ARLINGTON, TEXAS — After solid victories in the first two preseason games, the Bengals looked like they were roaring along as they went into Saturday night’s contest against Dallas in what is commonly known as the dress rehearsal game.
Instead, the Bengals put on a display that brought their roar down to a meow. Maybe, the DJ at AT&T Stadium was on to something when they played the Meow Mix theme as the Bengals came on the field before the game.
The 24-18 loss to the Cowboys also reinforced an old equation – when you commit four turnovers and your defense can’t get off the field on third down, you aren’t going to win many games.
“Now, we can quit having all that smoke puffed up our butts and we can get to work,” coach Marvin Lewis said after the game. “There were some bright spots during the game. We did some things well but not enough, long enough.”
Two of the turnovers were committed by the first team offense. Marvin Jones fumbled deep in Dallas territory on the opening drive and Andy Dalton threw his first interception of the preseason on a deep ball intended for Mohamed Sanu.
Dalton and the first unit were in for 28 plays (16 pass, 12 run). He finished 12 of 16 for 113 yards and a subpar passer rating of 68.0. The running game generated only 44 yards with 30 of that coming on the third-quarter drive that led to a Quinn Sharp 28-yard field goal. The first team was 0 for 2 scoring touchdowns in the red zone and their lone points came courtesy of a Quinn Sharp 28-yard field goal on their last series of the night.
“The fact we hurt ourselves is the biggest thing,” Dalton said. “You can look at all the bad but there are still some good stuff mixed in there. We did move the ball well, but didn’t get the points to show for it.”
Defensively, the Bengals (2-1) forced only two three-and-outs in 10 possessions. The Cowboys (2-2) were 9 of 16 converting third downs and all three of their touchdown passes came on third down – two by Tony Romo and one by Kyle Orton.
Dallas ran 75 plays and ended up having the ball for 39 minutes, 31 seconds.
“I don’t know if it was a lack of focus for us. We had some good plays, but on third down we just couldn’t get them off the field,” linebacker Vontaze Burfict said.
Added Lewis: “We’ve got to get to work and get our guys wind going to get ready for the opener. I thought it was a positive for the defense as they had to stay out there for a couple of long drives. Hopefully those are good opportunities for our defensive players to blow their pipes out pretty good.”
Tony Romo was 13 of 18 for 137 yards and two touchdowns in a half of work while Dez Bryant (6 receptions, 54 yards) and Miles Austin (4 receptions, 59 yards) each had a touchdown.
On the opening drive, Dalton and the offense looked like they were going to pick up from where they left off in the Tennessee game. Dalton completed his first six passes for 56 yards and got A.J. Green quickly involved on the second play with a 9-yard completion on a slant pass. Green finished with 3 receptions for 42 yards.
The drive ended without points though when Brandon Carr forced Marvin Jones to fumble after a 14-yard completion to the Dallas 4. It was the Bengals’ third lost fumble of the preseason.
On the ensuing drive, Dallas moved the ball to their own 30 when the Bengals got their second punt return touchdown of the preseason, this one by Brandon Tate.
Tate’s 75-yard punt return came courtesy of something that you only get at AT&T Stadium. On Chris Jones’ first punt he hit the giant scoreboard that hangs above the field, which brought about a rekick.
“(Special Teams Coordinator) Darrin (Simmons) always tells us that nothing good happens for the punt team on a re-kick, and we made them pay,” Tate said. “I give all the credit to the other 10 guys out there with me. Everybody blocked it perfectly, and all I had to do was find the hole and shoot through it. Nobody really had a good shot at me.”
After that, Dallas started to get things in gear. The Cowboys went on a 12-play, 87-yard drive which culminated in Romo’s first touchdown pass of the preseason, a 5-yarder to Bryant, who dominated Dre Kirkpatrick on the drive. Romo was 6 of 6 on the drive and Bryant had 5 receptions for 53 yards.
Dallas would take the lead late in the first half when Austin got past Taylor Mays in coverage and caught it in the back of the end zone. In the second quarter Romo was 8 of 13 for 98 yards and two touchdowns and the Cowboys were 4 of 6 on third-down conversions.
After Sharp’s field goal, Orton came on for Dallas and led a 14-play, 86-yard drive that culminated in a 7-yard touchdown pass to DeMarco Murray where there were a litany of missed tackles.
Josh Johnson came on midway through the third quarter and led the Bengals to a touchdown midway through the fourth quarter, a 4-yard completion to Cobi Hamilton that was the final play of a 14-play, 60-yard drive. Ryan Whalen caught a two-point conversion from Johnson to bring the Bengals within a field goal. Hamilton atoned after he turned the ball over in the third quarter on a fumble after running a reverse for a 18-yard gain.
Dan Bailey added a 26-yard field goal to put the margin up to six with 52 seconds remaining. After a Dane Sanzenbacher return gave the Bengals good field position, they drove the ball to the Dallas 49 before Johnson was picked off by Xavier Brewer. Johnson was hit by Landon Cohen as he threw the ball.
Courtesy: Joe Reedy | Bengals beat writer | Cincinnati Enquirer