The new-look Cincinnati Bengals were under the gun Thursday night to bring something positive to a Paul Brown Stadium crown of just over 41,000 after two lackluster preseason performances on the road. They delivered. The Bengals shook off an early fumble that led to a touchdown and mauled the Carolina Panthers 24-13.
Rookie quarterback Andy Dalton looked much more comfortable as the Bengals drove the ball down the field mixing the run an pass on their first drive. Dalton got Carolina defensive end Charles Johnson to jump into the neutral zone on a hard count that made a third and long third and inches. Then Dalton scrambled for 20 yards on third down to the Panther 18 yard line only to have it called back on a hold by Jermaine Gresham. On the next play, Cedric Benson collided with Dalton in the backfield forcing a fumble which Carolina recovered. They would eventually score when rookie QB Cam Newton scampered 16 yards for a touchdown on a third and 11. To this point, the Bengals were following the script of the first two games.
But Andy Dalton and the rest of the team proved their mettle and bounced back from that disappointment. The Bengals put together another long drive which ate up the rest of the first quarter. Cedric Benson carried 11 times on the scoring drive, capping it off with a TD plunge on third and goal inside the one. Benson also ran for a first down on fourth and inches earlier in the drive.
After forcing a Carolina punt, Dalton finally hooked up with fellow rookie AJ Green for a 40 yard touchdown pass. Green torched Carolina's best corner, former Buckeye Chris Gamble and Dalton hit him in stride. It was the first NFL touchdown for both players.
The Bengals defense continued to hold Carolina, especially the running game. DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart couldn't get loose all night combining for only 40 yards on 13 carries between them. The only consistent running threat Carolina could muster was from Newton who gained 49 yards on four carries. As a passer, the former Heisman winner was a pedestrian six of 19 for 75 yards. Former Bengals lineman and radio color analyst Dave Lapham commented afterward,
"From what I've seen tonight, I feel better with Andy Dalton as my quarterback than Cam Newton."
Later in the second quarter, the Bengals first their first turnover the season, recovering a fumble on a punt at the Carolina 13 yard line. Bernard Scott came in for Cedric Benson and continued the success with an impressive touchdown run on his first carry to make it 21-7. Scott would finish with 63 yards on six carries.
The Bengals then held the Panthers inside the two minute warning and used their time outs to give Andy Dalton and the offense one more shot. Dalton moved the Bengals into range for Mike Nugent's 55 yard field goal attempt with eight seconds remaining in the half. The Bengals entered the locker room up 24-7 and feeling very good about their performance.
The second teamers finished off the game. Neither Jordan Palmer or Dan LeFevour saw any action, leading to speculation that the Bengals will release both and attempt to find another quarterback off the waiver wire after other teams cut down. Gradkowski failed to lead the Bengals on a scoring drive and is now 0-12 in that department this preseason.
Some Monday morning (or Friday in this case) will dismiss the Bengals first preseason win since it came against the lowly Panthers. They would do well to remember, however, that the Palmer/Ochocinco/Owens Bengals only scored 20 points in a regular season victory last season in Carolina. And that was in four quarters of action.
It was a good night for this young Cincinnati team, one that should give them plenty of confidence heading into the regular season. The Bengals will finish off their preseason schedule next week at home against Indianapolis before heading to Cleveland to start the regular season.
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