Two teams were looking for their first win of the season in Paul Brown Stadium on Sunday. The Cardinals ended up getting it with a 26-23 victory.
Neither team had much offense to speak of, especially in the red zone. Both teams combined for five field goals 23 yards or shorter, and five of the seven offensive possession in the red zone resulted in field goals.
The Bengals had no offense outside of Joe Mixon, who averaged nearly five yards a carry and looked like his 2018 self. But since the Bengals were behind on the scoreboard most of the game, they had to abandon the running game. The Bengals were down to their fourth left tackle late in the game, and their top two receivers were out, so the passing game performed as miserably as was expected for three quarters.
In the fourth quarter, the Bengals’ offense came alive, scoring 14 of their 23 points on the day. Andy Dalton was 12 of 13 passing, with 158 yards and two touchdowns, more than doubling his yardage total on the game.
It was all too little too late, and the Cardinals held on to take the win.
The Bengals wanted Mixon to get off to a fast start, and that he did. On the first drive, the Bengals gave the ball to him six consecutive times in the first seven plays, going for 57 yards. The Bengals gained 65 rushing yards on the first drive alone, besting their per game average of 49 in the first seven minutes of play. The drive began and ended in incompletions to Auden Tate, and the Bengals had to kick a field goal. Randy Bullock nailed a 23-yard attempt, and the Bengals were quickly ahead 3-0 with 8:28 to go in the first quarter.
The Cardinals tried the ground game as well and found that it worked for them too. David Johnson rushed for 14 yards and Kyler Murray added another 11-yard run to the total. They got to the red zone, and Murray turned a fourth-down conversion into 6-yard touchdown run. With the extra point from Zane Gonzalez, the Cardinals took a 7-3 lead with 3:40 remaining in the quarter.
The Cardinals forced a three-and-out and got the ball back. On their next drive, they took big chunks out of the Bengals’ defense. Johnson broke out a 17-yard run and Charles Clay hauled in a 27-yard catch to get into field goal range. Gonzalez missed a 37-yarder in the rain, so the Bengals got a break, which have been few and far between this season.
The Bengals’ third down defense completely failed on the next drive, giving up 54 yards on two third-down conversions. Those two plays accounted for most of the Cardinals’ 65 yards on the drive, but the Bengals’ finally got at third down stop to end the drive early. Murray couldn’t convert on third-and-four from the five yard line, so Gonzalez came in to make a 23-yard kick. With 5:09 left in the half, the Cardinals were now leading 10-3.
On the ensuing kickoff, Brandon Wilson took his first kick return of his career, filling in for Alex Erickson, who was being evaluated for a concussion. Wilson returned the ball to the 50-yard line to get some great field position for his offense. However, the offense couldn’t do much, so Bullock came out for his second field goal of the game. He split the uprights, and helped narrow the gap with 3:27 on the clock before halftime, with the Bengals now down 10-6.
The Bengals’ defense kept giving way, and let the Cardinals march right down the field. Chase Edmonds carried the ball four times for 24 yards, along with a 15-yard run from Johnson and a 19-yard run from Murray got the Cardinals to the goal line. Gonzalez finished the drive with a 20-yard field goal as the half came to a close.
Despite rushing for 65 yards in the opening half, the Bengals only gained 3 yards on the ground the rest of the first half.
In the air, Andy Dalton only completed four of his ten attempts in the first half, even though he hit the hands of Auden Tate, Tyler Boyd, and Stanley Morgan on passes that fell incomplete.
The Bengals received the opening kickoff in the second half, and the offense looked better than they had looked all game. Dalton completed passes to Tate and Boyd, followed up by a 16-yard run by Mixon. Boyd was only targeted three times in the first half, but Dalton threw four passes his way on the first drive of the third quarter. The Bengals got as far as the five-yard line, but Dalton couldn’t connect with Tyler Eifert in the end zone, so Bullock attempted a 23-yard field goal. The Bengals still couldn’t get a touchdown, but they were now only down four points, 13-9 with 8:34 to go in the third quarter.
Pharoh Cooper, who played for the Bengals on opening day, helped set the Cardinals up with a 28-yard catch down the middle of the defense. But future Hall of Fame receiver Larry Fitzgerald was flagged for a block in the back, so the Cardinals ended up facing a third and eleven to force a field goal. Gonzalez kicked a 22-yarder to give the Cardinals a one-score lead, now up 16-9 with 13:25 left in the game.
The Bengals’ defense needed a stop, but just couldn’t come up with one. After pounding the ball inside with Johnson, Murray pitched the ball to Edmonds, who ran around the edge for a 36-yard touchdown. Gonzalez’s extra point was good, and the Cardinals had their biggest lead of the game, 23-9, with 7:13 left in the game.
Dalton and the offense finally came back to life, with Mixon accounting for 22 yards on the drive, and Damion Willis getting another 21. The Bengals quickly got to the red zone and scored a touchdown for he first time since Week 3. The Bengals ran a play action pass from the five-yard line, and Tate caught his first career touchdown with 4:08 left to go. The extra point was good, and the Bengals were back down to one score with all three timeouts, trailing 23-16.
In only 15 seconds of play the defense forced a three-and-out and got the ball right back for the offense. Boyd began the drive with a 29-yard catch, and Giovani Bernard followed it up with a nine-yard run. Two plays later, Dalton aired the ball out for a 42-yard touchdown pass to Boyd, who was in one-on-one coverage. The extra point tied the game at 23 right at the two minute warning.
It was up to Murray to get the Cardinals back in front, and he did the job. The Bengals forgot to account for him in the run game, and he was able to set up a short field goal attempt for Gonzalez with only two seconds left in the game. The 31 yard attempt was easy, and Gonzalez got the three points the Cardinals needed.
Despite the late push, the Bengals walked away disappointed with the 26-23 loss.