Missed opportunities will be the story of this week, as the Bengals dropped multiple interceptions, several passes and lost a key fumble in what should’ve been a very winnable game. Instead, despite things going very well in several facets of the game, Cincinnati came out of Week 3 with a 1-2 record — the first time the Bengals lost two of their first three games since Andy Dalton’s rookie season in 2011.
At first, things looked fantastic for Cincinnati. The Bengals got off to as great a start as possible in their home opener, forcing a three-and-out on the Broncos’ opening drive and tearing Denver’s defense apart on the ensuing offensive drive. From there, Jeremy Hill and the Bengals’ offense took over. Runs of four, eight and 50 yards by Hill set up the Bengals’ first touchdown on a Hill run to give Cincinnati a 7-0 lead.
Touchdown Bengals! 7-0 with 11:07 remaining in the first. https://t.co/s3oezMIhl7— Josh Kirkendall (@Josh_Kirkendall) September 25, 2016
Throughout the game, Broncos quarterback Trevor Siemian avoided Dre Kirkpatrick at all costs, instead throwing the ball into Adam Jones’ coverage. On the second drive, the veteran corner surrendered three catches for 35 yards, as well as an illegal contact penalty, on the drive, but the Bengals’ defense held its ground and forced Denver to kick a field goal inside Cincinnati’s red zone, making the score 7-3. Kirkpatrick was only targeted once on the drive — a play in which he was called for a fairly questionable illegal contact penalty.
On the Broncos’ next drive, former Bengals safety Shiloh Keo came up big for his team, recovering a fumble by Jones to give Denver possession once again. The fumble by Jones was the second of his career and first since 2008, and it came on yet another very questionable call. Things continued to go poorly for Jones, as he was beaten by Sanders for a 41-yard touchdown on the drive which resulted from his penalty, giving the Broncos a 10-7 lead.
The knee is down (not that this means anything) https://t.co/XtKQQJymiO— Josh Kirkendall (@Josh_Kirkendall) September 25, 2016
An eight play, 62-yard drive by Cincinnati’s offense was the perfect response to things going wrong on defense. Huge plays by A.J. Green, Brandon LaFell and C.J. Uzomah moved the Bengals down the field into scoring range, and Hill capitalized with a four-yard touchdown run to re-establish a 14-10 Bengals lead. Neither Dalton nor the run game, whether Hill or Giovani Bernard, seemed to have any problem moving the ball down the field on the Broncos early on in the game.
Touchdown No. 2 for Jeremy Hill today. Bengals lead 14-10 with 4:57 remaining in the second. https://t.co/RtS4UVRN7Y— Josh Kirkendall (@Josh_Kirkendall) September 25, 2016
The ensuing Broncos drive did not go well for Cincinnati, as the Bengals dropped two potential interceptions and allowed Denver to drive right back down the field. Sanders caught another touchdown pass (with Derron Smith in coverage), giving the Broncos a 16-14 lead after Margus Hunt blocked yet another PAT attempt.
Jones got redemption on Denver’s first drive of the second half, forcing a fumble on Demaryius Thomas (recovered by Karlos Dansby) and giving his offense a chance to regain the lead.
Things wouldn’t go the Bengals’ way, however on the ensuing drive. Shane Ray sacked Dalton on back-to-back plays and Cincinnati eventually punted, giving the Broncos the ball back on their own 20-yard-line. Denver couldn’t capitalize on that drive either, as Carlos Dunlap finally tallied his first sack of the 2016 season after notching 13.5 last year.
The Bengals looked great on the following drive, as Dalton moved his team down the field both with his hands and feet. In the passing game, the quarterback found Green, Bernard and James Wright as both running backs and the quarterback also contributed on the ground. Unable to turn the successful drive into a touchdown, the Bengals settled for a field goal to take a 17-16 lead.
Denver, however, was quick to answer. A John Phillips touchdown catch capped off a 14-play drive and gave Siemian his third touchdown pass of the game in his first ever road start. The Broncos opted to go for two, which didn't work out in their favor and with the failed two-point conversion, Denver held a 22-17 lead.
The Bengals’ first three-and-out of the game, with 6:09 left in the game, would come at an incredibly inopportune time. Green dropped what should’ve been an easy first down, forcing Cincinnati to give Siemian and the Denver offense a shot at putting the Bengals in the ground.
And that, the Broncos did.
A 55-yard touchdown pass from Siemian to Thomas, in Lewis-Harris’ coverage, essentially put the nail in the coffin as Denver took a 29-17 lead. Lewis-Harris was playing due to Jones coming off the field with an injury moments prior. And if that, for whatever reason, wasn’t enough, a Dalton interception on the first play of the Bengals’ next possession would seal the Broncos’ victory.
Coming out of the first three games of the season with a losing record has to be frustrating for the Bengals, but there’s plenty for this team to look forward to: Dalton is still the quarterback we thought he was last season, the running game is more than capable of taking over a game, the defense clamped down on C.J. Anderson and Denver’s run game, Kirkpatrick is blossoming into an excellent player and, finally, Vontaze Burfict will return next week. The Bengals certainly have some kinks to work out, but Burfict’s return, as well as the impending return of Tyler Eifert, should certainly boost a team in desperate need of a spark.