The Cincinnati Bengals had little trouble avoiding the Chicago Bears defenders, but the team’s inability to get out of its own way resulted in yet another opening-day loss Sunday at Soldier Field.
In addition to committing three turnovers, mismanaging the final two minutes of the first half and blowing all three of their timeouts by midway through the fourth quarter, the Bengals committed eight penalties for 84 yards, including an after-the-whistle personal foul by Rey Maualuga that turned a late third-down stop into a first down that sealed a 24-21 victory for the Bears in head coach Marc Trestman’s NFL debut.
“When you turn the ball over like we did and the penalties that we had…” Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis began before stopping himself. “Let me give them credit. They beat us. But we have to play better. Unfortunately we had a lot of guys lose composure today.”
In addition to the Maualuga penalty, a Dre Kirkpatrick personal foul allowed Chicago, despite a three-and-out, to get points at the end of the first half on a career-long 58-yard field goal by Robbie Gould.
“We played really hard, we just didn’t play smart at all times,” Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton said. “That’s what hurt us.”
The loss was the team’s fifth in its last six season openers. But unlike last year’s 44-13 blowout at Baltimore, the Bengals had control of this one, leading 21-10 midway through the third quarter after receiving the second-half kickoff and driving 80 yards in 12 plays for a BenJarvus Green-Ellis 5-yard touchdown run.
The Cincinnati offense converted 7-of-11 third downs and outgained the Bears 340 to 323 as Dalton completed 26-of-33 passes for 282 yards and touchdowns of 45 and 2 yards to A.J. Green, who finished with nine receptions for 162 yards.
But the mistakes outweighed the production. Bears Pro Bowl cornerback Charles Tillman intercepted Dalton’s second pass of the game to set up an 8-yard touchdown pass from Jay Cutler (21- of-33 for 242 yards) to Martellus Bennett for the game’s first score. And the Bengals blew two other chances to score with red zone turnvoers in the second half.
Green had a pass bounce off his hands at the Chicago 17-yard line late in the third quarter, resulting Tillman’s second pick, and Mohamed Sanu lost a fumble at the Chicago 19 early in the fourth quarter.
The Bears failed to convert the interception into points, but they capitalized on the Sanu fumble by driving 81 yards in eight plays for the game-winning touchdown on a 19-yard pass from Cutler to Brandon Marshall with 7:58 remaining.
“We had too many turnovers today,” Green said. “I put it on myself. I had that drop across the middle that got tipped up. I should’ve made that play. Took my eye off of it a little bit. I demand greatness of myself. That can’t happen. We controlled the whole game until the fourth quarter.”
The Bears ran 21 plays in the fourth quarter to the Bengals’ five and held the ball for 12 minutes and 21 seconds of the 15 minutes. That was due in large part to the fact that confusion on defense forced Cincinnati to burn all three timeouts and play the final 8:06 with no way to stop the clock.
But after allowing the Bears to convert six of their previous seven third and fourth downs, with Cutler repeatedly connecting with Marshall (eight catches for 104 yards), the Bengals finally got a stop at their own 44 with a little more than a minute remaining. Then the sliver of hope vanished when Maualuga threw down Chicago tackle Jordan Mills after the whistle, drawing a personal foul that gave the Bears a first down and the victory.
“Their guy is blocking him after the whistle,” Lewis said. “I would think it would be offsetting fouls, but for whatever reason today we didn’t get any offsets. We can’t retaliate. We know that. That’s not what our team does and today, unfortunately, we let them get under our skin. We did it twice today. We can’t beat ourselves like we did this afternoon.”