Everyone knew that this game would be high scoring, but no one could have imagined the actual result. After a combined 52 points and zero punts in the first half, the Bengals barely edged out the Falcons 37-36 in the last seconds of the game.
A.J. Green was a question mark all week because of a groin injury sustained last week against the Panthers, but Green showed up and looked one-hundred percent healthy. Playing in Atlanta for the first time in his professional career, he had 78 yards on four receptions and the go-ahead touchdown in front of his friends and family. But Tyler Boyd was the team’s leading receiver with 101 yards on 11 catches, and many of those came on third down.
Andy Dalton also had a productive day, finishing with 337 yards and three touchdowns. His one interception was off a drop from Tyler Kroft.
Giovani Bernard filled in nicely for Joe Mixon, getting 89 total yards on 17 touches with two rushing touchdowns.
The news wasn’t all good for the offense, however. Tyler Eifert looked like he was back to his 2015 self with four catches for 38 yards and a touchdown. But he suffered an ugly lower leg injury and had to be carted off the field.
The Bengals defense got torched by the Falcons’ offense, as Julio Jones and Mohammed Sanu both received for over 100 yards, while Calvin Ridley added 54 yards and two touchdowns. Matt Ryan passed for 353 yards and two touchdowns to help the Falcons score 36 points.
The Falcons started the game with a 53-yard kick return and set up their first drive at midfield at midfield. The Bengals could not get off the field on third down, so the Falcons drove 50 yards thanks to two third down conversions. From the seven-yard line, rookie running back Ito Smith broke into the end zone to finish off the short drive. Matt Bryant’s extra point was good, and the Falcons took an early lead, 7-0 with 10:27 left in the first quarter.
Alex Erickson set up the Bengals with a good kick return to the 33-yard line. Despite a false start penalty from Bobby Hart on third down, the Bengals got into Falcons territory thanks to a 38-yard pass to Green. Tyler Eifert finished off the drive with a 15-yard pass from Andy Dalton in the back of the end zone. Eifert’s first touchdown since 2015 and Randy Bullock converted the point after. The Bengals weren’t behind very long, and had tied the score at seven with 7:23 left in the quarter.
Despite pinning the Flacons inside their own 10-yard line on the ensuing kickoff, the Falcons made their way down to the Bengals’ 44-yard line. The Bengals finally got a third down stop, but the Falcons decided to roll the dice on 4th-and-5. Geno Atkins made them regret that decision and got the sack on Matt Ryan to set up the Bengals at their own 49-yard line. An offsides call on prior to the Bengals’ first snap meant that they started the drive in Falcon’s territory.
Giovani Bernard took a 17-yard screen deep into Atlanta territory, which set up his 10-yard touchdown run two plays later. Dalton handed the ball off to Bernard, who ran around the outside and made one defender miss before he jogged into the end zone. The Bengals capitalized on the short field and after Bullock’s extra point, the Bengals took their first lead of the game with 12 seconds left in the first quarter.
Bengals take a 14-7 lead on Giovani Bernard's 10-yard run with 12 seconds remaining in the first. pic.twitter.com/rZ1iDrXl0C— Josh Kirkendall (@Josh_Kirkendall) September 30, 2018
Matt Ryan and Ito Smith kept chipping away at the Bengals defense on the next drive until the Falcons got to the Bengals’ 17-yard line. The Bengals left tight end Logan Paulsen wide open, and Ryan delivered an easy pass for a touchdown. With the extra point, the Falcons had tied the game 14-14 with 11:03 left in the second quarter.
On the next drive, Mark Walton caught his first reception of the year and set the Bengals up to strike with his 24-yard screen. John Ross made a big play, topping his longest catch this year by 30 yards, but it came at a cost. Ross burned the defenders in the secondary and secured the wide-open catch, but limped into the end zone. Bullock’s extra point was good with 8:06 to go in the second half with the Bengals leading 21-14.
Bengals take 21-14 lead on John Ross 39-yard TD reception (saaaaay what?). Ross limps back to the sidelines. pic.twitter.com/4qaHYJu3ih— Josh Kirkendall (@Josh_Kirkendall) September 30, 2018
Evidently, Ross was fine after the play and finished the game.
There is no injury to report on John Ross, according to Bengals.— Paul Dehner Jr. (@pauldehnerjr) September 30, 2018
On the next drive, former Bengals Mohamed Sanu had a huge catch in his first game against Cincinnati. Sanu was left wide open on a play-action pass and caught a 36-yard pass to get the Falcons into the red zone. Calvin Ridley grabbed his first score of the game from 11 yards out, as the rookie receiver helped tie the game. Bryant’s extra point with 2:55 until halftime leveled the score at 21.
With less than three minutes to try and get some more points before halftime, the Bengals made their way downfield thanks to two Falcons penalties. Bernard had another screen pass for 14 yards to get the Bengals to the Falcon’s one-yard line. Bernard ran behind Sam Hubbard from his familiar fullback position on the next play, and Bernard pounded the ball into the end zone from the one-yard line. Bullock converted the extra point and the Bengals had 48 seconds to protect their 28-21 lead before halftime.
48 seconds was plenty of time for the Falcons with two timeouts, and they put the pressure on the Bengals’ defense right before halftime. The Falcons got close enough for the ageless Byant to kick a 55-yard field goal to cut the Bengals lead to four as time expired.
Going into halftime, the Bengals were holding onto a 28-24 lead.
The first half was a total shootout, as the Bengals scored four touchdowns on all four of their possessions. The only drives that didn’t end in touchdowns were the turnover on downs early in the first quarter and the field goal as time expired in the second.
Everything seemed to go wrong for the Bengals in the second half.
First, Eifert’s day (and probably season) ended with a nasty ankle injury on a second down play and had to be carted off the field. Dalton was sacked on the next play and the punt team came out for the first time in the game. But the punt was blocked, so the Falcons set up at the Bengals’ eight-yard line.
But the veterans on the defensive line came up big, as two consecutive sacks from Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap stopped the Falcons in their tracks, so the Falcons had to settle for a 28-yard field goal from Matt Bryant after losing two yards on the drive. The Bengals held on to their lead, up 28-27 with 11:22 left in the third quarter.
The Bengals offense finally got going later on in the third quarter after punting a drive earlier. Tyler Boyd has continued to play at his best this year, and helped the Bengals move the sticks on a third and long. But the Bengals didn’t sustain their momentum very long, as Dalton’s pass to Tyler Kroft landed in the arms of Falcon’s safety Damontae Kazee, who returned the ball to his own 46-yard line.
The Bengals defense did a great job of putting pressure on Matt Ryan, but a Carl Lawson sack was wiped out by a roughing the passer penalty (which was a borderline call at best). The Falcons capitalized on the 15-yard penalty by hitting Ridley in stride for a 30-yard touchdown. The Falcons went for two points, but came up inches short. With 14:25, the Bengals now trailed 33-28 with 14:25 remaining in the game.
Alex Erickson returned the ensuing kickoff to his own 48-yard line. Green had a monster catch in the end zone, but was wiped out by a questionable hands-to-the-face call on Bobby Hart. After the penalty was assessed, the Bengals couldn’t get back to the end zone and Dalton was sacked on third-and-five from the Falcons’ nine-yard line. The play was initially rule a fumble, which would have been a crushing result, but the giveaway was overturned after an official review. Bullock kicked a 36-yard field goal to cut into the Falcon’s lead, but the Bengals still led 33-31 with 8:19 left in the game.
On the next drive, Sanu started things off with a 32-yard reception to get past midfield. The Bengals forced a third-and-13, but tight end Austin Hooper took a short pass and ran right through the middle of the defense to get to the Bengals’ 27-yard line. Thanks to a sack from Lawson that actually stood, the Bengals’ stopped the Falcons on the 20-yard line, setting up third-and-goal. Despite going 11 for 13 on third down conversions until that point, the Bengals forced a 32-yard field goal from Bryant. The Bengals keeping the Falcons to a field goal was huge, because the Bengals still had 4:15 left on the clock with two time outs and only trailed by one score, down 36-31.
Dalton leaned heavily on Boyd on the next possession, going to him four times for 40 yards, two of those times on fourth down. Green finished off the drive with a diving catch in the end zone from 12 yards out to give the Bengals a one-point lead. The Bengals went for two, but missed, giving the Falcons seven seconds to make up a 37-36 deficit.
Bengals take a 37-36 lead with :07 remaining in the game! A 13-yard pass to A.J. Green. pic.twitter.com/6zH3GvfYmn— Josh Kirkendall (@Josh_Kirkendall) September 30, 2018
The final score of 37-36 would hold as the Bengals improved to 3-1 on the season, taking a firm hold of first place in the AFC North. The Falcons dropped to 1-3, dropping two in a row despite scoring 73 points in their last two games.
The Bengals will go home to face the 3-1 Dolphins in Week 5.