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NFL Week 11: High altitude but low score, Bengals barely beat Broncos, 20-17

The two quality defenses kept both struggling offenses to few points as turnovers make the difference in the Bengals’ win.

Cincinnati Bengals v Denver Broncos Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

Something had to give as two 3-6 teams squared up in Denver on Sunday. Both the Cincinnati Bengals and the Denver Broncos entered the game with a stretch of poor offensive performances. As bad offenses match up against good defenses, turnovers decided the outcome. The Broncos gave the ball away twice, and the Bengals scored 13 of their 20 points off of turnovers.

The Bengals vs Broncos’ Week 11 game started the way one would expect: both struggling offenses were forced into three-and-outs. But as the Bengals went to punt, Shaquil Barrett blocked Kevin Huber’s kick. The Broncos got the ball at the Bengals’ 29-yard line but couldn’t capitalize on the excellent field position.

With third-and-four at the Bengals’ four-yard line, Dre Kirkpatrick intercepted Brock Osweiler in the end zone and returned the ball 101 yards. Kirkpatrick oddly fumbled the ball at the end of his return even though he had an open path to the end zone. He fell on it at the Broncos’ one-yard line, and even though he could not score himself he set up Andy Dalton for the touchdown.

Tyler Kroft was on the receiving end of the one-yard score, and the Bengals were quickly up 6-0. Randy Bullock missed the extra point as 7:06 remained in what was already shaping up to be a wild first quarter.

Osweiler and the Broncos answered the score on their next drive with the help from a few missed tackles on defense. C.J. Anderson converted on a crucial fourth-and-two and kept helping the Broncos move the chains in conjunction with Devontae Booker. Anderson finally pounded the ball into the end zone from three yards out with 41 seconds left in the quarter. Brandon McManus converted the extra point and took a 7-6 for the Broncos.

On the next drive, Dalton connected Tyler Boyd, Brandon LaFell, and Alex Erickson for 63 yards on that drive. On third-and-three, Dalton aired one out to Erickson for a 29-yard touchdown. The second-year pro, who is mostly featured as a return man, scored his first career touchdown and helped put his team up 13-7, following Bullock’s extra point with 12:55 left in the second quarter.

The Bengals’ defense kept the Broncos from scoring any more points in the half, despite two offsides penalties on Carl Lawson inside the two-minute warning that kept the Broncos’ offense moving. As the clock wound down, McManus attempted another field goal to shorten the Bengals’ lead. KeiVarae Russell had something to say about that, though, as he came off the edge to block the kick as the half came to a close. The Bengals maintained their 13-7 lead going into the locker room.

At the half, the Bengals were on perfect pace to extend their streak of consecutive games with a time of possession of less than 20 minutes. With 30 minutes in the books, the Broncos had the ball for 20:02, while the Bengals had the ball for only 9:58.

Here’s a look at the offense’s first half stats:

The entire offense had only slightly more yards combined as Kirkpatrick did on his interception return at the end of the first half.

The third quarter was a deadlock with three punts between the two teams. But when the Bengals were pinned inside their own five by a Denver punt, the following three-and-out resulted in optimal field position for the Broncos. They started on the Bengals’ 44-yard line and, with only 17 yards on that possession, set up McManus for a 45-yard field goal. With 4:54 left in the quarter, the Bengals were barely holding on to a three point lead, up 13-10.

After forcing the Bengals to punt, Osweiler was perfect on the next drive despite constant pressure from the Bengals defense. As the Broncos approached field goal range, Vontaze Burfict popped the ball out of Anderson’s hands. Shawn Williams recovered the fumble at the Broncos’ 44-yard line to give the Bengals’ offense the best field position they had in the entire half.

Erickson made another contribution, this time helping convert a crucial third down in plus territory. Three plays later, the Bengals faced another daunting third down when Dalton threw up a fade to Green. Matched up against Bradley Roby, who gave up the touchdown to Erickson, Green high-pointed the pass and made an excellent touchdown grab to extend the Bengals’ lead. Bullock’s extra point was good and the Bengals lead jumped up to 20-10 with 8:56 remaining in the fourth quarter.

The Broncos drove down the field on their next drive, converting on several third downs. Throughout the game, Denver converted over twice as many third downs as Cincinnati, moving the chains roughly sixty percent of the time. Deymarius Thomas, who had several key catches on the drive, had his first touchdown of the game on a 17-yard lob from Osweiler. McManus’ kick was good and the Broncos were within one score with 5:05 remaining in the game. The drive also saw a number of Bengals defenders go down with an injury, including Burfict, Chris Smith and Williams.

A couple penalties on the Broncos’ secondary kept the next Bengals’ drive alive. But, after relying on the run game, the Bengals’ offense had to punt the ball away right after the two minute warning.

Despite only getting a touchback following Huber’s punt, a sack from Carlos Dunlap (his second of the game) slowed the Broncos’ drive and set up a failed fourth down attempt. From there, the Bengals kneeled and sealed the narrow victory. This was the Bengals’ first win in Denver since 1975, snapping a 10-game loosing streak in the Mile-High city.

The Bengals are now 4-6 and will host the Browns at Paul Brown Stadium next Sunday.