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Bengals can’t find answers on defense, lose to Panthers, 31-21

While the Panthers offense was busy turning takeaways into points, the Bengals couldn’t figure out how to stop the Cam Newton/Christian McCaffrey combination.

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Carolina Panthers Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

The Bengals traveled to Carolina, looking to keep their undefeated streak alive. That didn’t happen as Cincinnati fell to the Panthers, 31-21.

Tyler Boyd was the team’s leading receiver while A.J. Green was out for much of the game with a groin injury. Boyd had 132 yards on six catches with a touchdown. Giovani Bernard started in place of Joe Mixon, but was held to 18 rushing yards in the first half. He tried to make up for it with runs of 23 and 25 yards in the second half, and tallied 86 all-purpose yards, getting 5.7 yards per touch.

Tyler Eifert finally had his first good game since suffering a myriad of injuries that held him out of the last two seasons. Eifert had six catches for 74 yards and seemed to be back to his old self.

Even though Andy Dalton threw for over 300 yards, he also threw four interceptions, which resulted in 17 points for the Panthers.

But it was Carolina’s ground game that was the difference in the matchup. Christian McCaffrey rushed 28 times for 184 yards, while Cam Newton rushed 10 times for 36 yards.

The Bengals defense had a great first possession by forcing a three-and-out, but that may just have been the best defensive stretch of the day. The offense followed it up with a 23-yard pass to Tyler Boyd on the first play from scrimmage for the Bengals. Andy Dalton started off the drive a perfect six for six for 63 yards as the Bengals crept their way closer to the Panthers’ goal line. Giovani Bernard, who got his first start of the season, gained 23 total yards both on . the ground and through the air, including a one yard touchdown with 7:40 left in the first quarter to kick off a high-scoring game. Bernard had to grind out every inch for that touchdown, but defensive end Sam Hubbard helped lead the way for the score, playing as a fullback once again this week at the goal line. Randy Bullock knocked the extra point through and the Bengals had the first lead of the game, ahead 7-0.

The Panthers wouldn’t be held back very long. On the next drive, running back Christian McCaffrey broke out a 45-yard run to get the Panthers close to the goal line. On third-and-goal from the two-yard line, Cam Newton kept the ball and bounced around the outside to get into the end zone for a two-yard rushing touchdown with 3:02 remaining in the first quarter. Graham Gano converted the extra point to tie the score at 7-7.

On the next drive, following a 31-yard pass to A.J. Green, that was originally ruled incomplete but was overturned after review, Dalton targeted John Ross for the first time. Cornerback Donte Jackson made a good play on the ball, though, and picked it off at the Panther’s 33-yard line.

On the ensuing drive, Newton connected with Devin Funchess twice for 43 yards before getting to the four-yard line, where they would connect a third time on a four-yard touchdown. With 12:03 left in the second quarter, Gano added the extra point and the Panthers took a 14-7 lead.

The Bengals answered the score on their next drive, as Dalton was a perfect three for three with 40 yards on third downs. The final third down conversion was a nine-yard catch to Ross, setting up a first down at the one yard line. Then, Dalton faked a handoff to Bernard and fooled the defense, setting up a soft toss to C.J. Uzomah in the end zone. With 6:59 left in the half, the Bengals tied the score at 14 after Bullock’s extra point.

The Panthers’ ground game was too much for the Bengals on the next drive. McCaffrey ripped a 15-yard run after running through Hardy Nickerson, which set up a screen pass to C.J. Anderson on the next play. McCaffrey and Newton faked an option to the right, then Newton turned around and threw a screen to Anderson. With an accompanying entourage, Anderson trotted in 24 yards for a touchdown with 2:47 left in the first quarter. The extra point was good, and the Bengals would go into the locker room trailing 21-14.

Halftime stats:

The Bengals got the ball to start the second half and handed it off to Bernard to begin the drive with a 23-yard run, more than doubling his first-half total. But the drive would be a short one, ending in an Andy Dalton sack.

The Bengals would end up with the ball again, but they would give it right back. Dalton rifled a pass to Josh Malone that was deflected and intercepted on its way down by Efe Obada. It was Obada’s first NFL game and he caused many problems for the Bengals.

Starting from the Bengals’ 30-yard line, the combination of Newton and McCaffrey on the ground overwhelmed the Bengals’ defense. From the five-yard line, Newton kept the ball on a read-option and ran right through the middle of the defense for his second rushing touchdown of the game. With Gano’s extra point, the Panthers doubled their lead, 28-14 with 5:34 left in the third quarter.

Bernard started off the next drive with a 25-yard run. Tyler Eifert helped move the Bengals downfield with a 20-yard catch, showing great strength to hold on to the ball despite the defender trying to rip the ball away. On the next play, Dalton rolled out to his left and lofted a pass to Boyd, who made a diving catch in the endzone for a 27-yard score. With 2:53 left in the third quarter, the Bengals cut the deficit in half, now down only 28-21. Boyd was making the plays the Bengals needed and Dalton was rising to the occasion, too.

Carlos Dunlap showed why he deserved a contract extension on the next two drives. The Panthers were facing fourth-and-four when Newton dropped back to pass, but Dunlap deflected the throw at the line of scrimmage to give the Bengals the ball. The Bengals would end up punting, but Dunlap showed up again on the next drive. He recorded the first Bengals sack of the game when he stripped the ball out of Newton’s hand, though Hubbard failed to fall on it. Despite the fact that Newton recovered the ball, the Panthers would punt three plays later.

Following the punt, Dalton kept the drive alive on a second-and-14 by escaping a near-sack and rolling out to his left. He connected with Boyd again, who was wide open and took off with the ball for a 49-yard gain. But a holding penalty on Alex Redmond stalled the drive, where Bullock would attempt a 53-yard field goal. Bullock pulled the ball to the left, so the Bengals got no points out of the drive.

The Bengals would get the ball back after a punt, but Dalton threw the ball right back into the arms of Donte Jackson. Dalton heaved the ball in the direction of Ross, but Ross was nowhere to be found when the ball was placed perfectly into Jackson’s chest.

The Panthers took over with 3:33 left in the game at the 50-yard line. McCaffrey and Newton used the running game to seal the game. McCaffrey ran the ball for 15 yards, while Newton added 11 of his own. This was enough for a 40-yard Gano field goal to put the Panthers up 31-21.

The Bengals lost their first game of the year and will travel to Atlanta next week with a 2-1 record.