AFC North: Cincinnati Bengals

Chris Carter, Jimmy ClausenGary Landers/APA Bengals pass rush in need of a boost has gotten one from free-agent pickup Chris Carter this preseason.


CINCINNATI -- The Cincinnati Bengals' Chris Carter looks nothing like the prototypical NFL edge-rusher.

At 6-foot-1 and roughly 240 pounds, he's shorter and leaner than the bulkier defensive ends who typically call the position home. But through three games this preseason, the outside linebacker has looked a lot like an end, playing a hybrid role that has him regularly putting his hand in the ground. While doing that, he has made a habit of stunning offensive tackles and tight ends with his mix of speed and power.

He has given the Bengals a new dynamic in a pass rush that was in need of some positive change. Last season, the Bengals had a league-low 20 sacks.

"With me having the disadvantage of size, I've got to be the fire-starter," Carter said. "That's just my mentality when I go into a pass rush. I'm just trying to come off fast and if you try and hit me, I'm going to try and hit you first."

That mentality has led to Carter's team-leading 2.5 preseason sacks, and a measure of comfort he hasn't had since he starred in Fresno State's pass rush in 2010.

When the Bengals visit Indianapolis for Thursday night's preseason finale, keep an eye on the backup linebacker who likely will be on the field for nearly the entire contest.

Back in the spring during organized team activities, the Bengals began experimenting with using Carter as a hand-in-the-ground rusher while end Margus Hunt, among others, healed from injuries.

"He started to have success right there and showing flashes right there," linebackers coach Matt Burke said. "So then we're like, well hey, maybe we can keep working with him like that in that capacity. And he was comfortable doing that. That just built his confidence up when we said we're going to keep you working here and trying to get you some looks."

The Bengals were doing something no other team had done for Carter in his four seasons in the league. They were trying to create a role specifically for him -- no one else.

It's actually the same role Cincinnati has tried to incorporate into its base 4-3 defense in recent years. But despite their best attempts, they haven't gotten the consistency from that position that they have wanted.

So why does Carter believe he could finally be what the Bengals have been looking for?

"Personally, it's because I've got supreme confidence in myself, regardless of who believes in me or doesn't believe in me," the reserve linebacker said. "But it also helps that the coaching staff is behind me and the team is behind me. Every day they motivate me verbally and coaching-wise, giving me different keys and different tips on how to get better, and I'm really taking heed to those."

Before arriving in the Queen City as a free agent last year, Carter had spent his entire NFL career playing as an outside linebacker in the 3-4 schemes at Indianapolis and Pittsburgh. He never felt the 3-4 suited him like the 4-3 system that allowed him to have 11 sacks in 13 games his senior year at Fresno State.

"This is the defense I'm used to," Carter said of the Bengals' base 4-3. "So I almost feel like I'm back at home again."

Head coach Marvin Lewis calls Carter a linebacker, but he can tell where the occasional snaps Carter has had with his hand in the ground has kept keep the player's mind at ease and his play fiery.

"He's trying to really earn an opportunity to stay and carve out his own niche," Lewis said. "He's done a good job."

Denarius MooreJoe Robbins/Getty ImagesReceiver Denarius Moore was signed by the Bengals in April but was one of eight cuts made by the team Tuesday to get to the 75-man roster limit.

Most significant move: As the Cincinnati Bengals got down to their 75-man roster limit Tuesday, the most significant move they made with respect to players who were cut was receiver Denarius Moore. Signed in April, the speedy wideout was expected to help the Bengals get faster at their pass-catching positions. It simply didn't work. Moore didn't flash as much as coaches had anticipated, and he was outplayed by other receivers on the roster. Moore's time in Cincinnati served as a reunion with Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson, who drafted Moore in 2011 while serving as the Oakland Raiders' head coach.

Injury-list designations help shape roster: In addition to the eight cuts the Bengals made this week, they also waived two others under the waived/injured designation and moved another two to a pair of injury lists. Once the two waived/injured players (receiver Onterio McCalebb and fullback Mark Weisman) clear waivers, they will revert to the Bengals' injured reserve. The other two moves (linebacker Sean Porter to the reserve/physically unable to perform list and rookie offensive tackle Cedric Ogbuehi to the reserve/non-football injury list) will require those players to miss a minimum of six weeks in the regular season. Their moves also allowed the Bengals to get down to Tuesday's roster limit without having to make additional cuts.

What's next? There may not have been many overall cuts once the Bengals got down to their roster limit, but others are coming. Like every other team, Cincinnati has to get down to 53 active players by Saturday. A couple other injury-list moves could be made, too. Regardless, Thursday's preseason finale at Indianapolis will be important for some of the players on the roster bubble. As head coach Marvin Lewis said Monday, that final preseason game serves to "confirm" much of the coaches' thoughts about keeping individual players.

Bengals' moves: WR Denarius Moore, WR Desmond Lawrence, LB Nico Johnson, DT Kwame Geathers, DE Sam Montgomery, OG Chris Jasperse, TE John Peters, WR Tevin Reese, FB Mark Weisman (waived/injured), WR Onterio McCalebb (waived/injured), LB Sean Porter (reserve/PUP), OT Cedric Ogbuehi (reserve/non-football injury).

Devon StillAP Photo/John MinchilloDefensive tackle Devon Still had three total tackles in the past two preseason games.

CINCINNATI -- Saturday morning cannot come fast enough for Devon Still.

That should be when the Cincinnati Bengals defensive tackle learns if he made the team's 53-man roster once again. At that moment, he will find out if all the weight he lost and offseason conditioning he went through was worth it.

"They just need to come and let me know something," Still said Monday afternoon, laughing. "Just tell me."

He may be impatient to learn his fate this year, but much of that stems from his belief that he has done enough this preseason to make the team.

"I came out here to just try to prove myself during this training camp, and I think I did a good job of that," said Still, who lost 27 pounds this offseason. "I showed the coaches what I’m able to do, and I know just from my years being here that it's about consistency; to go out there and to continue to compete every single down and not take plays off."

That approach is a bit of a change from where things stood nearly 365 days ago, when the writing was on the wall for the 2012 second-round pick. A hamstring injury in the Bengals' third preseason game at Arizona effectively ended his chance at making the roster. He was already on the fringe after trying to return from a back injury and dislocated elbow from the year before. So it wasn't too surprising when his name was announced among Cincinnati's final round of preseason cuts.

He never lost his locker, though. A day after he was cut last preseason, Still was added to the Bengals' practice squad. Cincinnati's decision to keep him was rooted in merit, but it ended up being a smart public relations move for the team, too. Still's then-4-year-old daughter Leah was in the middle of a bout with a Stage 4 pediatric cancer that was about to leave the family with more than $1 million in medical bills. By remaining on the practice squad, Still could keep his league health benefits, making it dramatically easier to afford her treatments.

The team later raised more than $1.2 million for pediatric research efforts through a sale of Still's No. 75 jersey.

In March, Leah went into remission. She remains that way.

Earlier this offseason, Bengals defensive line coach Jay Hayes said any decision regarding releasing or keeping Still this fall would hinge solely upon performance.

"The whole thing of who is the best guy is about who is the best guy. This is the NFL. That's what this is about," Hayes said. "It's not about who had the hardest road. That's not how this is built. We are just trying to put the best guys out there."

Still believes he has done enough to be one of those players.

Ahead of Thursday's preseason finale at Indianapolis, Still has started standing out more in the crowded defensive tackle room. He has three total tackles in the past two preseason games, and has even drawn rave reviews from websites like Pro Football Focus. He held the Bengals' third-highest PFF grade in last Monday's loss at Tampa Bay.

"I feel like I've put good enough tape out there that I have a good chance to make this ballclub," Still said. "And if not, then I'll have an opportunity to play somewhere else."

Andy DaltonAP Photo/Phelan M. EbenhackAndy Dalton's disappointing Week 2 performance has been largely overshadowed by what he has done in two other drives this preseason.

A quick observation of Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton and how he has played in preparation for the season opener Sept. 13 against the Oakland Raiders:

Early-game rhythm has been the most telling indicator to determining how Dalton's preseason outings have ended up going.

The one time in three preseason games when he was out of sync with the other 10 players on his offense, the ball barely moved downfield. Scoring opportunities were scarce. Turnovers were rampant. At Tampa Bay last Monday night, Dalton had interceptions on back-to-back second-quarter possessions. Both of them led to Buccaneers scores.

In one half of action in that game, Dalton's offense generated just 49 yards and three points.

But that disappointing Week 2 performance has been largely overshadowed by what Dalton has done in two other drives this preseason. Because of his play during those series, Dalton has earned a thumbs-up for his play as he enters the regular season.

The first of those two drives came in the preseason opener against the Giants when, on eight plays, Dalton marched his offense 80 yards for a quick score. In his only series from the opener, Dalton was 3-for-3 for 31 yards and a touchdown pass to Mohamed Sanu.

In Saturday night's win over the Bears, he was back in complete rhythm with his teammates, and responded adequately to his struggles in the previous game at Tampa Bay. He bounced back by boosting the offense's energy on a 16-play drive that featured three runs by Dalton and six completions that were spread among five receivers. The drive ended when Dalton dove in from 1 yard out on a quarterback sneak.

Dalton came out just after due to a minor neck injury. While backup AJ McCarron was impressive in relief (12-of-17, 149 yards, touchdown), Dalton isn't part of any quarterback controversy. His generally solid, in-sync play this preseason has put him in a good spot ahead of the season opener.

Cicinnati's AJ McCarronMichael Conroy/APAJ McCarron looked impressive in relief of Andy Dalton, but he's not ready to be the Bengals' starter just yet.


CINCINNATI -- Whenever he would go back to the sidelines after his various second-quarter series ended Saturday night, Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Vincent Rey had trouble devoting full attention to the game-planning that was occurring within the various defensive meetings.

He wasn't alone.

As much as the Bengals' defensive starters were trying to focus on preparing for their upcoming drives, their eyes occasionally wandered to the field, where AJ McCarron was putting on a passing clinic. The backup quarterback's first seven throws were all completions. Like the rest of us, the players' curiosity had been piqued. How good was this guy?

"You're thinking about what you did wrong on one series, what you could have done better, but then you're still kind of looking up and seeing these big plays by this man and you're just happy for him," Rey said.

But for all the excitement McCarron's strong play exuded in his earlier-than-expected relief appearance during Cincinnati's 21-10 preseason win over the Chicago Bears, we all have to keep our wits. That goes for Rey, his defensive teammates, Bengals fans and the broader football community. Just because McCarron played well does not mean there's a quarterback controversy brewing in Cincinnati.

For now, that isn't the case at all. Far from it.

As enrapturing as McCarron's play in a 12-for-17, 149-yard night might have been, he is still very much Andy Dalton's understudy. The Bengals aren't all of a sudden going to elevate a backup quarterback to first-team status because of a solid performance with the starters in one preseason game. They also aren't going to leapfrog their $115 million man with a player who has very limited NFL experience.

So to the many who have dreamed of seeing McCarron leading the Bengals onto the field this season, stop. Perhaps that could happen in some year, but not 2015.

What the Bengals were most excited to see from McCarron was hat he did exactly what he was drafted to do; maintain the offensive intensity and rhythm that existed with the starter.

When Dalton left after the first quarter for precautionary reasons due to a neck injury, McCarron entered at a moment no one could have foreseen and proceeded to play as if he belonged with the rest of the first-team offense. He seamlessly worked himself in after Dalton had an impressive 6-for-6, 52-yard passing showing in only one drive.

"We brought him here for a reason," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said of McCarron. "It's good to get him in a situation where he could go through the quarterback progression and he wasn't under duress from the time he took the snap. So that was good. That's what you want to have. Sometimes that is hard to get, and we were able to get it [Saturday], so I'm pleased with that."

Cincinnati's A.J. GreenMichael Conroy/AP"All those deals are getting done, that's good," A.J. Green, left, said. "We'll see if I get done. Who knows?"


CINCINNATI -- A.J. Green said late Saturday night that he was happy for fellow class-of-2011 draft pick Julio Jones, who earlier in the day signed a five-year, $71.25 million contract extension that makes him one of the league's highest paid receivers.

The deal became the latest in a recent string of extensions that have helped set the table for Green to earn a similar raise from the Cincinnati Bengals in the near future. Green's rookie contract expires in February.

"It's good for him, man," Green said after the Bengals' 21-10 win over the Chicago Bears. "But we'll see. Like I've said, if it happens [for me] it happens. If it don’t, go out there and play."

The sixth overall pick of the 2011 draft, Jones was picked by the Atlanta Falcons two spots after Green was selected by the Bengals. Despite missing significant action in 2013 with a foot injury, Jones still has emerged as one of the league's top playmakers the past four seasons. Last year, one season removed from his injury, Jones had 1,593 yards. It was the second time in his career that he had a 1,000-yard receiving season.

Green has had four of those seasons.

Jones' contract came after Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant and Denver's Demaryius Thomas received five-year, $70 million extensions in July. All three receivers are making more than $40 million in guaranteed money, aligning them with Detroit's Calvin Johnson, who brought in $43.75 million guaranteed on his last deal.

The 27-year-old Green should expect something comparable.

"All those deals are getting done, that's good," Green said. "We'll see if I get done. Who knows?"

A Bengals source said earlier this offseason the team understands how highly valued Green is. The source said the organization is committed to fairly compensating him. There remains a chance an extension will come before the end of the preseason, but if a deal isn’t struck by Labor Day, the Bengals aren't likely to carry over the negotiation talks into the regular season. In those situations they would prefer to stall them before resuming after the season ends.

Green learned of Jones' extension just before the Bengals faced the Bears. Just prior to the Bengals running out of Paul Brown Stadium’s South end zone tunnel ahead of the opening kickoff, Green happened to see a television scrawl concerning Jones' deal.

Here are some highs and lows in terms of individual performances from the Cincinnati Bengals' 21-10 win over the Chicago Bears:

HIGHS

AJ McCarron: Just wait, chances are you'll be reading a lot about McCarron in the coming days, and with good reason. The second-year quarterback was sharp in his second preseason game after entering for an injured Andy Dalton. McCarron is now a combined 23-for-32 with 246 yards passing this preseason. He also has led three touchdown drives.

Andy Dalton: Although McCarron might have been the unexpected star after making a relief appearance, Dalton's play can't be overlooked, either. His 6-for-13, 46-yard line in Monday night's loss at Tampa Bay was ugly, but it was completely overshadowed by the 6-for-6, 52-yard showing from his lone drive Saturday. Dalton ended the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run. He had 16 rushing yards on three carries.

Jeremy Hill: A respectable 4.2 yards per carry average was the result of Hill rushing 11 times for 46 yards. The bulk of those yards came on a series of physical runs in the middle of the second quarter. After a bit of a slow start to the game, Hill rushed for 38 yards on three carries during the one drive. He broke several tackles on those carries.

Vincent Rey: The veteran linebacker got the start Saturday in place of Emmanuel Lamur, who hurt a hamstring Monday. Rey's six tackles were a sign he was all over the field in limited action.

LOWS

Matthew O'Donnell: The offensive tackle had a rough night, consistently getting beaten off the edge by pass-rushing defensive ends and linebackers. McCarron was knocked down several times in the second half, and regularly it seemed he was being brought down by players who beat O'Donnell.

Jake Fisher: In the first action of his NFL career, the rookie offensive tackle had trouble avoiding flags. Fisher was penalized three times in the second half alone. He played much of the night, even checking in on the second play of the game as an extra blocker in a heavy offensive line set.

A few thoughts on the Cincinnati Bengals' 21-10 win over the Chicago Bears:

What it means: Five days ago Cincinnati looked like a team well on its way to a mediocre season. The uninspiring play in that 25-11 loss prompted coaches to emphasize energy and effort in the days before Saturday night's game. As one assistant said to me in the press box before the game, preseason or not, the Bengals in this game needed to do anything they could to prove they were much better than what they showed earlier in the week. They did it, and in grand fashion. Backup quarterback AJ McCarron was particularly impressive in relief of an injured Andy Dalton.

Cicinnati's AJ McCarronMichael Conroy/APAJ McCarron completed 12 of 17 passes for 149 yards and a touchdown on Saturday.

Play of the game: Because it led to McCarron coming into the game, the play of the night had to be the one in the first quarter when it appeared Dalton was injured. By the game's final whistle, it was unclear exactly how or when the starting quarterback hurt his neck. But it was on his final snap that Dalton capped the 16-play series by diving into the end zone on fourth down for a 1-yard touchdown run. It wasn't the kind of play you'd expect from a starting quarterback in a preseason game, but the play's end result hinted at some of the enhanced effort coaches sought this week.

Stat of note: 14 -- That's the number of consecutive passes Bengals quarterbacks attempted before finally throwing an incompletion. After Dalton ended the night 6-for-6 for 52 yards, McCarron completed his first seven passes. Dalton's sharp night came on the heels of a three-sack, two-interception outing at Tampa Bay on Monday.

Injuries of note: The Bengals escaped without major injury issues. Only Dalton was banged up in the game. At halftime, coach Marvin Lewis said the quarterback was "fine," and was simply taken out for precautionary reasons. In relief of Dalton, McCarron went 12-for-17 for 149 yards and a touchdown.

What's next? Cincinnati closes out the preseason in Indianapolis on Thursday. The finale will provide players on the back end of the depth chart one last chance to push for roster spots before the final round of cuts next weekend.

Ickey WoodsFocus On Sport/Getty ImagesRunning back Ickey Woods was a member of the Bengals' 1988 Super Bowl team.

CINCINNATI -- Famed former Cincinnati Bengals running back Ickey Woods classifies this upcoming season as a make-or-break year for the team's starting quarterback, Andy Dalton.

Following an event at Cincinnati's Christ Hospital on Saturday, Woods told ESPN he believed the Bengals would be best served looking for a new quarterback if they have a repeat of the past four seasons' first-round playoff exits.

"This is the year we must win a playoff game or it's time to start looking in a different direction at the quarterback spot," Woods said. "His thing of not being able to win the big game, he's got to shake that and get it done this year."

Despite winning 40 games and leading the Bengals to the postseason in each of his first four seasons, Dalton still has yet to lead Cincinnati to a playoff win.

A member of the Bengals' 1988 Super Bowl team, Woods spent four seasons in Cincinnati, including 1990. That 1990 team still has the franchise’s most recent playoff victory, a win against the Raiders. After that win, the Bengals had a 15-year gap until making the postseason again. Since then, they have been to the playoffs six times, including this string of four straight seasons with Dalton guiding the offense.

"We've had four winning years, not a lot of teams can say that," Woods said. "I'm happy with the progress that we're making, man. We've just got to win the big one. It's coming. I'm thinking this year is the year we at least win that first playoff game and have a shot at getting to another playoff game. We've got the nucleus to do it, but the guys got to stay focused -- barring injuries."

A barrage of injuries handcuffed the Bengals' offense in their lone playoff game at Indianapolis this past January. A.J. Green, Tyler Eifert and Marvin Jones were among the key players Dalton didn't have that day. Conditions were so challenging that running back Rex Burkhead was asked to be an emergency slot receiver.

What has most troubled Woods about Dalton has been the quarterback's play in big-stage games. In addition to the playoff losses, the Bengals are 3-7 the past four seasons in nationally televised, prime-time regular-season games.

"But you can't put that all on Andy," Woods said. "It is a team sport, so everybody's got to come and get their job done. In the last big games that we've had, guys haven’t stepped up and gotten it done."

Still, Dalton hasn't played his best football under the lights. Since 2011, he has 11 interceptions and 11 touchdown passes in those games with a 56.5 completion percentage. In all other regular-season games, he has 86 touchdowns to 55 interceptions and a 62.7 completion percentage. The Bengals' record in the non prime-time games Dalton has appeared in since 2011 is 36-16-1.

Last season, the Bengals beat the Broncos on "Monday Night Football," but lost to the Browns, Patriots and Steelers on Thursday and Sunday nights.

"They've got a couple of games this year that are must-win for them," Woods said. "We'll see what happens and we’ll see if [Dalton] can break that and get the right thing going."

Woods' celebrity has had a unique resurgence recently. About a year ago, he became a pop culture icon again after performing his signature "Ickey Shuffle" touchdown dance in auto insurance commercials. The dance first turned heads nationally when Woods performed it while playing in Cincinnati. His appearance at the hospital Saturday was because of the dance.

While helping Christ Hospital unveil a new joint and spine center, Woods was there to help set a world record for the number of people performing the shuffle at one time.

CINCINNATI -- Michael Johnson's return is slowly starting to come into focus for the Cincinnati Bengals.

While the team still isn't saying when the defensive end will be back from a knee injury he suffered three days into the start of training camp, the possibility Johnson dresses out for the Sept. 13 season opener still seems to exist.

For the first time since Johnson had his right leg rolled up on by a pile of teammates earlier this month, he went through conditioning drills on the rehab portion of the Bengals' practice fields Wednesday. It was during an open period of the workout that he participated in activities that tested the flexibility and strength of his knee. It was the first time he had been seen doing that kind of activity with media present.

Wednesday's practice is the only one the Bengals have this week, coming after they took Tuesday off following Monday night's 25-11 loss at Tampa Bay. They will hold a low-speed walkthrough Thursday and take Friday off, too, ahead of Saturday's preseason game against the Chicago Bears. Had Johnson been healthy, the Bengals would have ideally used him often in this weekend's game like they hope to do with other starters.

Johnson wasn't the only player to take a positive step from injury Wednesday. Nine others practiced after either missing Monday's game or a series of practices before it.

Although there's no way of knowing right now whether individual players were limited or in full participation or not, here's a list of those once-injured players who were at least dressed for practice, and those who weren't:

In uniform

CB Darqueze Dennard
CB Brandon Ghee
OT Jake Fisher
DT Brandon Thompson
DT Pat Sims
OT Andre Smith
S George Iloka (knee injury Monday night)
OG Trey Hopkins
RB Terrell Watson

Not in uniform

WR Tevin Reese
LB Emmanuel Lamur (hamstring injury Monday night)

Rehabbing

Johnson
LB Vontaze Burfict
LB Sean Porter
WR Onterio McCalebb
OT Cedric Ogbuehi

Andy DaltonAP Photo/Michael ConroyBengals QB Andy Dalton has 40 regular-season wins in his four seasons, but is 0-4 in the postseason.

CINCINNATI -- To those who tweet at him or message him on Instagram or comment about him on television, Andy Dalton has a message for you.

He hears you and he sees much of what you post.

But it isn't like the Cincinnati Bengals quarterback is constantly scrolling through his timeline or flipping channels seeking opinions about his play. All he has to do is open up an app or two on his phone to see them.

"I hear it just because it's hard not to," Dalton told ESPN on Wednesday. "I'm sure you know, but I can post a picture on my Instagram and all it's about is ... different stuff."

Different stuff, like the mix of rude, crude and smattering of friendly comments on an otherwise innocuous picture Dalton posted from the Western & Southern Open last week. During a break between preseason games and practices, the quarterback attended a session of the tennis championships just outside Cincinnati. They featured eventual tournament winners Serena Williams and Roger Federer.

Some of the commenters attacked Dalton. Others featured inappropriate innuendo. The most recent, at time of the writing of this story, implored Dalton to berate his offensive line into blocking better.

"As much as I want to say I don't look at it and I don’t see it, with the world today, it's hard not to see stuff," Dalton said. "And a lot of stuff that's said, you can look at it and it could be an eighth grader or something. People can hide behind a computer screen and it's the same person that's coming up wanting my autograph. So it is what it is."

Among recent playoff quarterbacks, Dalton is arguably the one who is most antagonized because of his play. Perhaps justifiably so. He's had a talented roster around him the past four seasons, and despite reaching the playoffs all of those years, the Bengals continuously fold once January arrives. Dalton has 40 regular-season wins in his four years, but is 0-4 in the postseason. The Bengals haven't won in the playoffs since 1991.

Some of that recent postseason ineptitude rests with Dalton. With six playoff interceptions to one career playoff touchdown, his play in the playoffs has been largely uninspiring.

"When I first came in, they didn't expect us to win a game and we won nine and made it to the playoffs and made it to the Pro Bowl, so there wasn't any negative then," Dalton said. "It's just because time has gone on. I think it just comes down to the whole playoff thing.

"But I'm not playing for the opinion of other people. This organization and the people here understand the type of person, player and what actually goes on out there. I understand that. So with all the negative stuff, there's still a bunch of positive support that comes."

The Bengals certainly believe Dalton is their man. Head coach Marvin Lewis and offensive coordinator Hue Jackson have gone out of their way often this past year to reaffirm that belief. The six-year contract extension Dalton signed last August was ownership's indication of that, too, even if the deal's structure allows the Bengals to part with the quarterback after this season cap hit-free.

"At the end of the day, the way I go about it is don't let somebody else's opinion of you define who you are," Dalton said, referring to critics. "Don't let other people's thoughts or whatever it is be true. I know who I am and this team knows who I am."

Why was the Cincinnati Bengals' 25-11 loss at Tampa Bay so alarming Monday night?

Because it was signed, sealed and delivered in very much the same manner so many of the Cincinnati Bengals' most lopsided defeats the past few years have been: in prime time.

Sure, it was only a preseason game. And even as we pointed out in this post from halftime, the Bengals still have some weeks left to fix the problems that caused them to take a large step back from the all-cylinders operation they showcased in last week's 23-10 win over the Giants.

But the alarm rests in the fact that Monday's loss was every bit the diametric opposite of the previous week's victory.

Just after looking like playoff-bound world beaters, the Bengals looked like also-ran pushovers who were dominated in every phase of the game by a young team that had only two wins last year.

The tackling coaches had so effusively praised in the preseason opener was nonexistent at the start of Monday's game. The fluid, comfortable perfect passing performance quarterback Andy Dalton had employed on one drive against the Giants wasn't present on eight series against the Buccaneers. The same relaxed, in-sync style of play the offense and defense exhibited when the national spotlight wasn't on them a week ago, faded.

Interceptions ruled the day much the same way they have in past prime-time games in which Dalton has led the Bengals. Two picked off passes -- one of which was a ball Pro Bowl receiver A.J. Green let slip through his hands -- preceded a fumble by running back Jeremy Hill. The three consecutive series possession changes quickly ballooned the score from a 7-0 Bucs lead to a 23-0 one. A rout had ensued.

Typically in prime-time, nationally-televised games, the Bengals lose. They are 3-7 in the 10 regular-season prime time games they have played since Dalton became the starter in 2011. Add the four consecutive playoff losses on top of that, and the losing tally swells to 3-14 in games the Bengals hold the national spotlight. Those repeated performances feed into the overall narrative that Dalton isn't a good quarterback when the pressure is on.

Preseason aside, whether Dalton likes it or not, the pressure is, in fact, on right now and it will stay on through the end of the season. With four prime-time games on the docket this year, it's time he and the Bengals get these prime-time woes out of their system.

AP Photo/John Minchillo

A quick observation of first-round pick Cedric Ogbuehi and how he's played through three weeks of training camp:

It's hard to give a thumbs up or a thumbs down to the Cincinnati Bengals' first-round pick simply because he hasn't done anything yet, nor was he expected to by this point in the year.

Since he hasn't been able to play, though, we'll keep the thumb exactly where it was when he was first drafted in May: up.

While still at Texas A&M, the offensive tackle tore his ACL during the Aggies' Liberty Bowl win over West Virginia at the end of last December. He underwent surgery right away and spent the entire NFL draft process rehabbing and recovering. Once regarded by many draft experts to be the best offensive tackle in this year's class, Ogbuehi took a bit of a hit because of the injury and fell a little further than he may have had he been healthy.

The Bengals certainly had no qualms with taking Ogbuehi at No. 21 overall because they already had two good tackles and a solid third swing tackle on the roster. All three of those veterans, Andrew Whitworth, Andre Smith and Eric Winston, will be eligible for free agency next March if they aren't re-signed to any longer-term deals before then. Winston has been a serviceable backup, Smith has been a solid starter over the years, and Whitworth has been competing at a Pro Bowl level for quite some time.

All of that is to say, it didn't matter if Ogbuehi was healthy when he was drafted. The Bengals were already loaded at that position this season.

It will be at least another year -- but most likely it'll be another three -- before we can fully debate whether Ogbuehi's selection at 21 was the right one for Cincinnati to make.

Ogbuehi had been targeting a late-preseason return, but Bengals coaches and trainers aren't beholden to getting him ready by that point. Although he has been rehabbing his knee all throughout the preseason, it seems likely Ogbuehi begins the season with some injury-list designation.

Penn State products Devon Still and Donovan Smith were among several players to swap jerseys following Monday night's game between the Cincinnati Bengals and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The pair poised for pictures on Raymond James Stadium's field following the Bucs' 25-11 win. ESPN's "Monday Night Football" Twitter account posted a post-swap photo of them less than an hour after the game ended.

Three years Smith's elder, Still had left Penn State by the time the young offensive tackle had enrolled. Both players were second-round picks, with Smith going to Tampa Bay earlier this year. Still was selected in that round by the Bengals in 2012.

Still's jersey has been a wanted commodity in the past year after the Bengals sold his jersey to help raise funds for pediatric cancer research. The proceeds from the month-long fundraising campaign raised more than $1.2 million, which the Bengals donated to a local children's hospital. The campaign came after Still's daughter, 5-year-old Leah Still, had been diagnosed with Stage 4 neuroblastoma. She went into remission from the cancer in March and remains that way.

Other Bengals and Buccaneers were expected to swap jerseys, like Tampa Bay quarterback Jameis Winston and Cincinnati running back James Wilder Jr. Days before the game, Wilder had intimated he probably would swap with Winston, his former teammate at Florida State.

Both players rushed for touchdowns in the game.

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