CINCINNATI — Preseason wins and losses don’t matter. Coaches can say otherwise, but they don’t matter. That’s different from saying what players do during those games doesn’t matter.
Marvin Lewis had a stern message and pointed message to his players after Saturday night’s 25-17 loss to the New York Jets. NFL Films cameras were present in 2009 for Hard Knocks when Lewis told his players after a preseason loss that they needed to be pros, with a colorful adjective in all caps thrown in.
No film crews were in the postgame locker room Saturday. Lewis’ voice didn’t need the help. He wasn’t happy. The first-teamers played into the middle of the second quarter and the Bengals led 17-3. The offense had two touchdown drives and converted an interception by cornerback Terence Newman into a field goal. The defense had the turnover, forced two punts on three-and-outs and gave up a field goal in four Jets possessions.
The backups weren’t so productive.
The backups were vitally productive last season. You don’t lose an All-Pro like Geno Atkins or a starting cornerback like Leon Hall let alone eight others and still go on to win 11 games and a division title without having quality depth. Next man up was a rallying cry last season.
Saturday might have been a meaningless preseason game in the standings but it was hardly meaningless.
"I realize it is a lot of young guys, but the development of this team has been because of the developing depth," said Lewis. "We have to realize we are going to have players getting injured during the season and guys have to respond and be able to step up, and the standard of play cannot get lowered."
Jason Campbell wasn’t available at quarterback because of an arm injury suffered in practice last Thursday. Matt Scott and Tyler Wilson combined to complete 15-of-35 passes for 93 yards and an interception. They were sacked five times. Scott fumbled twice, losing the ball once. Running back Cedric Peerman lost a fumble. Wide receiver Cobi Hamilton was targeted 13 times. He had two catches. Quite a few he had no chance at pulling in. Others hit his hands.
The Jets put up 266 net yards against the backup defenders. That total is greater without a ridiculous number of penalties, including four personal fouls. Some of that yardage came with its starters still in the game but New York still had eight plays that gained 15 yards or more.
Dalton completed all eight of the passes he attempted for 144 yards and a touchdown. His 43-yard scoring throw to Mohamed Sanu in the first quarter couldn’t have been thrown any better, hitting Sanu in stride down the middle of the field.
"Personally you want to play well, and you want to see how the team does when you’re in there," said Dalton. "But it’s a team game. The preseason is about finding depth, finding guys that are going to help us win games, and you don’t want to see a drop-off when the starters aren’t in."
Lewis has always loved the teaching aspect of coaching. He and his staff will have a lot of teaching moments from this game.
"I’m anxious to see the tapes," said Lewis. "Offensively we were pretty crisp and we have to keep it up. When guys come in they have to be able to carry the torch when it is their turn."