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Five lessons from Bengals loss to Cowboys

After two impressive preseason victories and a couple of national writers predicting Super Bowl berths, the Cincinnati Bengals muddled through a sloppy 24-18 loss at Dallas on Saturday night, prompting head coach Marvin Lewis to say, “Now we can quit having all that smoke puffed up our butts and we can get to work.”

Just as preseason victories are no reason to crow, preseason defeats are no reason for despair, but good or bad, there is always plenty to be gleaned. Here are five things we learned about the Bengals from their latest game.

Dre is still a ways away

Second-year cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, who missed most of his rookie season after being drafted 17th overall, got an extensive look Saturday night, and the reviews were not good.

Kirkpatrick got beat for a touchdown, committed two pass interference penalties and missed three tackles.

In Kirkpatrick’s defense, Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant has made many cornerbacks, veterans and rookies alike, look bad. And Kirkpatrick was on the field for 61 of Dallas’ 75 snaps, so just as there were more chances to make plays, there were more opportunities for mistakes.

Knee injuries and concussion limited Kirkpatrick to 42 total defensive snaps last year.

But even with all of that considered, Kirkpatrick’s performance against the Cowboys could not be labeled as anything other than disappointing.

Penalties are still a problem

In the 34-10 win at Atlanta, the Bengals had six penalties, two of which put the first-team offense off schedule and resulted in a short, unproductive night for the group.

In the 27-19 win against Tennessee, Cincinnati committed six more penalties.

And Saturday night, the Bengals were flagged seven times for 82 yards. Three of the penalties gave Dallas a first down – the two pass interference calls on Dre Kirkpatrick and another on Chris Lewis-Harris. Three were false starts, one of which came on a two-point conversion try. And the other was the always-inexcusable but all-too-familiar 12 men on the field.

Those kinds of mistakes can be lethal when the games begin to count for real.

Darrin Simmons knows what he’s talking about

OK, maybe we already knew that one. Simmons is one of the top special teams coordinators in the NFL, so it’s obvious his words have validity.

But one of his go-to sayings is “Bad (stuff) happens on re-kicks.” And it proved prophetic again Saturday night right after we learned something else – that hitting the gigantic HD screen at AT&T Stadium with a punt results in a do-over.

When Dallas’ Chris Jones sent his first punt into the bottom of the massive video unit, his 47-yard punt that was downed at the Cincinnati 23 was negated. On the re-kick, Brandon Tate fielded the ball at the 25 and returned it 75 yards for the Bengals’ second special teams touchdown of the preseason (Dane Sanzenbacher had a 71-yard punt return in Atlanta).

“We expect Brandon to make plays like that,” Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis said. “He’s done a good job. He took another step, and that’s what we need.”

Hamilton’s hands have issues

Again, this is more of a reinforcement than a revelation. Hamilton has struggled with dropped passes all preseason.

But Saturday night, the ball security-issue occurred on a run, not a pass. Hamilton picked up 18 yards on a first-down reverse in the third quarter, but his fumble gave the ball back to the Cowboys one play after they had stretched their lead to 21-10 with a 14-play, 86-yard drive.

That type of thing could be killer in the regular season, forcing a winded defense to go right back to work.

Fortunately this was a preseason game and the Bengals had plenty of fresh bodies to send out for the quick change of possession, and the Cincinnati defense was able to hold Dallas to a three-and-out.

Hamilton has shown flashes that make him an intriguing option in an offense loaded with weapons, but his inconsistent hands could be a liability the Bengals are not willing to accept. He’s on the bubble to make the 53-man roster at this point, and is perhaps one dropped ball away from being asked to bring his playbook and iPad to head coach Marvin Lewis’ office on Aug. 31, when rosters have to be trimmed to 53.

Josh Johnson is the going to be Dalton’s backup

Johnson has been the frontrunner even before his outstanding performance in the preseason opener at Atlanta, but Saturday night may have finalized the deal.

With starter Andy Dalton playing into the second half, Johnson took over with three minutes to go in the third quarter and stayed in the game until it was over as his competition for the job, John Skelton, never got off the sideline.

Ideally the Bengals would have liked to have seen both quarterbacks get into the game, but with the offense running only 48 plays because of four turnovers and an inability to convert third downs (2-of-9), the clock ran out on Skelton. Probably in more ways than one.

Dalton and the first-team offense likely won’t see much action in the preseason finale against Indianapolis, but even if Skelton playing time to equal Johnson, it’s unlikely he will be able to do enough to win the job.

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