What a win.
The Bengals’ early struggles looked like those of a team which shouldn’t have come close to winning, but Cincinnati showed incredible composure in its come-from-behind win over the New York Jets. The Bengals had their struggles — Andy Dalton was sacked a franchise-record seven times — but Cincinnati was just good enough to squeak out a win in New York on the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
The first of the Bengals’ offensive and defensive drives highlighted concerns many fans had with the team all offseason long. Unable to grind out any yards on two Jeremy Hill runs, Dalton took a sack looking for a double-teamed A.J. Green. The Jets’ strategy, as they mentioned earlier this week, was to double-team Green and force Dalton to look for a different teammate. On this particular drive, that strategy worked brilliantly.
On defense, the Bengals allowed the Jets to trot 78 yards downfield for an easy score with little-to-no resistance. George Iloka was the only member of the secondary not to make a critical mistake, and the pass rush was unable to touch Ryan Fitzpatrick, which was to become a theme for the afternoon.
Cincinnati’s second offensive drive didn’t look any better, as the offensive line collapsed under the Jets’ pressure. Dalton, having been sacked multiple times already, forced a throw which was intercepted by the Jets’ Marcus Williams.
The Bengals continued to look doomed on the next drive, as New York pushed the ball down inside the five-yard-line, with four downs to score. Dre Kirkpatrick made a huge play in one-on-one coverage against Brandon Marshall, Josh Shaw wrapped up Forte and prevented a touchdown and Margus Hunt came up huge, blocking a Jets field goal and changing the momentum of the game.
Dalton and the Bengals’ offense capitalized on the ensuing drive. A huge catch-and-run by C.J. Uzomah set Cincinnati up to score, and Mike Nugent eventually drilled a 33-yard field goal to put his team on the board, down 3-7.
C.J. Uzomah with a 54 yard reception! Bengals at the Jets 20. https://t.co/NjeUESfg7G— Josh Kirkendall (@Josh_Kirkendall) September 11, 2016
After the Bengals’ defense finally forced a Jets punt, the offense took over and came up huge. Brandon LaFell and Green burned Darrelle Revis on back-to-back plays, as LaFell picked up 21 yards on a catch for a first down and Green toasted the defensive back for a 54-yard touchdown. 10-7 Bengals.
Andy Dalton's 54 yard TD to A.J. Green, giving the Bengals a 10-7 lead with 11:23 remaining in the 2nd. https://t.co/p5gRbPqFEa— Josh Kirkendall (@Josh_Kirkendall) September 11, 2016
The Jets, however, wouldn’t be denied. New York marched back down the field, as Fitzpatrick connected with Eric Decker for a touchdown. Nick Folk missed an extra point, leading to Jets 13-10 lead. A field goal on the ensuing New York possession would then give the Jets a 16-10 lead.
The Bengals would eventually push the ball back down into the red zone with under a minute left in the half, thanks to a huge play by Tyler Boyd in which he drew a long pass interference call. In what seemed like a record-breaking field goal setup and conversion, Nugent knocked another kick through the uprights, narrowing the Jets’ halftime lead to three.
Cincinnati’s offensive line struggled throughout the first half, as Dalton was sacked five times in that timespan. Todd Bowles’ defense was incredibly aggressive, as New York’s defense caused chaos along the defensive line with confusing blitzes and stunts throughout the half. As a result, Dalton — who hasn’t seen legitimate NFL action since early December — couldn’t get comfortable. The Bengals were 1-for-6 on third downs throughout the half, and they only attempted six rushes. Despite all of this, the Bengals were only down three points, on the road and in an incredibly emotional Week 1 matchup.
The Bengals’ bad luck continued as the second half started, as Shawn Williams dropped an easy interception after Hunt hit Fitzpatrick’s arm mid-delivery, causing a poor throw, and the team was unable to recover a Fitzpatrick fumble in a span of three plays.
However, the offense finally got things going again, as Green and LaFell carved through the secondary for gains of 29 and 49, respectively. The Bengals’ nine play, 92-yard touchdown drive, capped off by a 12-yard Jeremy Hill touchdown run, gave the Bengals a 20-16 lead.
Even though the running game and defense had their ugly marks on the day, the Bengals’ receivers came up huge in Dalton’s engineering of a comeback. Green finished with an absurd 12 catches for 180 yards and a score, while LaFell had four catches for 91 yards.
The Jets were able to pull within one with another field goal in the fourth quarter, but the Bengals weren’t having any of it. Green hauled in a beautiful 32-yard catch past Revis, helping his team march down the field. It appeared as though the Bengals had the momentum they needed to come out with another score, but unfortunately, that’s not the way things panned out. Green looked like he reeled in another pass, but after a Jets challenge on an obvious incomplete pass that hit the turf, Nugent missed a field goal try from 52 yards.
New York quickly capitalized on Cincinnati’s missed kick, marching down the field and kicking a field goal of its own to take a two-point, 22-20 lead with 3:23 left in the game.
With just a field goal needed to win, the Bengals quickly made their way down the field. Hill, looking just as good as he did in the preseason, gashed through the Jets defense, while Green continued to dominate, and the Bengals were all of a sudden in field goal range with under two minutes remaining. It almost appeared as though Cincinnati’s poor play calling — back-to-back runs out of shotgun on obvious run plays — could’ve cost the team big, but Green came in clutch with an 11-yard reception to set up Nugent for a 47-yard field goal.
One of the unsung storylines of the game was the Bengals’ kicker’s return to New York 11 years after they drafted him in the second round. And after all of his preseason struggles, Nugent drilled it to give the team a lead with under a minute to play.
A Josh Shaw interception secured Cincinnati’s victory in a game which featured five lead changes. The Bengals are 1-0 as they head to Pittsburgh to take on the Steelers next Sunday.