ANALYSIS: 5 takeaways from Bengals preseason finale

Cincinnati Bengals running back Chris Evans (25) makes catch in front of Miami Dolphins cornerback Jamal Perry (33) and middle linebacker Duke Riley (45) for a touchdown during the first half of an NFL exhibition football game in Cincinnati, Sunday, Aug. 29, 2021. (AP Photo/Aaron Doster)
Caption
Cincinnati Bengals running back Chris Evans (25) makes catch in front of Miami Dolphins cornerback Jamal Perry (33) and middle linebacker Duke Riley (45) for a touchdown during the first half of an NFL exhibition football game in Cincinnati, Sunday, Aug. 29, 2021. (AP Photo/Aaron Doster)

Credit: Aaron Doster

Credit: Aaron Doster

The Cincinnati Bengals didn’t want to settle for a tie in the preseason finale, so instead of trying a last-minute field goal, coach Zac Taylor elected to go for the win on fourth down.

Kyle Shurmur’s pass was batted away from intended receiver Scotty Washington, and the Bengals came up short in a 29-26 loss to the Miami Dolphins on Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium.

Joe Burrow and the starting offense got all of three snaps together before giving way to the backups and players fighting for roster spots, the defensive starters didn’t even play, and now the Bengals have some tough decisions to make ahead of final roster cuts Tuesday.

Here are five takeaways from the preseason finale:

1. Burrow ready to go

There wasn’t much to see from Burrow on Sunday as he’s already checked all the boxes the team needed to see the last couple weeks of practice, but his three snaps were an important step in getting a feel for live competition again.

Burrow is nine months removed from surgery to repair the ACL and MCL he tore in Week 11 last year, and the Bengals wanted to give him the feeling of playing in front of a crowd again before the opener Sept. 12. He gave Tyler Boyd the ball on an end around to start the Bengals’ first drive, then attempted a bubble screen to Ja’Marr Chase, which Chase dropped in stunning fashion while wide open, and the drive finished with a handoff to Joe Mixon on third-and-23.

Riley Reiff had been flagged for unnecessary roughness.

“We are ready to go,” Burrow said. “I’m excited about this next week. We have a chance to get our minds right. This will not be as taxing on the body. We have a chance to physically be ready for Week 1. I’m excited to get a game plan and get ready to go.”

2. Chase can’t quiet concerns

Anything Chase does in preseason ultimately doesn’t matter, but given a clear chance Sunday to calm outside concerns over his recent drop problems, he failed to do so.

The Bengals scripted the three plays Burrow would run with the starting offense, Chase had no one around him to disrupt his opportunity and he still recorded his fourth straight drop over four targets in two preseason games.

Taylor said he didn’t get a good look at the play and would need to review the tape before commenting on what happened, but he’s still not overly concerned.

“Those that have been at practice have seen him make some great plays these last couple days so he’s making great progress,” Taylor said

3. McPherson steps up

Rookie fifth-round draft pick Evan McPherson solidified himself as the Bengals’ new kicker when he nailed a 57-yard field goal to end the first half, bringing the Bengals to within one at 14-13. He already had been consistent and accurate even from distance in practices and the previous two games, but this one left no doubts as it easily cleared the bar.

“It’s good,” Taylor said of McPherson’s consistency. “In the games, on that field, it’s different, in front of the fans, and he’s been the same steady guy that he’s been since day one, since he’s been here. So it was good to get that deep one, he nailed it. It would have been good from a lot longer than that, it appeared to me. So that as really good to see. You know, both of those kickers—it’s been a tremendous battle, watching both of them, Austin (Seibert) and Evan.”

Austin Seibert made his 36-yard attempt earlier in the game but hasn’t been able to outshine McPherson while the two rotated equally. The Bengals had a chance to try a field goal at the end to tie it but went for it on fourth down instead of running Seibert out for an attempt, though he was warming up to do so.

It’s unclear if the Bengals might have treated the situation differently on fourth-and-10 from the Miami 32-yard line if it was McPherson’s turn in the rotation, but his first big pressure situation will have to come in the regular season.

4. Roster spots secured?

A handful of players might have secured roster spots based on their performance Sunday, though those decisions are never based on one game.

Wide receiver Trenton Irwin, who spent the last two years on the scout team, continued his impressive preseason when he held onto a 23-yard catch after taking a hard hit in the first quarter. He’s done more than enough to make his case but won’t spend the next two days fretting – he plans to do some fishing to take his mind off whatever news comes his way.

“The way I look at it, I went out there and made plays every day,” Irwin said. “That’s not my job to make that decision. That’s where I’m at. I’ll leave it up to them.”

On the first play of the second quarter, Brandon Allen connected with rookie running back Chris Evans on a deep pass for a 29-yard touchdown to tie the game at 7, putting an exclamation on his impressive preseason. Despite Jacques Patrick showing some power running the ball, Evans provides a solid third-down option that could be key for the passing game.

Thaddeus Moss, who was targeted a team-high nine times and finished with a team-high five catches, seemed to put himself in the No. 3 tight end spot and drew high praise from Burrow after the game. Burrow sees him making a big impact for the Bengals.

5. Backups getting extra work

The team’s depth chart looked a little clearer for some individuals Sunday.

Guard Mike Jordan didn’t get into the game until the second half, as D’Ante Smith and Jackson Carman played the two guard positions in the first half once the starters were out. There was more of a rotation among Jordan, Smith and Carman in the second half, but Jordan might be fighting to stay on the roster if his arrival into the game is an indication where he stands on the depth chart now.

Carman especially has been one to watch as the team’s second-round draft pick. While the veterans Quinton Spain and Xavier Su’a-Filo expected to start at the guard spots, Carman will be working to get his opportunity as the season progresses.

“I’m definitely starting to feel comfortable,” Carman said. “I’m noticing I’m better in both practices and games. My peripheral perception is what coach (Frank Pollack) calls it — being able to feel my body in space, and being in the right position and adjusting to the next level.”

With cornerbacks Trae Waynes and Eli Apple not dressed – Waynes is out with a hamstring injury and Apple is coming off a hamstring issue – Darius Phillips started and was still playing snaps at the end of the game. Taylor said because Waynes is injured, the team did not want to risk Apple, indicating Phillips is now the fifth cornerback option. He will still make the team but the Bengals added depth at cornerback this offseason and don’t appear to highly rate Phillips, who started eight games last year because of injuries to others.

Defensive end Darius Hodge, a surprise this preseason as a college free agent, made a strong case to make the roster and could even be a regular rotational piece.

SEASON OPENER

Sunday, Sept. 12

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