In a battle of teams with two wins, this was a near must-win for the Cincinnati Bengals to keep their slim playoff hopes alive.
The Bengals beat the Indianapolis Colts 24-23 after holding on to survive a close game at Paul Brown Stadium. A Carlos Dunlap pick-six propelled the Bengals past the Colts late in the fourth quarter. In a game that went back-and-forth, special teams and rookie performances played a huge part in the Bengals’ win.
Joe Mixon would be the team’s leading receiver and Josh Malone would receive his first NFL touchdown, which would turn out to be an important one for the Bengals.
Special teams was a factor that would set up scores for both teams. Each side had a field goal set up by a great special teams play, as well as offensive opportunities wiped out by errors. Alex Erickson, who is a reliable returner, fumbled two punts, despite having a great punt return early on in the game. The Bengals were able to block a punt in the first quarter, but had a field goal of their own blocked as well.
The Bengals’ defense started out strong. On the Colts’ first possession, quarterback Jacoby Brissett was sacked twice as the offense was forced to punt. With the ball on the Bengals’ own 47-yard line, rookie Jordan Willis broke through and blocked the punt, giving his offense the ball at the Colts’ 49-yard line.
Jordan Willis punt block (1st Q, 9:48). pic.twitter.com/IjXnCOIvA0— Josh Kirkendall (@Josh_Kirkendall) October 29, 2017
From there, the Bengals’ offense took over and marched down the field. Jeremy Hill once again started the game at running back and his first two carries went for a combined 14 yards. Dalton’s first two passes were good for 27 yards. The drive stalled, however after Joe Mixon came in and tripped over himself. From there, Randy Bullock knocked through a 29-yard field goal, giving the Bengals a 3-0 lead with 5:41 left in the first quarter.
The Bengals forced a three-and-out, and Alex Erickson returned the punt for 29 yards to the Colts’ 36-yard line. Andy Dalton and the offense turned to Mixon, who accumulated 19 total yards on the drive. However, a crushing holding penalty on Tyler Kroft stalled the offense and forced a field goal attempt. Colts defensive end Henry Anderson blocked the 34-yard attempt. Special teams was looking to be one of the biggest factors early on in the game, as the score was a close 3-0 in favor of the Bengals at the end of the first quarter.
The Colts not were able do anything on offense and ended up punting following the block. After making a huge return earlier in the game, Erickson muffed his second return of the game. Barkevious Mingo scooped up the loose ball and took it down to the Bengals’ 27-yard line. Between the Bengals’ aggressive defense and the Colts’ offensive impotence, the Colts ended up settling for three points. The ageless Adam Vinatieri converted a 29-yard attempt to level the score at three points apiece with 12:02 remaining in the second quarter.
As the second quarter began to wind down, the Colts’ offense showed more signs of life. Frank Gore ripped off a 17-yard run, and Jack Doyle had three receptions for 33 yards on a drive that resulted in the game’s first touchdown. Brissett fired a third-and-eight strike to Doyle for the score, taking a 10-3 lead over the Bengals with 8:14 remaining in the second quarter.
The Bengals started the next drive on the 10-yard line thanks to a holding penalty on the kickoff. Mixon would help improve the Bengals’ field position by taking a screen pass 67 yards all the way down to the Colts’ three-yard line. It was a great play by the rookie back and the biggest of his young career. Dalton capitalized on the huge play from Mixon by finding A.J. Green in the back of the endzone. With 4:36 left in the first half, the Bengals and Colts were tied 10-10, following Bullock’s extra point.
The Colts would have one more chance one more chance to respond before the end of the half. Brissett and the Colts drove down the field, but got some help from Cincinnati when they needed it. Just when it looked like the Bengals had the Colts stopped, Carl Lawson was flagged for roughing the passer.
They called this "roughing the passer." Bull shit. pic.twitter.com/MtGuAlt4or— Josh Kirkendall (@Josh_Kirkendall) October 29, 2017
The extra 15 yards helped the Colts set up Vinatieri for a 33-yard field goal. As the half came to an end, the Colts had a 13-10 lead going into the locker room.
Stats heading into halftime:
Dalton: 8/18, 150 yards, 1 TD
Mixon: 6 rushes for 16 yards and 2 catches for 83 yards
Hill: 3 rushes for 12 yards
Kroft: 2 catches for 30 yards
Brandon LaFell: 2 catches for 19 yards
Josh Malone: 1 catch for 10 yards
Green: 1 catch for 8 yards
Yes, Malone got his first NFL catch before John Ross.
Cincinnati received the second half kickoff and started marching down the field. The drive ended on a 25-yard touchdown to Malone, his first career score. Dalton was hit as he was throwing, causing the ball be under thrown, but the rookie receiver did an excellent job of altering his route to make up for the poorly thrown pass and came up with the end zone catch. With 9:10 left in the third quarter, the Bengals were back on top 17-13, following the extra point.
Nothing about this looked good, but it worked out totally great. Malone with his first career TD. Bengals lead 17-13. pic.twitter.com/SWNIvSW0Qn— Josh Kirkendall (@Josh_Kirkendall) October 29, 2017
The Colts were quick to answer the score. Doyle continued to hurt the Bengals in the passing game as Gore converted several key third downs to keep the drive alive. The Colts would take back the lead as rookie running back Marlon Mack would join Malone as another player to receive his first career touchdown. Mack took a screen pass 24 yards to the house with 2:10 left in the third quarter. Vinatieri’s extra point was good, and the Colts jumped out ahead 20-17.
Although the next drive for the Bengals looked promising, Mixon turned a third-down conversion into a lost fumble. Darius Butler poked the ball out of Mixon’s arms as Jon Bostic recovered the loose ball on the Bengals’ 37-yard line.
Failure to stop Gore and the run game would lead to another Colts field goal attempt. Vinatieri extended the Colts’ lead to six points with 11:21 left in the game.
Running plays of more than 10 yards helped the Bengals move down the field. However, three of the Colts’ four sacks on the day stopped any progress the Bengals were making, and Kevin Huber came out to punt.
But Cincinnati would get the ball back moments later, thanks to a great play from the defense. On the second play of the Colts’ drive, Carlos Dunlap extended his 6’6” frame to swat the ball at the line of scrimmage. The ball landed in his arms, and with no one in front of him, the Pro Bowl defensive end returned the ball 16 yards for the touchdown. It was only the Bengals’ fifth turnover of the year on defense and it came at a great time. Bullock converted the extra point and the Bengals once again had the lead, 24-23 with 6:58 left in the game after Dunlap’s second career interception.
This would prove to be too much for the Colts to overcome, as the final score would be 24-23. The Bengals secured their third win in four games as the team tries to fight their way back into the AFC North race. The team is now 3-4 and has the Jacksonville Jaguars up next to start off a three game stretch on the road.