After going 0 for the preseason in 2017 – and 0 for the first two regular season games – the Cincinnati Bengals first-team offense scored two touchdowns on their first three possessions of the year Thursday night.
Andy Dalton threw touchdown passes of 24 yards to running back Joe Mixon and 3 yards to wide receiver Tyler Boyd to spark the official beginning of the Bill Lazor era as offensive coordinator, and the Bengals rode the strong start to a 30-27 victory in their preseason opener against the Chicago Bears at Paul Brown Stadium.
»PHOTOS: Bengals vs. Bears
Dalton was 6 of 8 for 103 yards with the two touchdowns and one interception, which was no fault of his own. Wide receiver John Ross slipped on the first play of the second series, and Chicago’s Kyle Fuller snared an easy pick, which he returned 43 yards for a touchdown.
“I thought we did a good job moving the ball,” Dalton said. “We had an interception, and we have to limit those in the regular season, but we put the ball in the end zone. So it was a good start.”
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The interception was the only blip of the first half as the Bengals scored points on five of their six possessions.
The first team defense, under the direction of new coordinator Teryl Austin, was impressive as well, holding the Bears to minus-1 yard in two series. Geno Atkins had a sack on the first series and would have had another one had Bears guard Cody Whitehair not sacrificed a holding penalty to keep quarterback Mitch Trubisky upright.
A Carlos Dunlap penalty for roughing the passer extended the first Bears drive, but Carl Lawson’s quarterback hit three plays later forced the Bears to punt.
“We flew around pretty well,” defensive end Carlos Dunlap said. “We got the three-and-out we wanted, but then got penalized. But we responded to that penalty by getting three-and-out again. Things happen in the regular season that can set you back, but it’s how you respond and reset that determines whether or not you’ll be able to do what you want to do. This was a good preseason test.”
After Dalton exited following three series, backup quarterback Matt Barkley led three consecutive drives which ended in field goals, including one set up by Brandon Bell’s interception at the Cincinnati 49-yard line with 22 seconds left.
Barkley quickly got the Bengals into scoring position with a 23-yard pass to Josh Malone, which was followed by a pass interference call on the Bears that put Cincinnati at the 11-yard line. Randy Bullock’s 29-yard field goal at the gun gave the Bengals a 23-14 lead.
The 23 first-half points equaled the highest total the Bengals scored in any preseason game last year, when the offensive funk carried into the regular season and led to the firing of coordinator Ken Zampese and interim appointment of Lazor after the team failed to reach the end zone in the first two games.
The most surprising part about the strong start for the offense was the play that led to the first field, a fake punt in which personal protector Clayton Fejedelem ran 49 yards. That led to a Bullock 28-yard field goal, and Jonathan Brown made a 24-yard field goal, his first in a game at any level.
Despite the three scoring drives, Barkley was just 5 of 13 for 64 yards and a 54.6 pass rating.
Jeff Driskel played quarterback for the entire second half, going 10 of 14 for 140 yards and a 33-yard game-winning touchdown to rookie receiver Auden Tate with 2:04 remaining.
The Bears had scored 13 unanswered points to take a 27-23 lead before Driskel directed a four-play, 91-yard drive to win it.
The Bengals will hit the road for their second preseason game Aug. 18 at Dallas.