Facing a 13-point deficit and 10:45 remaining in the third quarter, the Denver Broncos had third and three from Cincinnati's 48-yard line. Emmanuel Sanders was wide right with Terence Newman covering. Quarterback Peyton Manning saw the match-up and unleashed one of his lobbed passes down the sidelines. Sanders reached out with his right arm and hauled in an amazing reception while officials flagged Newman for defensive pass interference.
The 33-yard gain moved Denver to the Bengals 15-yard line.
Three plays later, Sanders scored on a four-yard touchdown reception that reduced Cincinnati's lead to 27-21. The Bengals responded by moving to the Broncos eight-yard line. Von Miller yanked the football away from Jeremy Hill, forcing the turnover. Manning hit Demaryius Thomas for 11 yards with 5:00 minutes remaining in the third and, two plays later, threw a perfect pass down the middle of the field where Thomas hauled in the 46-yard reception.
Five plays later, the Broncos took a 28-27 lead with 1:35 remaining in the game.
Newman allowed five receptions for 130 yards on Monday, with 109 coming in the third quarter. In fact, Cincinnati's third quarter against Denver was nearly a collective collapse. The Broncos, who went from a 20-7 halftime deficit to a 28-27 lead at the end of the third quarter, generated 186 yards of offense with 13 third downs and three touchdowns. If we combine the first, second and fourth quarters, Denver only generated 199 yards with nine first downs and four turnovers.
"I think our execution got a little better in the third quarter," said Manning after the game. "We were able to put together some first downs, second downs — back to first downs. We had a lot of three-and-outs early in the game and we never got into much of a flow."
This felt like an eventuality.
Fortunately, Cincinnati began to respond in the fourth quarter, initiated by cornerback Adam Jones, who had returned a third quarter kickoff 80 yards that led to a Giovani Bernard touchdown reception. Jones cut off Demaryius Thomas' route with 13:20 remaining in the fourth, returning the interception 11 yards to Cincinnati's 38-yard line. Despite not scoring (with help from a poor Reggie Nelson taunting penalty), Cincinnati played the field position game. Following a three-and-out and a Brandon Tate 49-yard punt return, Mike Nugent gave the Bengals a 30-28 lead with 7:53 remaining on a 23-yard chip shot.
"We just said ‘We're not going to be beat’ and I think as a secondary, we did good at keeping our poise," said Reggie Nelson. "We just didn't want to give the game away period because they've been down numerous times and came back on teams like Miami and numerous teams, so I think we did a good job. And the defensive line did a good job at getting pressure on them."
Taylor Mays and Carlos Dunlap each recorded a sack, giving Cincinnati two against a team that hasn't allowed multiple sacks since Nov. 16. Cincinnati pieced together 15 more disruptions, led by Dunlap (4) and Wallace Gilberry (4). Manning was uncomfortable in the pocket because guys like Dunlap made Pro Bowler Ryan Clady, recovering from an injury, look inferior.
Denver's offense took over with 4:04 remaining in the game from the Broncos 20-yard line. A driving rainstorm incrementally intensified and memories of last year's win over the Patriots surfaced. Manning completed passes to Julius Thomas and C.J. Anderson, reaching the Broncos 29-yard line with 2:50 remaining in the game.
Manning tried hitting Thomas but floated the football and Dre Kirkpatrick, who replaced Newman in the fourth quarter, returning the interception 30 yards for the touchdown.
"We were in a man-to-man, so I saw Peyton give him a signal, so I kind of knew that he was coming my way, but I just played my technique and everything fell my way," said Kirkpatrick.
Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis has been impressed with Kirkpatrick all season, especially as a gunner on punt team.
"This season, he’s really made the best of every opportunity he’s had," Lewis said. "He got a chance to play last year and had some ups and downs, but boy this year he’s done a great job. He’s excelled on special teams, he’s excelled now on defense when he gets chances, and he’s just got to keep growing — that’s the best thing for all of our young guys. He came through tonight in a big football game."
Kirkpatrick added a second interception with 1:14 remaining in the game, sealing Cincinnati's 37-28 win over Denver.