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Bengals fall to Giants in primetime, 21-20

The Giants gave the Bengals every chance to pull out a win, but Cincinnati couldn’t do it. The Bengals are now 3-5-1 on the season and on the outside looking in.

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at New York Giants Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Eli Manning and the Giants gave the Bengals every chance to win on Monday night, but the Bengals couldn’t come up with a play when they needed it most and grabbed their fifth loss of the season in New York. At 3-5-1, the Bengals are on the outside looking in and will need a miraculous late-season run to make a playoff run.

Coming off a bye week, the Bengals desperately needed to display some energy to ensure fans they’d even have a chance against the Giants on Monday night. New York won the toss and elected to receive, which at first glance seemed strange but in retrospect seems like a great choice, considering the way opponents have taken advantage of the Bengals’ defense early in games.

The Giants picked apart the Bengals’ defense on the first drive, which eventually ended in a 10-yard touchdown catch from rookie tight end Jerell Adams. Paul Guenther’s previous talk about potential changes didn’t appear to be anything more than talk, as the Bengals remained in their base personnel for the entire drive, with the exception of subbing Pat Sims in for Domata Peko as the drive continued. It took New York just eight plays and a little under four minutes to take a 7-0 lead.

Fortunately for Cincinnati’s defense, which got exposed (Vontaze Burfict and Vincent Rey, in particular on that drive), the Bengals’ offense got off to a hot start itself. A 71-yard catch-and-run by Tyler Eifert and 13-yard touchdown grab from A.J. Green — both coming on beautiful throws by Andy Dalton — were the perfect response to the Giants’ hot start.

Five first-half penalties by the Bengals certainly didn’t help, as New York was able to capitalize, taking a 14-10 halftime lead after Odell Beckham hauled in a beautiful touchdown pass. Beckham’s “Thriller” celebration, which was an homage to the late Michael Jackson, was a dagger into the hearts of Bengals fans everywhere, as his score in Adam Jones’ coverage made it very clear that Cincinnati’s secondary is a major weakness this season.

But for all the Bengals’ defensive struggles, there were certainly some encouraging moments. Geno Atkins finally got back in the box score, generating his first sack since the month of September. And cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick made a great play on the ball, picking off a Manning pass which set up a 25-yard Mike Nugent field goal.

Whether it’s deserved or not, the coaching by Marvin Lewis (and his staff) will come into question after this game. Lewis’ challenge of the spot of the ball on an 11-yard screen pass to Tyler Boyd did not succeed, and the offense’s lack of urgency on the final drive of the first half — something we saw before in the Browns game, which was mitigated by Green’s Hail Mary catch — were serious causes for concern. The failed challenge, however, wasn’t near the issue as the lack of preparedness in Cincinnati’s final drive before halftime.

The second half started in a similar manner as the first. Alex Erickson gave Cincinnati’s offense a quick start, returning the opening kickoff for 84 yards. Soon after, Jeremy Hill scored on a nine-yard touchdown run.

But again, just like the first half, Cincinnati struggled moving the ball after its first drive. Through the first three quarters, the Bengals were 0-for-7 on third downs. They could have converted two, but both of those conversions were negated by penalties.

Poor pass protection was also an issue. The most memorable issue came on the play where Andrew Whitworth tackled a Giants defender to the ground and was called for holding. More frustrating than the hold was the fact that Green had burned the Giants defense deep and would’ve had a long gain — or possibly a touchdown catch — if Dalton had a clean pocket.

Tyler Boyd nearly grabbed his first touchdown catch of the season, but he was unable to maintain possession of the ball through the catch. By rule, that is not a touchdown. Unable to score a touchdown, the Bengals resorted to Mike Nugent, who just managed to squeeze a field goal through the uprights from 38 yards out.

The Bengals missed a couple more opportunities early in the fourth quarter on the drive where Sterling Shepard caught a three-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-goal. The drive initially got a boost from a block in the back penalty on Darqueze Dennard, and it continued when Kirkpatrick got caught holding on a 3rd-and-1. With the Giants’ seven points, New York took a 21-20 lead.

A strange sequence occurred on Cincinnati’s next drive. After the Bengals converted their first third down of the night, they got penalized for a delay of game on the next third down. And right after they lucked out with a Janoris Jenkins hold, Dalton threw an interception two plays later. But fortunately for the Bengals offense, George Iloka picked off Eli Manning on the ensuing play.

Unfortunately, Iloka’s interception was the last good Bengals play of the night. Dalton took back-to-back sacks on a critical drive, and the defense surrendered a first down run by Rashad Jennings. Even with the Steelers’ four-game losing streak and Ravens’ struggles, the Bengals will essentially need a miracle — in that they’ll need to start playing like a different team — for any chance at a playoff run.