Bengals fall flat in preseason opening loss to Cardinals

CINCINNATI -- Chris Evans might have been the star of the Cincinnati Bengals’ preseason opener if not for two unnecessary holding penalties.

The second-year running back is pushing for more opportunities after already showing he can be a threat in the passing game at times last year, but his two biggest carries Friday were squandered in what turned into an abysmal outing for the Bengals offense.

Cincinnati relied on Evan McPherson’s leg for all of its first-half points, and the offense couldn’t catch up in a 36-23 loss to the Arizona Cardinals in the first of the teams’ three preseason games Friday at the newly-renamed Paycor Stadium. The Bengals rested almost all of their expected starters.

Evans’ performance could have helped the Bengals score two touchdowns in the first half.

On the Bengals’ first offensive snap, Evans burst through on a 65-yard run that counted as only a two-yard gain because of a holding call on tight end Thaddeus Moss. They ended up punting that drive, which also included a big loss on a sack allowed by Isaiah Prince as Jackson Carman got backed up into Brandon Allen’s face. Allen suffered a concussion on the play and was was replaced by third-string quarterback Jake Browning after the first series.

Early in the second quarter, Evans had a 5-yard touchdown run nullified by another Moss hold, and Cincinnati settled for the first of three field goals by McPherson, a chip-shot from 23 yards out. McPherson also added field goals of 58 and 56 yards.

Meanwhile, the defense had some splash plays from some intriguing young players like defensive linemen Jeff Gunter and Zach Carter, but ultimately the Bengals couldn’t match up against a slew of backups for Arizona.

An ugly pass interference call on Allan George gave the Cardinals a free 40 yards on the opening drive of the game and helped put the Bengals in an early hole. Rookie first-round draft pick, starting at free safety, was caught trailing on a play-action touchdown pass from Arizona backup quarterback Trace McSorley to Andre Baccellia.

The next drive, Hill made a nice leap to break up a pass in the end zone, dropping the interception at the last second, to help limit the Cardinals to a field goal for a 9-0 lead with 1:48 left in the first quarter. Arizona also got a pair of 1-yard touchdown runs from Jonathan Ward before halftime to help Arizona to a 23-9 lead.

Prince was turned aside by former Bengals defensive tackle Christian Ringo around the edge for a sack-fumble on Browning on the final drive of the half, another blip on a rough day for the offensive line. Carman, the only offensive starter to participate, played the entire first half before rookie fourth-round draft pick Cordell Volson came in to open the second half. Hakeem Adeniji gave up a sack in the fourth quarter while playing left tackle.

Arizona added two more touchdowns in the third quarter and almost shut out the Bengals the rest of the way. They scored two late touchdowns, starting when recent roster addition Jacques Patrick made a 31-yard catch on a nice throw from Browning to set up a 1-yard touchdown run for himself a few plays later. Drew Plitt, who finished the game at quarterback, threw a 25-yard touchdown to Kendric Pryor for the final score with a little more than a minute left. Pryor led the receivers with 89 yards on four catches

Browning, a bright spot in a tough position, finished with 190 yards passing, and Trent Taylor had 74 yards on four catches, including a 36-yard grab on a deep corner route that drew a defensive pass interference penalty.

The Bengals play the New York Giants on the road Aug. 20 before finishing the preseason slate at home Aug. 27 against the Super Bowl champion L.A. Rams.

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