iloka, David Dean, and C.J. Uzomah were all rested. They have all been dealing with injuries, or recently returned from injuries, so it is easy to see why Marvin Lewis wouldn’t want to risk aggravating their ailments in a game that doesn’t matter toward the team’s record.
Tampa Bay received the opening kickoff and fell victim to a block in the back penalty. Despite the poor field position, quarterback Jameis Winston and wide receiver Mike Evans took the Buccaneers all the way down the field, connecting three times on their first three targets for 52 yards. The Bengals felt the loss of key players Iloka and Kirkpatrick in their secondary and allowed 79 passing yards on the first drive. After a 14 play, 92 yard drive, Adam Jones successfully defended Evans on two straight plays, forcing a 20 yard field goal from Roberto Aguayo. Jones didn’t start though on the boundary, that honor went to Darqueze Dennard and William Jackson III, who are competing to take on Jones’ Week 1 starting spot during his suspension. Jones was used in the slot on the opening drive, and did well in the role. That could be something to look for more of this season.
On the ensuing possession, the Bengals answered with a long drive of their own. The Bengals offense rested on the legs of Jeremy Hill, who ran for 22 yards on six carries, and Joe Mixon, who had his first rush as a Bengal, which was a pickup of five yards. The Bengals moved all the way down to the five yard line, where, after going four-for-four, Andy Dalton threw a costly interception. Though, it was more a good play by the Buccaneers defense than anything else.
After forcing a punt, AJ McCarron took over the Bengals offense. Due to a penalty, McCarron started the drive by digging the Bengals out of a 1st and 21. The next three plays went to Mixon. He showcased his playmaking ability by making defenders miss all over the field. Ultimately, the drive ended in a 54-yard field goal from Randy Bullock to level the score.
Former Bengals quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick took over the Buccaneers offense on their third offensive possession. After a long drive with most of the Buccaneers’ 63 yards coming on the ground, Fitzpatrick scrambled into the end zone for a six-yard touchdown. Aguayo’s extra point attempt hit the right upright, making the score 9-3 in the Buccaneers favor.
The Bengals took over from the 25 yard line with 2:51 left in the half. Despite two rushes from Mixon of 8 and 13 yards, the drive stalled at the 27. Jake Elliott took his first NFL field goal attempt and split the uprights from 45 yards out. After struggling at times in training camp, the Bengals were glad to see Elliott cut the Buccaneers’ lead in half.
Ryan Griffin took over the Tampa Bay offense leading up to the end of the half. Their drive was abruptly canceled by a Jordan Willis sack, Cincinnati’s first sack of the game. The Buccaneers punted the ball away, only to have McCarron kneel it to end the half.
The score at halftime was 9-6 with the Buccaneers on top. The Buccaneers outgained the Bengals with 206 total yards of offense.
Jeff Driskel led the offense on the field for the start of the third quarter. Three rushes and one 23 yard catch from Tra Carson helped get the Bengals down to the 38 yard line. From there, Driskel lofted a pass to Alex Erickson that took the offense down the 18. On the next play, Driskel took the ball on a read option play and ran down the sideline for the Bengals’ first touchdown of the game. Randy Bullock’s extra point was good, and the Bengals had taken the lead for the first time. With 10:55 left in the third quarter, the Bengals led 13-9.
Fitzpatrick came back onto the field to lead the Buccaneers offense in the third quarter. After 7 plays and 48 yards, Nick Folk sank a 45 yard field goal to help Tampa Bay put a dent in the Bengals lead. Cincinnati still led by a one point margin at 13-12.
Driskel and the Bengals took over and wasted no time going down the field. Offense from Carson and Erickson once again propelled the Bengals to the end zone where Driskel would throw an eight-yard pass to the back of the end zone to Josh Malone. The Bengals would capitalize on a Jake Elliott extra point to pull ahead 20-12 as the third quarter wrapped up.
Griffin came back to try and answer for the Buccaneers. On this drive, however, pressure from the defensive line, namely Chris Smith, DeShaun Williams, and Jordan Willis, forced the Buccaneers to punt. The pressure was so bad that Griffin left the game on what looked like an injury.
The next drive went horribly wrong. The Buccaneers had downed the punt on the Bengals three yard line, but the Bengals actually lost two yards on the drive. Will Monday’s punt resulted in a 22 yard return by Bernard Reedy that ended on Cincinnati’s own 29 yard line.
Setting up shop deep inside enemy territory, Fitzpatrick came into the game for Tampa Bay. After a pass defended by Bene Benwikere and a fumble that Fitzpatrick recovered, the Buccaneers’ disastrous drive ended with an interception by undrafted rookie defensive back Demetrious Cox. The former Michigan State Spartan returned the pick to the 48 yard line, cancelling out the horrifying field position.
The Bengals drive following the interception resulted in a three and out. However, Monday (who was just signed by the team this week) redeemed himself by pinning the Buccaneers on their own four yard line. Their drive in turn resulted in a punt, which moved the ball to the Bengals 45 yard line. Already holding the lead, the Bengals played conservatively and settled for a 49 yard field goal from Bullock.
The Buccaneers would make some more noise in the final minute of the game, but ultimately failed to score as Aguayo missed a 47 yard attempt to the right, on second down no less. The Buccaneers were clearly just trying to test their 2016 second round pick.
Driskel would kneel at the 36 yard line to seal the victory and the Bengals would walk away with a 23-12 victory in their first preseason game of the year.