There were two probable scenarios for the Cincinnati Bengals on Thursday Night.
Deal with the adversity of injuries and the quick Thursday Night turnaround, traveling to Miami and escaping with a win. Or not. Though we had hoped for the former, the tea leaves read the latter. Leon Hall, Taylor Mays and Rey Maualuga suffered serious injuries in recent weeks, compounded by what appears to be a serious knee injury defensive tackle Geno Atkins.
The wind propelling Cincinnati's success had finally depleted.
While the defense is suffering from a nasty run of injuries, the offense was miserable with mistakes. Andy Dalton threw three interceptions, one returned for a touchdown, and lost another fumble. Jermaine Gersham (really weak, but called regardless) was called for a hold that negated a 50-yard Marvin Jones touchdown, A.J. Green dropped a handful of passes despite recording 100 yards receiving in his fourth straight game, and Cincinnati uncharacteristically failed to convert a handful of short-yardage scenarios. Then there's the game-losing quarterback sack in the endzone, awarding Miami a two-point safety and the win.
Yet, the Bengals were making a run after facing a 14-point deficit.
Andy Dalton had just thrown an interception that was returned for a touchdown midway through the third quarter, severely impacting Cincinnati's chances to recover in a season defined by recoveries. Blunders, fouls, drops, turnovers; all of it featured depressing observations from the seats of fanatical fans that expect so much more.
Thanks to Giovani Bernard's two second half touchdowns (one ridiculously scored by forcing at least five defenders to miss on a play that should have lost four yards), the Bengals had the football at their own 42-yard line at the two minute warning and the score tied at 17. After moving the football 35 yards to Miami's 36-yard line, Mike Nugent crushed a 54-yard field goal to give Cincinnati a 20-17 lead with 1:24 remaining in the game.
Miami wasn't ready to give up. Using quick passes to negate Cincinnati's pass rush with the Bengals uncharacteristically sitting back to avoid the big-play, Ryan Tannehill led the Dolphins 35 yards to Bengals 26-yard line where Caleb Sturgis converted the game-tying 44-yard field goal with 11 seconds remaining in regulation.
Both teams exchanged punts to open overtime. It wasn't until the 9:05 mark that Miami put themselves into position to win the game with Mike Wallace badly beating Terence Newman on a go-route in single-coverage without a safety deep. Instead of risking the touchdown, Newman tackled Wallace to draw the penalty. It worked... at the time. Cincinnati's defense forced the three-and-out but Miami punted the football to the eight-yard line where the stage was set.
After consecutive incomplete passes on first and second down, Andy Dalton was sacked in the endzone, giving Miami the safety and 22-20 win in overtime.
The Slow Start.
It was a slow start for Cincinnati's offense. During their opening possession, the Bengals called BenJarvus Green-Ellis' number on three consecutive runs, falling inches short on third and two from their own 41-yard line. On their next possession with 4:31 remaining in the first quarter, Cameron Wake stripped the football from Andy Dalton, recovering it at the 25-yard line. Fortunately the Bengals defense prevented Miami from gaining a first down and Caleb Sturgis pushed the 34-yard attempt wide left.
Cincinnati took over from their own 24-yard line and applied the more accustomed methodical drive philosophy, which has been something they've applied throughout most of the season. Moving the football 63 yards on 14 plays, though unable to finish the drive, the Bengals opened the scoring on a Mike Nugent 31-yard field goal with 11:56 remaining in the second quarter. It was only the second game this year that concluded with a scoreless first quarter (Patriots).
The Carlos Dunlap Save and A.J. Green Drop
Dolphins running back Lamar Miller ripped a 41-yard run with 10:09 remaining in the second quarter. First of all, the play shouldn't have gained that much yardage, but Cincinnati's rush defense personified a Walking Dead imitation with a collection of missed tackles. Defensive end Carlos Dunlap relentlessly tracked down Miller from behind to punch the football out of Miller's hands, forcing the fumble that rolled into the endzone.
Cincinnati was unable to capitalize, picking up five on a quick route to Tyler Eifert but stalled after A.J. Green failed to haul in an easy pass off of his hands.
The Moment Time Stood Still
With over four minutes remaining in the second quarter, defensive tackle Geno Atkins appeared immobilized after a three-yard run by Lamar Miller. After being attended to by the team's training staff, Atkins was helped off the field by Jermaine Gresham and Alex Smith. Several minutes later, a cart retrieved Atkins and sent him to the locker room.
It was as if the air in the room depleted; the motivation gone, the concern raising and the distraction consuming. Four plays after Atkins' injury, the Dolphins shoved the football down Cincinnati's throats, taking a 7-3 lead with 2:40 remaining in the first half.
Trying To Score Burns Cincinnati
With a minute remaining in the second quarter, the Bengals extinguished their final time out of the half following a third down run by Lamar Miller that fell two yards short of a first down. A 54-yard punt and 15-yard illegal blindside block (if you say so) by Shawn Williams put Cincinnati at their own 15-yard line. Dalton quickly completed two passes for 20 yards, approaching their own 35-yard line.
However, Dalton made a bad throw to A.J. Green near the left sidelines that Dimitri Patterson wrestled away from Green for the interception. Miami went 22 yards on five plays, converting the field goal to take a 10-3 half time lead.
The Negated 50-Yard Touchdown and Pick-Six
With 10:38 remaining in the third quarter, Marvin Jones catches the football on a crossing route, avoiding two tackles and sprinting down the left sidelines to score a 50-yard touchdown. A phantom hold against Jermaine Gresham negated the touchdown and put Cincinnati back to the Dolphins 34-yard line.
Cincinnati was able to continue the drive, reaching the Dolphins 10-yard line with third and four and 7:52 remaining in the third quarter.
Unfortunately, Andy Dalton poorly threw the football well behind Marvin Jones where Brent Grimes picked off the football and returned it 94 yards for a touchdown, giving Miami a 17-3 lead with 7:37 remaining in the third. It's only the second interception thrown by Dalton in the redzone.
The Shift In Philosophy and Third Quarter Keep-Away
After Andy Dalton's third turnover in the game, the Bengals shifted ideology. Cincinnati completed two possessions to open the third quarter, compiling 148 yards on possessions of 15 and 12 yards. Granted, the pick-six collapsed the first but Giovani Bernard picked up the offense's confidence on the latter. With four runs and five touches for 27 and 33 yards respectively, including gains of 11 and 10 on the ground, Bernard capped the possession with a three-yard touchdown, reducing Cincinnati's deficit to seven points.
The Play of the Year
Until we get a capture for a GIF on the play, there's no way for us to properly describe it with any justice. The short story is that Giovani Bernard scored a 35-yard touchdown to tie the game at 17 with 12:54 remaining in the game. The longer version is that he should have been tackled for a four-yard loss, avoided two tackles and then swung around the left edge, forcing more missed tackles with a significant cut back to the middle of the field for a touchdown.
The Third Pick Causes Tension
After Cincinnati's defense forced Miami to punt, the Bengals drove to the Dolphin 34-yard line when Andy Dalton beautifully squeezed the football to Mohamed Sanu over the middle. The usually dependable receiver allowed the football to deflect off his body that translated into an interception. Cincinnati's defense forced a three-and-out.
- Defensive tackle Geno Atkins left the game with 4:45 remaining in the second quarter, carted into the locker room with a right knee injury.
- During Miami's late second quarter drive that picked up a field goal and a 10-3 half time lead, James Harrison left the game with a left thumb injury. Eventually he returned.
- After a sensational second half, Giovani Bernard came out of the game with over three minutes remaining with a rib injury.