Jeff Driskel made his first career start in place of veteran Andy Dalton. Driskel has looked good whenever he had played so far this season, but he has only played when the Bengals were trailing by a wide margin, so in a sense this would be a new experience for him.
It did not go as planned, and the Bengals lost to the Broncos 24-10 in Paul Brown Stadium.
Things would get complicated for Driskel after A.J. Green would go down with a non-contact injury in the second quarter after only one reception for only seven yards. Even so, Driskel finished out 25 for 38 with 236 yards and a touchdown, though he did have an interception and a lost fumble.
The Bengal’s defense finally had a decent game for the first time in what seems like an eon ago. The Broncos only had 361 total yards, which is actually well below average for the Bengals’ defense. The Bengals held the Broncos to under 150 passing yards, but gave up 200 yards on the ground.
Each team punted twice in the scoreless first quarter. But after the second quarter started, the Broncos offense finally started making some big plays. After the Broncos were well into Bengals territory, Sam Hubbard stopped their momentum by sacking quarterback Case Keenum and forced the Broncos to settle for a field goal attempt. Brandon McManus’ 50-yard attempt was wide to the left, so the first opportunity for either team to score came up empty with 7:23 left in the half.
Denver would threaten to score later in the half. While sensational rookie running back Philip Lindsay already had 51 yards on the day, his backup actually set the Broncos up in the red zone through the passing game. Keenum passed to Devontae Booker twice for 21 yards, and the Broncos were on the Bengals six-yard line at the two-minute warning. Lindsay immediately and ran the ball the rest of the way for the score. After McManus’ extra point, the Broncos had the first lead of the game with a 7-0 score with 1:56 left in the half. This was the 12th time in as many games that the Bengals gave up a score in the last three minutes of the half.
With less than two minutes left to play in the second quarter, Driskel slung the ball more aggressively than he did in the first 13 minutes of the game. Driskel went five for six on the drive that was highlighted by a 22-yard pass to Tyler Boyd to convert a third-and-11. Mixon helped out with a 14-yard run up the middle to get the Bengals to the Broncos’ seven-yard line.
The Bengals’ offense stalled so the Bengals had to send Randy Bullock out to kick a 35-yard field goal with 12 seconds left until halftime. The Bengals did well to get points, but were disappointed to only get three from inside the red zone. But the important thing was getting on the scoreboard, and the Bengals would go into the locker room trailing 7-3.
Driskel was very cautious in the first half, even when the Bengals had to drive down the field inside the two-minute warning. He completed 13 of his 20 attempts in the first half with no interceptions, but only averaged 4.7 yards an attempt. Boyd had a great first half with four catches on five targets with 54 yards, but out of the seven eight receivers targeted in the first half, Boyd was the only one with more than 11 yards.
The biggest impediment to the Bengals’ offense was the offensive line. In addition to the two sacks and intentional grounding penalty the Bengals had to absorb, holding penalties created too many third-and-long scenarios, including one third-and-39 in the first half. Each starting offensive lineman had a penalty called against them in the first half.
The Bengals made a quick three-and-out on the first drive of the second half, but that allowed Kevin Huber to punt for the 747th time in his career, which made the Cincinnati native the player with the most punts in franchise history.
The Bengals’ defense got a stop, but Alex Erickson muffed the punt and the ball was recovered by Denver. The Broncos started their next drive with the ball on the Bengals’ 33-yard line. Two plays later, Keenum connected with Courtland Sutton for the longest pass of the game by either quarterback for a 30-yard touchdown. With 11:27 remaining in the third quarter, the Broncos already had a 14-3 lead after the extra point.
The Broncos got the ball back quickly after an ill-advised throw from Driskel turned into an interception. Lindsay turned the interception into points on a 65-yard footrace to the end zone. With 7:35 left in the third quarter, the Broncos’ lead was quickly increasing to 21-3.
Better late than never, the Bengals offense put together a good-looking drive for only the second time all day. Driskel was perfect on the drive and completed the possession with a 30-yard touchdown pass to Cody Core. This was the Bengals’ first touchdown of the game and Core’s first touchdown of his career. With the extra point, the Bengals’ now trailed by a score of 21-10 with 2:45 left in the third quarter.
Defenses dominated for the rest of the game. The only other points in the game were generated by the defense. Rookie edge rusher Bradley Chubb forced the ball out of Driskel’s hand and recovered the fumble on the Bengals’ 18-yard line. All the Broncos had to do was run the clock out to set up the field goal. The Bengals forced McManus to attempt a 29-yard field goal, and the Broncos extended their lead to 24-10 with 23 seconds left to seal the game.
The Bengals fell to 5-7 and lost their sixth straight game in front of a diminishing crowd at Paul Brown Stadium.