CINCINNATI — With an unexpected impressive performance, AJ McCarron put the Bengals at ease and got his first NFL football for the trophy case.
He may have inadvertently turned up the pressure on Andy Dalton as well.
The second-year quarterback who won back-to-back championships at Alabama finally got to run the Bengals starting offense and fit right in. McCarron threw his first professional touchdown pass during a preseason win over Chicago on Saturday night and came off the field cradling the ball in his left arm.
“Words really can’t describe it,” McCarron said.
In many ways, it was the Bengals’ best moment of the preseason.
One of their big questions heading into camp was who would back up Dalton, who has missed only half of a game because of injury during his four seasons. Veteran Josh Johnson was back, but McCarron would get a chance to win the job.
The fifth-round pick in 2014 missed all of his rookie season because of a sore passing shoulder. He also missed the first preseason game because of a pulled muscle in his side. He did well enough in the second game that the Bengals released Johnson and gave McCarron the job.
Against the Bears, Dalton suffered a minor neck injury while scoring on a quarterback sneak at the end of the opening drive. McCarron got into the game earlier than expected and had a perfectly good time.
He completed all of his six passes in the first half for 87 yards, including a 31-yard touchdown to Marvin Jones. McCarron jumped and screamed when Jones reached the end zone.
“Every time I threw a touchdown at Alabama, that’s what I did,” McCarron said. “I just play with a lot of excitement. Brett Favre is my favorite quarterback of all time. After every touchdown that he threw, that’s what he did.”
McCarron threaded the ball over a linebacker and hit Jones in stride a few yards from the goal line.
“AJ did an unbelievable job of getting it over the linebacker and delivering the perfect throw,” Jones said. “All I had to do was run the route.”
It was also a big moment for Jones, who missed all of last season with foot and ankle injuries.
“It’s a blessing to get back out there after so long,” Jones said. “I’m surrounded by great players with tons of talent. It feels good to be back.”
McCarron kept the ball from his touchdown throw, eager to add it to his college keepsakes. He felt good about his first time running the starting offense.
“I’m not going to lie: I was nervous at first,” he said. “Once I got that first throw under my belt — I was a little late getting it down to A.J. (Green) — once I got that throw, I was fine. I felt I got into a good rhythm and I was seeing everything.”
Although Dalton has led the Bengals to the playoffs each of his first four seasons, he’s 0-4 in the postseason, drawing boos from fans. Before their first practice of training camp last year, a fan hung a banner from a nearby bridge that read: “AJ to AJ.”
Whenever McCarron would make a nice throw during camp this year, fans applauded excitedly. Dalton got booed when he was introduced for a celebrity softball game at Great American Ball Park as part of the All-Star festivities.
Anytime Dalton has a subpar game from now on, some fans will be calling for his replacement.
NOTES: The Bengals released receiver Denarius Moore and fullback Marc Weisman. They waived defensive tackle Kwame Geathers, linebacker Nico Johnson, defensive end Sam Montgomery, guard Chris Jasperse, receiver Desmond Lawrence, tight end John Peters and receiver Tevin Reese. Weisman had an injury and if he clears waivers, he’ll go on the Bengals’ injured reserve list.