Close, but no dice. That was the case for the Bengals against the Titans as Tennessee scored a touchdown with 36 seconds remaining to capture a win. The Bengals’ defense, which often bends but doesn’t break, broke when the team most needed it to stand strong.
With a vastly improved Bengals rushing attack against the Titans, Joe Mixon ran for 4.1 yards a carry on Sunday, which is uncharacteristically high for the rookie. Meanwhile, the defense kept the pressure on both the passing game and the running game. Sack after sack from the Bengals’ defense kept the Titans from capitalizing on penalties and blown assignments. The Bengals’ hopes of winning the game lasted way longer than you may have thought if watching, but in the end, the Titans pulled through and defended their home turf.
Following an opening three-and-out from the Bengals’ offense, the Titans’ offense was too much for the Bengals on the first drive. They started pounding the ball between the tackles with their workhorse running backs DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry. As the drive continued, Marcus Mariota opened up the passing game, using play action and read options to confuse the defense. The Titans traveled 84 yards in 10 plays, finishing off the drive with a two-yard touchdown from Murray. Ryan Succop nailed the extra point, putting his team up 7-0 with 7:56 left in the first quarter. The Titans made it all look easy and the Bengals’ defense made it look like they needed some coffee.
The Bengals answered by taking a page out of the Titans’ playbook, using play action. Joe Mixon got the starting nod today with Jeremy Hill on Injured Reserve for the rest of the season, so the Bengals used him in both the running and passing game. After making their way down to the Titans’ 37-yard line, Andy Dalton unleashed a play action dart to Brandon LaFell for the Bengals’ first touchdown of the game. Randy Bullock attempted his first kick since being inactive last week, but missed the extra point. The Bengals still trailed, but cut the lead to 7-6 with 4:44 left in the quarter.
The Bengals fixed some of the issues on defense and forced a punt on the next drive. The Titans’ drive was cut short thanks, in part, to a Geno Atkins sack.
Geno Atkins sack is sooo Geno. pic.twitter.com/6AIoZTvTA7— Josh Kirkendall (@Josh_Kirkendall) November 12, 2017
The Bengals would get the ball back and turn to the run game with 16 yards on the first three carries. On the Bengals’ first five carries of the game the team gained 23 yards, averaging 4.6 yards a carry; that figure is much improved over the season average of 3.8. At the end of the drive, the Bengals punted and downed the ball at the one-yard line. Brandon Wilson, who was promoted from the practice squad yesterday, was instrumental in keeping the ball out of the end zone.
However, the field position would not hold (a trend in the game). The Titans continued to confuse the Bengals with decoys and fakes, as Henry and Adoree Jackson—a cornerback who took several snaps at running back—took huge chunks of yardage on the ground. Their drive stalled due to an unnecessary roughness penalty from Murray, and the Titans lined up for a field goal. Succop, who is one of the most consistent kickers in the NFL, missed the 48-yard field goal attempt wide right to end his streak of 56 straight field goals made inside 50 yards. Ironically, the last time he missed a field goal of that range was against the Bengals. More ironically, right before the miss, the broadcasters were talking him up for about two full minutes.
The Bengals failed to make take advantage of the missed kick. On 3rd-and-11, Brian Orakpo stripped the ball out of Dalton’s hand, and Derrick Morgan fell on it. The Titans took over at their own 27-yard line.
In addition to the excellent field position, Vontaze Burfict helped the Titans with two unsportsmanlike penalties in three plays, earning himself an ejection due to making contact with a ref.
After the two penalties, Murray had an easy task of scoring from inside the one-yard line. Murray crossed the goal line, Succop made the kick, and the Bengals found themselves trailing 14-6 with 5:08 left in the second quarter.
LaFell helped take chunks of yardage for the Bengals with catches of 25 and 13 yards on the first three plays of their next drive. With first-and-goal at the 10-yard line, the Bengals ended their streak of nine straight red zone opportunities converted into touchdowns on the road. Dalton fumbled the snap, which was recovered by Morgan.
The fumble would prove inconsequential as Darqueze Dennard picked off Mariota on the next play. He returned the ball to the three-yard line, where Mixon would trot into the end zone on the next play. Bullock hit the upright, but made the extra point, bringing the Bengals within one point. The Titans still led 14-13 with 1:42 left until halftime.
The Titans took advantage of every second left on the clock. Mariota completed six of eight passes for 50 yards, which was enough to set up Succop for a 44-yard field goal attempt. This kick was good, so the Titans extended their lead 17-13 as time expired in the first half.
After halftime, the Bengals went three-and-out twice in a row and had only one first down beyond going three and out on their third drive. The third quarter was completely dominated by defense by both teams. Both defensive lines were successful in stifling the run game and putting pressure on the passing game. Of the first six drives of the third quarter, the longest was a seven-play Titans’ possession that netted a total of 12 yards. Neither team had a first down until the Titans crossed the line to gain about halfway through the quarter with 7:53 left. The punters earned their paychecks in the third quarter alone, where each punter was called on three times.
10 plays, 19 yards this half for #Bengals offense.— Jay Morrison (@JayMorrisonCMG) November 12, 2017
As the quarter came to a close, the Titans’ offense picked up. Mariota was nearly perfect in the passing game and dangerous in the running game, gaining 9.2 yards per rush. With 13:19 remaining in the fourth quarter, Mariota threw a short pass to Corey Davis, who ran it in for a 20-yard reception that was initially called a touchdown. However, the replay official determined when Davis tried to extend his arm to get the ball into the end zone, Dre Kirkpatrick forced the ball out of Davis’ hand before it crossed the line. That’s a touchback. With that huge break, the Bengals retained possession without giving up the score.
The Bengals looked alive, opening up the following drive with a 12-yard run from Mixon. But Adoree Jackson had LaFell locked up, as he did all game. The two-way player was the Titans’ most valuable weapon on both offense and defense.
After trading punts four times, Dalton connected with A.J. Green for what felt like the first time, when in fact it was the fifth. Green caught the ball on a slant route and ran all the way to end zone to cap off the 70-yard touchdown pass. After gaining 39 yards in the half, the Bengals gained nearly twice that number, while taking the lead for the first time in seven quarters. Bullock’s extra point was good with 5:03 left in the game, giving the Bengals a 20-17 lead.
The Titans would not go down quietly, however, as Mariota rallied the offense. As the two-minute warning stopped the clock, Mariota had already brought the Titans within field goal range. A defensive holding penalty from cornerback Josh Shaw helped move the Titans closer to the end zone as the clock wound down. The Titans offense was too much for the Bengals to handle, as Mariota thew a short pass to Murray, who would dive into the end zone for his third red zone score of the game. With the extra point, the Titans looked like they were in a position to win the game, leaving only 36 seconds on the clock, up 24-20.
The Bengals were unable to answer the score, as they failed to reach the end zone. Murray’s score would end up being the difference in the game, leading to a Titans victory.
The Bengals attempted a last second hail Mary, but it was knocked down by Tennessee and the game was over, bringing the Bengals to 3-6, with nearly all of their playoff hopes eliminated.