In their season opener in Chicago, the Bengals looked much like they did last year. Talented, inexperienced and overwhelmed under pressure. After building an 11 point lead in the second half, Cincinnati crumbled on the road due to penalties and miscues, falling to the Bears 24-21.
The Bengals offense looked shaky early on, but settled down quickly. On their first drive of the game, quarterback Andy Dalton made an ill-advised throw intended for wide receiver A.J. Green that was intercepted by Bears cornerback Charles Tillman. This turnover proved costly, as Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler found tight end Martellus Bennett in the end zone for a catch that was bobbled at first but ruled a touchdown.
Two series later, the Bengals decided to introduce their rookie running back, Giovani Bernard. He produced immediately with an eight yard catch followed by a run of six yards on his first drive. Soon enough, Dalton found Green down the right sideline for 42 yards. Three plays later Green managed to get wide open for a two-yard touchdown to tie the game.
In the second quarter, Dalton continued to look for Green to mixed results. Tillman snatched his second interception on a pass that Green got his hands on and tipped into the air. But on the Bengals’ next possession, Dalton hit Green on the right side yet again for a 45-yard touchdown. With the offense seeming to have found its stride, Cincinnati found themselves leading on the road, 14-7.
After Bears kicker Robbie Gould kicked a career-high 58-yard field goal with 37 seconds left in the first half, the Bengals answered back with an impressive opening drive in the third quarter. Dalton found three different receivers, and Tillman was called for what ended up being a 34-yard penalty when he interfered with Green on a deep pass down the right sideline. That setup BenJarvus Green-Ellis’ five yard touchdown run, making the score 21-10. However, the tide quickly turned after that.
Chicago scored on its ensuing drive, when Matt Forte found the end zone from one yard out. The Bengals would punt on the next possession, but got the ball back on an interception by linebacker Vontaze Burfict early in the fourth quarter. However, the young Bengals failed to capitalize. With an opportunity to essentially seal the victory, second-year wide receiver Mohamed Sanu inexplicably fumbled after gaining ten yards. The Bears recovered, and with the momentum back on their side, marched down the field and scored on a 19-yard touchdown pass from Cutler to wide receiver Brandon Marshall.
Perhaps even worse than surrendering the touchdown was the fact that the Bengals burned two timeouts on consecutive plays, one for for having too many players on the field, the other for only having 10. This would come to haunt them in the end.
Dalton and the offense stalled on Cincinnati’s next possession, giving the Bears the ball back with 6:38 left. Cutler connected with Bennett for an 11-yard completion as Chicago proceeded to eat up clock. On third down with just 1:06 remaining, linebacker Ray Maualuga was called for unnecessary roughness, essentially ending the game as his mental error allowed the Bears to run out the clock.
While Cincinnati head coach Marvin Lewis has much to teach his squad about discipline, there were still positives to be taken from the game. Bernard made clear that he will add a new dimension to the team and should be far more involved in the future. Also, rookie tight end Tyler Eifert (five receptions, 47 yards) already seems to be a favorite target of Dalton. One can only expect that this chemistry will develop in the coming weeks. When added to the phenomenal Green (nine receptions, 162 yards and two touchdowns), the Bengals now find themselves with plenty of options on offense. As a result, Cincinnati was 7-11 on third down conversions against a Bears defense with talented veterans. If not for the penalties and turnovers, Chicago was not much of a match for the Bengals. Cincinnati fans can only hope that these talented players learn how to carry themselves in critical situations in a hurry before the season becomes a major disappointment.