After the Cincinnati Bengals' 29-26 loss in the preseason finale against the Miami Dolphins on Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium, wide receiver Trenton Irwin knew exactly what his next two days would look like.
Over the next two days, Irwin plans to listen to some Bob Marley music. And he plans to go to a few fishing spots he likes, including a “honey hole” where the water’s murky but there are plenty of bass.
Instead of focusing on when the Bengals will tell him whether he has made the 53-man roster before Tuesday’s cut-down date, Irwin will be focusing his attention on the water.
“When that call’s there,” Irwin said, “It’s there.”
At this point, the 2019 undrafted free agent has done everything he could have to make the Bengals regular season roster.
Nearly every time the Cincinnati Bengals coaches spoke about a roster battle this summer, they said that the preseason games would play a big part in determining the final 53-man roster.
When head coach Zac Taylor spoke about the offensive guards vying for a spot on the team, he said he wanted to see them in a game environment. When special teams coach Darrin Simmons discussed the kicking battle, he said he valued the opportunity to watch the two kickers in a pressure situation.
Even at punt returner, the coaching staff almost always brought up game reps as a determining factor.
“We'll get a chance to recap the game tomorrow and then get started on the personnel stuff,” Taylor said after Sunday’s game. “Those are decisions we've got to make with (GM Duke Tobin) and his staff these next couple days.”
On Sunday, the Bengals wrapped up the preseason with a 29-26 loss to the Miami Dolphins at Paul Brown Stadium. Quarterback Joe Burrow and the first-team offense played only the first series, and the first-team defense didn’t play at all.
The Dolphins won the game on a miracle 34-yard touchdown pass with 1:21 left in the fourth quarter. Miami quarterback Reid Sinnett threw a Hail Mary on fourth and 15 to Chris Myarick in the end-zone.
For players like Irwin, who had 39 receiving yards on Sunday and completed his preseason run as the Bengals most productive receiver in the preseason, the game against the Dolphins was another step forward. He made one of the best catches of the game, securing the ball through a hit after a deep pass over the middle of the field.
“I do think I belong, and that’s where I’m at,” Irwin said. “That’s not my job (to make cuts), it’s my job to go out there and make plays.”
The Bengals scored on all three drives with the second-team offense in the game. Over the first and second quarters, rookie offensive guards Jackson Carman and D’Ante Smith played their best games of the preseason and allowed quarterback Brandon Allen to find targets like Irwin.
As Allen connected on deep passes to running back Chris Evans and wide receiver Mike Thomas, Carman showed the consistent technique the coaches were looking for when they moved him down on the depth chart.
Carman’s success came at the expense of Michael Jordan, who has been a starter for most of his NFL career. With Carman playing with the second team, Jordan appears to be on the roster bubble.
“Just consistency, that's the key term with all the interior players,” Taylor said. “And that's why you've seen those veterans (like Xavier Su’a-Filo and Quinton Spain) get the latest stab at it. Because they've been the most consistent.”
Undrafted free agent Darius Hodge added to his case to make the team with two impressive plays in the run game and a sack. Over the last three weeks, Hodge emerged from an unheralded linebacker into one of the team’s most explosive edge rushers.
While Hodge just missed a sack on Miami’s game-winning touchdown, he had a better statistical game than defensive end Noah Spence as they competed for the last spot on the defense.
Even though the Bengals had a two-score lead with five minutes left, the Dolphins scored consecutive touchdowns against the Bengals third-string defense.
With the Bengals leading 26-21 late in the game, Miami reached the 29-yard line with two minutes left. On fourth down, Sinnett’s touchdown throw gave the Dolphins a 29-26 lead.
The Bengals had 81 seconds to get in field goal range, and Cincinnati made it into field goal range trailing by three points. The Bengals played for the win, but Shurmur’s deep pass to wide receiver Scotty Washington fell incomplete on fourth down.
“I think today there were plenty of opportunities to finish the game, particularly on defense there on that last drive,” Taylor said. “Guys (had) plenty of shots, we need to finish it, we didn't do it. I just told the team, let's just learn our lessons here in preseason game three.”