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How a Carl Lawson sack led to an Andy Dalton game-winning Bengals touchdown

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The Cincinnati Bengals are 3-1 after a defensive stand and a gritty offensive performance against the Atlanta Falcons.

Cincinnati Bengals v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

Atlanta has first-and-goal from the Bengals’ nine-yard line with 4:45 remaining.

If the Falcons score a touchdown (and assuming they convert the PAT), Atlanta takes a two-possession lead. It would be difficult for Cincinnati to overcome a nine-point deficit; a stop was needed, and soon.

In addition to confining Atlanta’s lead, Cincinnati needed time to respond.

Brandon Fusco is called for an offensive hold, penalizing Atlanta to the 19. Ryan flips a second down pass to Calvin Ridley for seven. Cincinnati uses their first timeout.

Carl Lawson’s first sack of the season puts Atlanta back to the 19. Cincinnati uses their second timeout. Ryan overshoots Austin Hopper through the back of the endzone. Fourth down.

Nice.

Despite allowing a season-high 495 yards (and allowing a 73 percent third down conversion rate), the Bengals defense came up big when the moment called for it. For example, the blocked punt early in the third quarter placed Atlanta on the Bengals eight-yard line.

The Falcons only managed a field goal, thanks in part to Geno Atkins stuffing Tevin Coleman for a two-yard loss and Carlos Dunlap dropping Matt Ryan for a quarterback sack. The defense — which carries desperate questions about their production so far — had their game-saving moments.

Matt Bryant converts the 32-yard field goal with 4:18 remaining. Atlanta leads 36-31.

A touchdown could still win it.

In a way, it was surprising. By this point in the game, Cincinnati was struggling. They scored touchdowns on all four first half offensive possessions. Then Tyler Eifert suffered a devastating injury and Cincinnati’s momentum was sapped, gut punched even. Randy Bullock helped with a field goal on their previous possession, but other second half possessions included a blocked punt (enabled by a third down sack on Dalton), punt (also enabled by a third down sack on Dalton), and interception — enabled by poor officiating missing a defensive hold on Tyler Kroft.

Boasting that Cincinnati could stage a comeback seemed farfetched.

4:15 remains.

Cincinnati has first down from their own 25-yard line. Do they have the mental fortitude to stage a game-winning drive? They’ve done it before. They overcame a 13-point deficit against Indianapolis and ducked Baltimore’s furious comeback on Thursday Night Football.

Thanks to Carl Lawson’s second down stop and holding Atlanta to within one possession, the Bengals could do it. All you ask for is opportunities. This was ours. Over four minutes remain and Cincinnati had all three timeouts in their pockets. No mistakes. Composure.

Andy Dalton, a leader of the classiest men, took charge. He was facing third down from the Bengals 29-yard line. Easy. A quick flip to one of Tyler Boyd’s slant out for a first down. “My first reaction was looking the DB in the eyes to see what coverage he was in, to see if he would give that away to me. I knew they were in man. I knew I was going to be able to set him up and beat him,” said Boyd via Bengals.com.

Two plays later, Dalton, under heavy pressure from Vic Beasley, scrambles for 11 — Beasley got to Dalton with a strip-sack on the next play, but a review reversed the call and identified it as incomplete. Thanks God because I wasn’t sure at the time.

Dalton’s first six passes targeted Tyler Boyd, with the fifth converting a fourth-and-eight with 1:21 remaining . Hold your shock. It was NOT a crossing route; rather a hitch route just beyond the first down marker. “I went on a 12-yard stop route. I got them to overrun it and I sat in there perfectly,” Boyd said via the mothership.

The courage. The guts. Most importantly, the composure. Dalton is a machine. Cincinnati powers through an illegal hands call against Cordy Glenn with another fourth down conversion from Boyd.

Starved of timeouts on the Falcons 13-yard line and :16 on the clock, the Bengals are limited to end zone passes — if they’re tackled in-bounds, they risk the clock expiring within an arm’s reach of a game-winning score. Dalton launches the first down pass toward the back right pylon, trying to arch the football over a defender for Alex Erickson. Incomplete.

Dalton takes the shotgun snap on second down, and on the third step into his drop, he steps into his pass. It didn’t seem like there was anyone else. Only A.J. Green. Dalton’s pass sailed over linebacker Foyesade Oluokun and just outside of Isaiah Oliver’s reach.

Now that’s a well-placed throw.

Green cradles the football as he slides across the turf at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Touchdown!

What began as a Lawson quarterback sack, gloriously concluded with an Green game-winning touchdown reception.

During Cincinnati’s game-winning touchdown drive, Andy Dalton went 7 of 12 for 65 yards. Seven passes targeted Boyd, who caught four for 38. All four led to first downs, including conversions of third-and-six, fourth-and eight, and fourth-and-six. Boyd finished with 11 receptions (nine leading to first downs) for 100 yards receiving.

“It’s going to come down to the final drive,” said Boyd after the game. “It’s going to come down to the two offenses. We’ve got two teams with explosive offenses. We knew we got the last chance to win it. You can’t have a better moment than that. We stopped them, had them get three [points], and we finished the job. That’s what we’re coached and playing to do.”

Can we talk about the officiating for a moment?

Cincinnati Bengals v St. Louis Rams Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

With 1:22 remaining in the third quarter, Lawson powered around the edge and dropped Matt Ryan for a nine-yard loss. It was a strip-sack but offensive lineman Brandon Fusco recovered. Whatever. A nine-yard loss, on top of Alex Mack’s offensive hold on the previous play, Atlanta was facing a second-and-29.

Except they weren’t.

Lawson was called for roughing the passer.

Wait.

What?

No explanation was given and Bruce Arians, one of the analysts in the booth, said they’ll “call that every time” pointing out that Lawson was in the head-and-neck area. Atlanta, not facing a second-and-long scenario, were gift-wrapped a new set of downs leading to Matt Ryan’s 30-yard touchdown pass to Calvin RidleyDre Kirkpatrick bit hard on a double-move pump-fake.

Mythological “roughing the passer” calls aren’t just a Bengals problem. You’ve heard about Clay Matthews recently, but the most egregious may have happened in Oakland on Sunday. BrownsArden Key was called for this:

Cincinnati’s issues with officials this weekend weren’t limited to Lawson.

  • With 1:53 remaining in the third, Dalton’s pass to Kroft went through him and was intercepted by Damontae Kazee. It appears that linebacker De’Vondre Campbell was wrapped around Kroft’s head.

The interception stood and Atlanta scored a touchdown on their ensuing possession.

  • Fast-forward to the 9:30 mark in the final period. Cincinnati has first-and-goal from the nine-yard line. Andy Dalton hooks up with A.J. Green for a touchdown, which should have translated to a 35-33 lead. However, Bobby Hart was flagged for illegal hands to the face.

Are you kidding me?

Cincinnati’s touchdown was nullified — thankfully a defensive hold on the next play gave Cincinnati a new set of downs with Randy Bullock converting an eventual field goal, keeping the Bengals to within a possession.

My complaints about officials are usually relegated to emotional outbursts on Twitter. Officials do not dictate games and even if they make a poor call, there are plenty of examples where mistakes by the team lead to their own demise.

However, the officials were especially incompetent on Sunday, making questionable calls with a significant impact on the game (but thankfully, not the outcome). The league needs to address Roughing the Passer (though they conferenced during the week), and remove subjective calls while adding oversight in the booth. It’s 2018. It’s past time the league corrects this.

Damn it, Tyler Eifert.

Cincinnati Bengals v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

You feel bad for Tyler. You have to.

The back injuries, displacements, dislocations, everything he’s been through, and Eifert is facing another monumental rehabilitation.

With 14:20 remaining in the third quarter, Tyler Eifert secured a two-yard pass and began riving in pain. Uh oh. It was bad. His foot was angled awkwardly — you could tell something was broken almost immediately.

Medical personnel stabilized his leg on the field with an air-cast and he was carted off. Based on the replay and the disgusting post-injury placement of his foot, you knew something bad happened. Really bad. According to reports, he wasn’t taken to the hospital after the game — which is surprising.

According to ESPN, Eifert broke his ankle is done for the season.

Who knows if he has a career after today. You really feel for the guy — he just wants to play football, but injuries keep blocking his path like diseased trees from a significant storm.

Eifert, who posted career highs in receptions (6) and yards receiver (74) last week, secured his first touchdown against the Falcons since Dec. 11, 2016. If his season is over (and we can’t imagine a scenario where it’s not), Eifert ends the year with 15 receptions, 179 yards receiving, and a touchdown.