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Preseason Week 3: 5 winners and 2 losers from Bengals’ convincing performance by starters

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The starters were great, but AJ McCarron was an absolute disaster, which proved to be the difference in this game.

NFL: AFC Wild Card-Pittsburgh Steelers at Cincinnati Bengals Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

The Cincinnati Bengals have now completed three preseason games, the latest being a promising performance in Washington.

It began with a bang as the Bengals’ starters went up 14-3 in the second quarter and were in complete control. As the backups began playing, that lead slowly disappeared as Washington rallied for a 23-17 win.

Here is a look at today’s winners and losers on the Bengals’ side of the field.

WINNERS

Giovani Bernard

The amazing recovery of Giovani Bernard reached a new level on Sunday. Bernard finally made his preseason debut, nine months after tearing his ACL. Bernard shocked everyone by being cleared for the first day of training camp in August, and it’s only been more special ever since.

That culminated with Bernard playing and getting significant touches in Washington. He even looked good in the process, showing off the quickness and burst that make him such a dangerous runner.

Bernard should get plenty of carries this year, and it’s not out of the question that he gets the second-most touches among weapons in this offense. His ability to make an impact on the ground and through the air makes him very valuable.

Jeremy Hill

Even though Joe Mixon continues to show a lot of promise, Jeremy Hill has done more than enough to keep his starting job. Hill was strong right out of the gate today, rushing for 26 yards and a touchdown on six carries on the opening drive.

Hill has looked good enough this preseason to hold off Mixon and Bernard for the starting gig. It certainly helps Hill that Mixon fumbled a handoff in this game, making it even more likely the veteran keeps his job.

Hill did suffer an injury in the game and it’s unclear how serious it is. So, we’ll have to keep an eye on that.

Vontaze Burfict

We already knew Vontaze Burfict was good, but he was on another level in this game. Burfict was all over the field making big hits and breaking up passes. Some of the hits he laid on Washington players are as good as you’ll see.

But Burfict’s biggest play came via a pick-six off of Kirk Cousins:

Burfict would leave the game to be evaluated for a concussion and back injury, but he passed all of the concussion tests. When he did leave, Washington went on a 10-0 run to end the first half after Burfict helped put the Bengals up 14-3. He’s still one of the game’s best linebackers, and he’s in for a monster season in what’s also a contract year.

Carl Lawson

The rise of Carl Lawson took another step in Washington, where the rookie edge rusher put on quite the show against one of the league’s best offensive linemen. While rushing from the edge, Lawson embarrassed Trent Williams not once, but twice:

Mind you, Williams is regarded among the best left tackles in football, but Lawson made him look like Cedric Ogbuehi look like a backup on those two plays.

As long as Lawson stays healthy, he has the potential to be the biggest steal of the 2017 NFL Draft.

John Ross

Finally, John Ross graced a football field with his presence during a live contest. After practicing on a limited basis for much of training camp and the preseason, Ross was cleared for full-contact work last week. This week, he finally made his NFL debut in Washington with a national audience watching.

Ross didn’t do much in the game, though he did get in one run on a jetsweep for eight yards. His biggest win was simply being on the field for this game, which signals he’s 100 percent heading into the regular season of his rookie year.

LOSERS

AJ McCarron

The Bengals may value AJ McCarron, but he’s looked like a guy in danger of not even making the roster this preseason. There’s no way McCarron is getting cut, but if we’re being honest, his performance has looked like, at best, a third-stringer unlikely to make the 53-man roster.

Sunday in Washington was no different. McCarron missed on several throws, took ill-advised risks that nearly resulted in picks, and missed several hot reads on blitzes. He also threw a horrific interception that almost turned into a pick six. He looked more like a green rookie than the valued veteran Cincinnati treats him like.

Of course, some of this is because of McCarron playing alongside second and third-string players. He also did have some promising moments in this game, but not enough to feel good about him being a starter for an extended stretch in the regular season if called upon.

Mason Schreck

Mason Schreck’s slim chances of making the roster may have just took a death knell. The seventh-round rookie didn’t show much in training camp or the preseason thus far, so much that he wasn’t even assured of earning a spot on the practice squad.

Schreck suffered a knee injury in the third quarter of Sunday’s loss in Washington.

If nothing else, this injury prevented Schreck from showing anything in this preseason game. If it’s serious, it likely secured his ouster come final cuts next weekend. Undrafted free agent Cethan Carter is the tight end more likely to make the final roster or practice squad.