Mixed bag for Bengals in opener

CINCINNATI – For starters, four Bengals starters got hurt.

Preseason football is just the worst.

It’s a necessary evil, though, and one of the best things the Bengals can say about their preseason opener Friday night vs. the Jets is they got through it and can move forward.

“My first thought is that we need to be a little crisper in the passing game,” Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said. “We had a couple of drops in the first series that hurt us. We came back and got a good drive, but obviously you’ve got to finish those.”

The starting Bengals offense got a field goal in two drives. The starting defense kept the Jets starters off the board. The bad news is that projected starting guard Travelle Wharton was carted off with a knee injury on the first offensive drive, and then defensive standouts Rey Maualuga and Carlos Dunlap suffered knee injuries. Safety Taylor Mays left with a head injury in the second quarter.

That was the worst part of the bad news. A.J. Green appeared to drop what would have been a touchdown pass early in that second quarter, leading to the aforementioned first-team field goal and red-zone failure. Andy Dalton was 4-of-9 for 54 yards. At least two of those throws, he’d love to have back.

That’s the preseason.

“It was OK for the first preseason game,” Dalton said. “We had a good drive, but obviously we didn’t put it in (the end zone). I think BenJarvus (Green-Ellis) showed what he can do as a runner and a receiver for us.”

Lewis said Green not catching the pass “is the kind of play we have to make. That was a good throw. We’ll make those every other time. I thought it was a good series for us but we didn’t come away with the touchdown.”

Green-Ellis was a big part of the positives the Bengals take away from the game, which became a 17-6 win for the home team. The score is the last thing coaches worry about in these games. The Bengals got the rest of their points from a blocked-punt touchdown and a short touchdown run, both scored by backup running back Cedric Peerman.

A March free-agent signing from New England who clearly leads the camp running back battle with Bernard Scott injured, Green-Ellis ran 7 times for 22 yards and had an 18-yard reception.

“It was a good start,” Green-Ellis said. “I hope that when my number is called, I can make plays catching the ball as well as running it.”

Rookie Marvin Jones caught a 40-yard pass from Bruce Gradkowski. Utility linebacker Dan Skuta showed why he’s a near-lock to make the team by blocking the punt then later recording a sack. Undrafted rookie linebacker Vontaze Burfict picked off Tim Tebow.

The good, the bad and the painful didn’t just include the few highlight plays and the injuries. With 9:20 left and third-stringers in for both sides, Marvin Lewis threw his replay challenge flag.

He won. The Bengals got the ball on what was ruled a fumble.

After the game, Maualuga said his knee issue was nothing more than a “little scare.” Dunlap was on crutches, and Lewis hinted he may miss some significant time.

Preseason football is just the worst. But it’s football. And it’s a start.

The Bengals will take Saturday off then get back to work on a short week with a Thursday night game at Atlanta looming. They still need bodies at cornerback — and safety, too, especially if Mays misses any time — and will still be holding battles for jobs and roles on both sides. Brandon Tate and Armon Binns should be safe at wide receiver; each caught 2 passes for 24 yards Friday night.

Going forward, can they be productive?

The goal of the preseason, especially the first week, is simply to survive. The Bengals did that. The real questions won’t be answered until well down the road.

“I feel good about the things we did tonight,” Lewis said. “We’ve got a lot of ground to cover. We have to just keep pushing.”