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How Sunday went from a total disaster to an unbelievable win for the 4-1 Bengals

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The Bengals struggled in the first half, but a second half surge by the defense led to a 27-17 win over the Dolphins.

NFL: Miami Dolphins at Cincinnati Bengals David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

It’s a disaster.

A total disaster.

The Bengals watched Jakeem Grant breeze 70 yards for a touchdown as the first half was nearing the end. Cincinnati took a knee and the curtains lowered to a disgruntled audience at Paul Brown Stadium. If this were a renaissance fair, folks would be throwing cabbage and tomatoes.

Be angry! The first half was a nightmare. The Bengals didn’t play awfully by any means. There were multiple red zone appearances, both resulting in colossal mental mistakes. Andy Dalton forced an interception on a long to-go conversion — with help from a physical defender who disrupted A.J. Green’s route. A blocked field goal sealed Cincinnati’s first half fate, scoreless for the first time this season. In fact, it was the first time the Bengals failed to score in the first quarter all year.

Boo.

For the “halftime adjustment” crowd, the second half didn’t start well. Miami tacked on a field goal after Cincinnati was forced to punt, thanks to quarterback sack on third down. Miami enjoyed the moment. Total control. A comfortable 17-0 lead, but it might as well have been 170-0. Were your gutters clogged? Maybe chores was a good alternative... than this.

However, there was a moment.

You can’t put your finger on it, but a titanic shift began rumbling the fake grass at Paul Brown Stadium.

With 12:50 remaining in the third quarter, Michael Johnson was called for unnecessary roughness. We can’t argue if it was legit. Say what you will about Johnson, but he is the epitome of class; someone who contributes as much for our community as anyone. A great man, looking for an adjusted role in the twilight of his career. Did the players rally around this?

Frank Gore added 10 yards on the next play.

Then Cincinnati’s defense began to emerge.

Angry.

Bitter.

There was swagger. Vontaze Burfict is the spirt of Cincinnati’s defense. He was celebrating when his teammates made plays, bashing helmets together with a handful of shoulder slaps. Maybe he was starting to feel it. Or maybe it really was the penalty on Michael Johnson. Who can say.

Geno Atkins demolished Ryan Tannehill with 10:54 remaining in the third, setting up a third-and-17; the veteran quarterback picked up nine and Miami converted their field goal. 17-0, Miami.

Cincinnati responded with a field goal, their first points of the game. Not just any field goal, mind you. A 51-yarder from Randy Bullock with five ticks remaining in the third. What do you think about that? Eat your heart out, Jake Elliott. I kid. I troll sometimes, but I kid. In truth, the drive could have been so much more. Dalton scrambled a lot, but he was in a zone with those throws, a 22-yarder to A.J. Green, and another 18-yarder to C.J. Uzomah. Unfortunately, Miami finally got to Dalton on a quarterback sack, setting up Bullock’s field goal.

17-3.

Cincinnati’s defense, the angry team with a rejuvenated swagger, forced Miami into a three-and-out.

Dalton’s ensuing assault continued with a 21-yarder to Green. In the meantime, Joe Mixon began heating up, powering for a 12-yard sprint to Miami’s 16-yard line. A few plays later, Dalton, under immediate threat and nearly spinning out of control for an eventual sack, hooked a prayer into the air. Mixon, gliding across the field, hauled in the perfectly placed pass. After a quick survey of his immediate surroundings, he cut upfield to score a touchdown.

“I thought I had enough to get it there, and I felt like if I could just get it out there, he could come down with it,” said Dalton after the game. “As soon as I let go, I got hit, and I wanted to make sure it got there. Fortunately, it did.

“Our backs are great because they’re not just runners, they can catch the ball. Joe’s really talented with that, and the thing that’s nice about Joe is he’s a bigger guy. When you get a guy like that with hands, it’s definitely a threat out there,” said Dalton.

17-10.

They’re gaining momentum.

This isn’t some new story. Cincinnati fell behind early against Indianapolis, and again against Atlanta. They won both. The Bengals have outscored their opponents 32-18 in the fourth quarter this year.

In the meantime, Cincinnati’s defense was foaming at the mouth. They were ravenous. Vengeance on the mind.

Eventually, the Dolphins had second-and-eight from Miami’s 33-yard line. Ryan Tannehill faked the handoff and freaked out with Michael Johnson mauling his opponent with arms reaching out towards the quarterback. Johnson whipped around the veteran and Tannehill scrambled. Andrew Billings approached and engaged the quarterback. Tannehill applied the Magic Johnson hook from his arsenal, targeting Durham Smythe several feet away. Instead, the football hit an offensive linemen, landing directly into Johnson’s breadbasket.

“Oh, goodness. What’s this?”

Johnson spins and sprints 21 yards for the touchdown.

Game tied.

17-17.

Can you believe this?

Miami’s ensuing possession generated a first down, but an offensive hold forced Miami to punt. Dalton’s offense traveled 62 yards to the Dolphins’ two-yard line. After a near-interception with 3:33 remaining (an inadvisable decision to force a throw to A.J. Green), Bullock gave Cincinnati a 20-17 lead with a 20-yard field goal.

This defense is staggering. Calls for Teryl Austin’s firing entered my twitter feed midway through the second quarter. I know. One coordinator was fired after two weeks last year and now we’re firing all coordinators midseason.

This time, it was all defense. They were saving the Bengals.

Four plays into Miami’s following possession, Carlos Dunlap collided with Tannehill from behind, causing the quarterback to lose the football. Cincinnati native Sam Hubbard scooped up the golden prize and returned it 19 yards... for a touchdown.

“It’s really a credit to Carlos Dunlap,” said Sam Hubbard after the game. “He was chasing the quarterback down and hit the ball right into my lap. All I had to do was run straight.”

Dunalp stated his case.

“I was going for the ball,” said Dunlap. “I don’t want him to be able to throw it. He was trying to make a big play for his team. I made it that far and I wanted to finish the play off.”

This was the point at which we knew Cincinnati sealed the game.

“I think after Sam (Hubbard’s) touchdown — that pretty much meant we win. But it’s a grind,” Lewis said after the game.

For the first time in franchise history, the Bengals had two defensive linemen score touchdowns in the same game.

Miami was down 10 points with 2:32 remaining in the game. They were taking shots, but offensive holds and a spirited Bengals defense held them down. Jessie Bates ended the Dolphins’ final possession with an interception; the answer to a Tannehill prayer.

Cincinnati carries this momentum and inability to give up next week when they host the Steelers.