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McCarron solidifies spot as backup to Dalton

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The Sports Xchange

CINCINNATI — Cincinnati Bengals backup quarterback AJ McCarron had Paul Brown Stadium abuzz in his home debut after replacing Andy Dalton on the second series of Saturday’s game against the Bears. The former Alabama star completed 12 of 17 passes for 149 yards and a touchdown in the Bengals’ 21-10 win.

However, as good as McCarron looked, that doesn’t mean Dalton’s job is in jeopardy.

Dalton was a perfect 6-for-6 for 52 yards while leading the offense on a 16-play, 77-yard, nine-minute scoring drive on its first possession. He capped it off on a 1-yard keeper that took him out of the game with a sore neck, but the injury wasn’t serious enough to even receive treatment. He remained on the sideline for the rest of the game and seemed fine Monday.

“We feel good about where we are (with our quarterback play),” head coach Marvin Lewis said. “We don’t like turnovers. When you have games without turnovers, we feel good.”

McCarron completed his first six passes, including a 31-yard touchdown pass to Marvin Jones in the second quarter, which followed an earlier hookup of 43 yards. The Bengals went on to build a 21-0 lead before the Bears got on the board with a field goal just before halftime.

The game was a marked improvement over the Bengals’ 25-11 loss at Tampa Bay on Aug. 24. Jeremy Hill rushed 11 times for 46 yards and a touchdown, and the Bengals had 210 yards of offense in the first half.

“We’re the same football team, but we did some more things,” Lewis said Monday. “We made some more plays on offense, and that makes a big difference.”

The defense also returned to the form of its first preseason game and didn’t allow a touchdown until the fourth quarter. The Bears amassed just 194 yards of offense, and running back Matt Forte managed only 16 yards on six carries.

Defensive end Carlos Dunlap and linebacker Chris Carter both recorded sacks in the first half, and Carter added a second in the third quarter.

“I feel like when we focus we come out firing, and just playing our brand of football, we have better performances, but when we lack focus and don’t put in the effort we’re accustomed to, we have performances like against the Bucs,” said safety George Iloka, who finished with four tackles. “I’m confident in our defense. We’re not into being good. We know we can be great, but it’s going out every day and earning it and proving it.”

Iloka said it helped that the offense stayed on the field as long as it did in the first half, but the Tampa Bay game was a wakeup of sorts for the defense.

“You can’t not show up and expect to play decent,” Iloka said. “These guys are too talented to half-ass it. I don’t think we needed to lose the way we did, but I just think it woke us up. We obviously came out better this time, and we just need to dot some I’s and cross some T’s.”

–Devon Still continues to try to make his case for a spot among a deep Bengals defensive line.

The tackle came into training camp about 30 pounds lighter and in what he called the best shape of his career – something he attributed to the improved health of his daughter, Leah, who is now in remission from a rare form of pediatric cancer.

The question is, has he done enough to prove he belongs?

Still had one tackle Saturday against the Bears, but more important than stats is showing consistency, he said. He believes he has done that so far, but said this last preseason game at Indianapolis will be especially important for him.

“I came out here to just try to prove myself during this training camp, and I think I’ve done a good job of that,” Still said. “I think Thursday is going to be another big game for me to show consistency and show these coaches why I deserve to be on this team. I feel good. I showed the coaches what I’m able to do, and I know from my years being here, it’s about consistency, to go out there and compete every down and not take plays off.”

Still said he came into camp a little behind the others because he wasn’t able to participate in offseason workouts with the team while his daughter continued to receive treatments. He still continued to work on his own, but while others had the advantage of being seen by the coaches, he missed those extra opportunities to prove himself.

While he knows he is in an “uphill battle” for a spot in a crowded unit where several players are making a case, he tries to remain positive.

“If you think negative, negative things are going to happen,” Still said. “I feel like I’ve put good enough tape out there that I have a good chance of making this ball club. If not, I have the opportunity to play somewhere else. Right now, my objective is to go out and show I’m a consistent player and I can make any team better and I can help them win.”

The games are becoming increasingly more important for a lot of guys, as the Bengals begin making their cuts. The first round began Monday, but five more players will be dropped Tuesday by the 4 p.m. deadline to get the roster to 75. From there, it will be pared down to 53.

–Rookie linebacker P.J. Dawson, a third-round draft pick, has continued to make the most of his opportunities. He had another strong showing Saturday, finishing with three tackles, one for a loss; however, he said head coach Marvin Lewis has been hard on him throughout camp, trying to push him to get “all the minor details down” to prepare him for the season.

“A lot of coaches are telling me I will be great in the future, and they tell me to just keep working, so that’s what I try to do,” Dawson said. “I try to keep my head down and keep making plays. That’s the best I can do.”

Saturday’s game also marked the preseason debut for Bengals rookie tackle Jake Fisher, offensive tackle Andre Smith and guard Trey Hopkins and kicker Mike Nugent. Fisher, who missed the first two games with a shoulder injury, struggled a bit – accounting for two penalties — but was among the team’s leaders with 43 snaps. Smith, who had been bothered by a minor foot injury, played 36 snaps, while Hopkins (leg) was on the field for eight plays in the fourth quarter. Nugent, back from a tight hamstring, went 3-for-3 on extra points but did not handle kickoff duties, which instead went to Tom Obarski.

“This is my fifth year playing in the NFL, and you never get comfortable until it’s all said and done, and then when it’s all said and done, you focus on Day 1.” – Linebacker Chris Carter, on how he views his status with cuts approaching.

“I’ve had a pretty good camp and a couple nice preseason games so far. From here on out, I really just have to put my foot on the pedal and show I can play.” – Wide receiver Mario Alford.


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