CINCINNATI – Seeing their most extended playing time of the preseason, Bears starters struggled on both sides of the ball Saturday night in a 21-10 loss to the Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium.
The No. 1 offense exited midway through the third quarter after six possessions resulted in five punts and a field goal. The defense, meanwhile, couldn't stop Bengals starting quarterback Andy Dalton or backup A.J. McCarron, both of whom completed 6 of 6 passes in the first half and combined to produce three touchdowns as the Bengals jumped to a 21-0 lead.
Cincinnati held decisive advantages in first downs (21-10), total yards (333-194) and time of possession (36:52-23:08) in dealing the Bears their first loss in three preseason games.
After the Bengals scored touchdowns on three of their first four possessions, Bears coach John Fox was asked if he was disappointed in his defense, especially after the unit performed well a week earlier in a preseason win over the Colts.
"I don't think we improved," Fox said. "I don't know if 'disappointed' is right. Every game, every team has its own personality. I just didn't think we played as tight and as sharp as we did a week ago."
The Bengals scored the first time they touched the ball as Dalton's 1-yard TD sneak gave Cincinnati a 7-0 lead, capping a 16-play, 77-yard drive that burned 9:11 off the clock.
Dalton completed all six of his passes for 52 yards, mostly on short quick throws over the middle. The longest play was Dalton's 25-yard pass down the seam to running back Rex Burkhead. Shea McClellin was in coverage on the play, but never turned back to look for the ball.
Dalton suffered a neck injury, presumably on his touchdown dive, and did not return. But the Bears couldn't stop McCarron either. The former Alabama star engineered two TD drives.
McCarron's 31-yard touchdown pass to Marvin Jones over a leaping McClellin over the middle made it 14-0 with 6:24 left in the second quarter.
The Bengals took over at the Chicago 44 on their next possession after Bears receiver Rashad Lawrence dropped a perfect Jay Cutler pass on third down and Jeremy Langford was penalized for a facemask on Pat O'Donnell's punt.
Cincinnati took advantage of the great field position, widening the margin to 21-0 on Jeremy Hill's 1-yard touchdown run with 1:56 remaining in the half. The TD was set up by Hill's 26-yard run and McCarron's 25-yard pass to Tyler Eifert on back-to-back plays.
After their first four possessions ended with punts, the Bears got on the board with Robbie Gould's 34-yard field goal, cutting the deficit to 21-3 with :06 left in the half. Cutler scrambled for 16 yards and completed a 13-yard pass to Marc Mariani to set up the kick.
Cutler completed 13 of 17 passes for 98 yards and an 89.8 passer rating. He has yet to throw a touchdown pass or interception in three preseason games this summer.
The Bears closed the gap to 21-10 midway through the fourth quarter as Ify Umodu blocked a Kevin Huber punt and returned it eight yards for a touchdown.
The Bears entered Saturday night's game without their top four receivers—Alshon Jeffery (calf), Eddie Royal (hip), Marquess Wilson (hamstring) and Kevin White (shin)—and then lost starting defensive linemen Jeremiah Ratliff (ankle) and Eddie Goldman (concussion) in the first half.
The Bears also lost cornerback Tracy Porter (hamstring), receiver John Chiles (head), running back Senorise Perry (foot) and linebacker Jonathan Bostic (leg) to injuries.
Quarterback Jimmy Clausen was evaluated for a concussion late in the game. He was cleared to return, but the Bears opted to insert third-stringer David Fales.
After rushing for 166 and 165 in their first two preseason games, the Bears mustered just 67 yards on 18 carries—and 16 of those yards came on a scramble by Cutler.
"We kind of came into the game light at the receiver position," Fox said. "We were going to lean on the run some. I don't think our execution was great in that area.
"They were our first 4-3 team in a base defense. I don't know that we reacted real well to that. But overall our execution wasn't as good in the run game as it has been. I thought it was an area we did not improve in."