The Cincinnati Bengals picked up their first victory of the preseason after beating the Arizona Cardinals, 19-13, Sunday night inside the University of Phoenix Stadium.
Cincinnati scored a defensive touchdown with six minutes and 43 seconds left in the first quarter to grab a 7-0 lead. That set the tone for what would be a defensive struggle from start to finish.
Neither offense could muster much of a sustained threat. The teams combined for 634 yards of total offense.
Jay Feely knocked in a 24-yard field goal to cut the deficit to four points, 7-3, in the second quarter, but Mike Nugent followed with two field goals of his own to give the Bengals a 13-3 lead heading into halftime.
Chandler Catanzaro drew first blood in the second half with yet another field goal, which brought Arizona to within a touchdown, 13-6, with 2:46 to go in the third quarter.
A little over a minute later, Drew Stanton brought the Cardinals level with a 30-yard touchdown pass to John Brown. The rookie wideout did a great job of laying out and making a fantastic catch.
Sports Illustrated's Doug Farrar thinks that Brown could do big things in Arizona this year:
John Brown isn't just a speed guy. Good route awareness and tough for his size. Perfect over-the-top guy in an Arians offense.— SI_DougFarrar (@SI_DougFarrar) August 25, 2014
Alas, Cincinnati had the last laugh, with Quinn Sharp knocking in two field goals in the fourth quarter to put the Bengals ahead by six points, 19-13.
Although it wasn't the prettiest game of football you'll ever see, the Bengals will take it nonetheless.
The night was also important in that it was Geno Atkins' return to the field for game action. The All-Pro defensive tackle missed most of last season after tearing his ACL.
During his news conference this week, Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis talked about Atkins getting back into the swing of things again, per Bengals.com:
It’s good for Geno to continue in Geno’s progression, and he’s done a good job of it. I even heard him talk on the field the other day, and I was like, ‘Whoa, who’s that?’ (Laughs) I think it’s been good. Everyone goes through a process and progression. It’s no different than a few years ago, when we went through this with Carson (Palmer). It takes a little time, but I think Geno’s done well with it. Guys heal at their own pace, and I think in the mental process it’s always going to be at their own pace. But he’s been good.
The 26-year-old had little impact on the game, making one tackle, but seeing him in uniform again was all Bengals fans needed to be encouraged about where he is heading into the regular season.
That somewhat small burden of performance wasn't afforded to Andy Dalton.
Dalton has always had plenty of critics, but after he signed that six-year, $115 million extension, the amount of scrutiny has reached a fever pitch. Everything he does on the field is viewed through the spectrum of him being the most recent $100 million man.
Although the Bengals offense did look a little out of it early on, Dalton still finished the game 13-of-21 for 157 yards. As ESPN.com's Coley Harvey pointed out, the 26-year-old has been solid during his short time on the field over the past few weeks:
Entering halftime, Dalton is 13-for-21, 157 yards passing. He's now 24-for-34, 372 yards in 10 drives this preseason. Six scoring drives.— Coley Harvey (@ColeyHarvey) August 25, 2014
It didn't help that on average, the Bengals started out on their own 16-yard line for their seven first-half possessions.
Dalton's opposite number, Carson Palmer, had a terrible time, completing seven of 19 passes for 92 yards. He gifted Terence Newman a pick-six in the first quarter to put the Bengals on top, 7-0. Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald had some sort of miscommunication, leaving Newman all by himself.
The interception made Cincy Jungle's Josh Kirkendall wistful for the old days when Palmer was a member of the Bengals:
Not to drive home any point here... but Carson Palmer is 2/7 with 10 yards and a pick-six. I feel like I'm 29 again.— Josh Kirkendall (@Josh_Kirkendall) August 25, 2014
Coincidentally, had Palmer not engineered a trade away from Cincinnati, he could be entering what would be the final year of his deal with the team, per CBSSports.com's John Breech:
Halftime nugget: If Carson Palmer had played out his contract with the Bengals, it would've expired after this season pic.twitter.com/kev3m0pHqS— John Breech (@johnbreech) August 25, 2014
Palmer is one of the more confounding quarterbacks in the league along with Matt Schaub. Both guys are talented, but they can't seem to get out of their own way. The Cardinals will likely go as far as their QB takes them, which could be a good thing or a bad thing.
ESPN's Skip Bayless wonders if Palmer will end up dragging Arizona down:
I keep trying to love Arizona's chances this season, and tonight, Carson Palmer just won't let me.— Skip Bayless (@RealSkipBayless) August 25, 2014
One of the few bright spots for the Cardinals offense was second-year running back Andre Ellington, who rushed for 46 yards on nine carries. Ellington looked particularly impressive on a 24-yard run through the Bengals defense:
Nice 24-yard run by Ellington. Great vision, burst and cutting ability. Prime example why I'm so excited about him.— Brad Evans (@YahooNoise) August 25, 2014
Bleacher Report's Matt Miller thought the 25-year-old serves as an example of why waiting to draft a running back can pay off:
Andre Ellington going in the 6th round is a great argument in favor of not drafting RBs early.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) August 25, 2014
Giovani Bernard found yards much harder to come by. The Bengals' sophomore rusher only gained 17 yards on 10 carries. Bernard is regarded as a speedy, shifty runner, but he struggled when bouncing to the outside, per Harvey:
Here's the run-direction breakdown for Giovani Bernard in the first half: Runs left (1 yard), runs right (2 yards), runs middle (14 yards)— Coley Harvey (@ColeyHarvey) August 25, 2014
Jeremy Hill, much more of an inside runner, had success through the middle of the Cardinals defense, going for 38 yards on 10 carries.
Despite the ugliness of the game, both teams could walk away with some positives, which is all you can ask of a preseason game.
The Cardinals wrap up their preseason in San Diego on Thursday. They take on the Chargers, with the game scheduled for 10 p.m. ET.
Cincinnati heads home for its final game, welcoming in the Indianapolis Colts. Kickoff will be at 7 p.m. ET.