Falcons defensive tackle Calais Campbell carries his 3-year-old son Dakari before the preseason game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Friday, August 18, 2023, in Atlanta. The teams tied 13-13.
In front of a quaint gathering at Mercedes-Benz on Friday, Falcons coach Arthur Smith was generally pleased with what he saw from his first-team units before the reserves took over.
“It was good getting those guys out there,” Smith said.
Falcons kicker Younghoe Koo made a 45-yard field goal with :02 left to tie the Bengals 13-13 after Cincinnati backup running back Chase Brown scored on a 3-yard touchdown with 50 seconds to play to lift the Bengals to a 13-10 lead.
Third-string quarterback Logan Woodside drove the Falcons back down and nearly connected with Zay Malone for a touchdown in the end zone before Koo was summoned.
As for the first teamers, quarterback Desmond Ridder was in control. Running back Bijan Robinson flashed his play-making ability and the first-team defense made a stop.
There was not much precision as the Falcons committed a penalty on the game-opening kickoff and six more on the opening offensive drive.
While Ridder completed 7 of 9 passes for 80 yards, several were a bit off the mark as he turned around tight end Kyle Pitts and Robinson on another throw.
“I thought Dez spread the ball around,” Smith said. “Again, you don’t want to see the ball tipped up and get picked down in the red zone.”
But hey, that’s what exhibition games are for.
Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter/AJC
Ridder tossed a nice strike to wide receiver Drake London on third-and-12 for a 21-yard gain and another tight spiral to KhaDarel Hodge on a 12-yard gain.
Running back Tyler Allgeier, who rushed a franchise rookie record 1,035 yards last season, started the game and had the first carry. He rushed for seven yards, but right guard Chris Lindstrom was called for holding.
“Obviously, you have to eliminate them,” said Lindstrom, who’s only been called for one penalty over four seasons. “Myself I have to be more accountable. I had two of those, so you can have that…We definitely need to be better, starting with myself.’
Robinson showed why the Falcons made him the eighth overall pick in the NFL draft on his first carry. He found a hole in the defense and sliced his way through the Bengals for 12 yards as he nearly broke loose for a huge gain.
“I was definitely a little nervous,” Robinson said. “It was the first one. Just go out there and get the first play out of the way. As soon as the first play was out of the way, I was ready. It all went away. I was definitely a little nervous going into it. That was natural. I’m just a human being.”
Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter
Robinson rushed four times for 20 yards and caught a pass for six yards.
“Bijan, I thought he operated fast,” Smith said. “It certainly didn’t look too big for him.”
After the first drive ended with an interception of Ridder by Bengals linebacker Joseph Ossai, Smith had seen enough.
The first-team defense made a stop on fourth-and 2 from the Atlanta 23, when a pass from Cincinnati backup quarterback Trevor Siemian was off the mark.
Former Saints linebacker Kaden Elliss, who was signed to a three-year $21.5 million deal in free agency, led the defense with four tackles in his brief stint.
The Bengals, who reached the AFC championship game last season, didn’t play their first-team offense. Quarterback Joe Burrow, who’s nursing a calf injury, didn’t even make the trip.
Taylor Heinicke, the former standout for Collins Hill High, and most of the second-team offense entered the game. Rookie left guard Matt Bergeron stayed in the game for another series.
The Falcons added a 36-yard field goal by Koo on their third possession. After a punt by the Bengals and a turnover on downs by the Falcons, the Bengals added a 50-yard field goal by Evan McPherson at the buzzer.
The game was tied 3-3 at halftime.
Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter
The Bengals opened the third quarter and drove down for a 31-yard field goal by McPherson to make it 6-3.
Heinicke answered with a nice drive and appeared to have a touchdown pass to J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, but the receiver was ruled down at the 1-yard line. The Falcons jumped into the pistol formation and handed the ball off to Carlos Washington, who powered in for the touchdown. Koo made the extra point after he missed two last week against the Dolphins.
“I thought I was at touchdown,” Arcega-Whiteside said. “They were talking like it was. The biggest thing is to come away with points and that’s what happened. I’m just glad that Carlos was able to punch it in.”
The eight-play drive covered 79 yards and took 3:47 off the clock.
With Jake Browning at quarterback, the Bengals’ ensuing drive stalled when they couldn’t convert a fourth-and-3 at Atlanta’s 23.
The Falcons couldn’t convert on a fourth-and-2 after driving to Cincinnati’s 38. Heniecke’s pass for Penny Hart was incomplete and Hart was injured on the play.
Woodside came in with just over eight minutes to play to finish up the game for the Falcons. Heinicke competed 13 of 21 passes for 162 yards and had a passing rating of 85.8.
Falcons safety DeMarcco Hellams intercepted Browning with 5:35 to play. He also had an interception in the exhibition opener against the Dolphins.
“He shows up when the lights are on, just like he did at Alabama,” Smith said.
But Woodside couldn’t run out the clock and the Bengals marched down the field to take the lead for a short time.
Falcons defensive tackle Ta’Quon Graham, who’s coming back from knee surgery, did not play in the game.
The Falcons host the Steelers in their exhibition-season finale at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
After that game, next up will be the regular-season opener against the Carolina Panthers at 1 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 10 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
D. Orlando Ledbetter, Esq is the award-winning Atlanta Falcons beat writer for the newspaper, has been on the staff since 2003. Every day D. Orlando strives to provide inside in the Falcons and the NFL. He finds the most joy in providing insight into the team, the coaching moves, the offseason business moves, the draft and the games.