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Bengals vs. Panthers: Bengals and Panthers with 37-37 tie

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The Cincinnati Bengals looked to rebound after an embarrassing loss last Sunday Night. They didn't. In fact, they tied the Carolina Panthers 37-37 in an interesting game that forces an army of questions without a satisfactory answer.

Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Well, hell.

It's a tie.

You woke up this morning thinking, the Bengals will capitalize on these frustrated emotions after a disastrous Sunday Night showing against the New England Patriots. Nope. In fact the defense, even with Vontaze Burfict, is equally as frustrating as a missed 36-yard field goal by Mike Nugent as time expires. Back and forth. Six ties. It was a game that didn't deserve this ending. This wasn't like the tie in '08 against the Philadelphia Eagles -- that team lost 11 that season and a tie was better than a loss. Not today. A tie feels like a loss.

Yet, despite missing key personnel on offense (A.J. Green, Marvin Jones and Tyler Eifert), Cincinnati's was surprisingly efficient early in the game. Facing a seven-point deficit in the first quarter, Cincinnati strung together a 14-play drive that drained 69 yards, resulting in a game-tying touchdown early in the second quarter. Andy Dalton faked the jet sweep to Brandon Tate and then tossed the football to Take on a receiver screen. Mohamed Sanu should receive ample amounts of credit for the block that enabled Tate to dive into the endzone to score Cincinnati's first touchdown.

Speaking of Sanu, what a stud.

On Cincinnati's ensuing possession, it was an 89-yard touchdown run by Giovani Bernard -- the second-longest in franchise history and the longest touchdown run this season... in the NFL.

Now with a 14-7 lead, things felt comfortable.

And while Cincinnati looked to be in control through most of the first half, it wasn't until the 9:49 mark in the third quarter that things became complicated.

It was third down from the Panthers 29-yard line and the tenth play of a 54-yard drive that opened the third quarter. Dalton threw the football, but it came out wobbly -- it appeared that the football was tipped or that his throwing arm was hit during mid-throw. Cornerback Antoine Cason returned the interception 80 yards to the Bengals ten-yard line. Fozzy Whittaker easily pierced through the line of scrimmage to score on the four-yard touchdown.

Now it was tied.

What should have been a two-possession advantage by Cincinnati resulted in a poor decision to throw the football under intense pressure. Twice before that play, Dalton threw passes on his back foot with pressure in his face. Though both were incomplete passes, they dropped into the field of play without any defenders near those passes. It was a matter of time before a risky throw would burn him.

Cincinnati's defense felt on the constant brink of an implosion. The Panthers, piecing together a 15-play possession in the first quarter, went 86 yards and resulted in a seven-point lead. George Iloka tried the whole "shoulder crush" move to jar the football from Kelvin Benjamin, but it didn't work.

Cam Newton was finding gaps in coverage with questionable designs on defense. With 5:12 remaining in the third quarter, defensive coordinator Paul Guenther drops Carlos Dunlap into coverage on third down, which Newton exposed for a 26-yard toss to Jason Avant. Please... take your best pass rusher and drop him into a zone that was monitored by an inexperienced defensive end.

Carolina took the lead three plays later during a Newton 12-yard touchdown run with 3:54 remaining in the third. His legs were killing Cincinnati's defense. With 9:11 remaining in the third, Newton scrambled for nine yards to convert a third and seven. Too easy. The Bengals dug their own grave on the ensuing possession when Andy Dalton badly overthrew Jermaine Gresham, which was intercepted by Roman Harper. Carolina narrowly took a two-possession lead, but an overthrow to (an open) Greg Olsen led to a failed field goal attempt that sailed wide right.

To recap, Cincinnati opened the second half with a 17-10 lead and were on the fringe of taking a two-possession lead. Two interceptions later and the Panthers took a seven-point lead early in the fourth quarter. Eventually the tide would shift and Cincinnati would recover. Following Graham Gano's missed field goal attempt with 14:54 remaining in the game, Cincinnati pieced together a 71-yard drive that was capped with a beautiful 34-yard touchdown arch to Mohamed Sanu, tying the game at 24.

Yet the game was a race at this stage.

Carolina, with 7:08 remaining in the fourth quarter, had fourth down from Cincinnati's 37-yard line. The Panthers needed two yards. Instead of punting, they went for it. And for good reason. Newton ripped a fastball to Kelvin Benjamin on a quick slant with Terence Newman pressing decent coverage. The 13-yard reception reached Cincinnati's 24-yard line. Carolina picked up another first down on a wide receiver screen to Jason Avant, picking up 12 to the Bengals 13-yard line. The Panthers took a 31-24 lead with 4:58 remaining on a backside throw to tight end Greg Olsen, who was completely disregarded by Cincinnati's defense. It was an impressive 12-play touchdown drive that spanned 80 yards.

Since we don't have the patience to string together a sustained possession, the Bengals put Adam Jones on the kickoff return team. It was huge. Cincinnati tied the game at 4:32, thanks to Jones' 97-yard kickoff return to the Panthers three-yard line where Jeremy Hill punched it in for a touchdown. With the score tied at 31, the Panthers have third and 13 from their own 29 wiht 3:36 remaining in the game. Cam Newton, with Wallace Gilberry in the quarterback's face, overthrew Kelvin Benjamin where a diving Reggie Nelson intercepted the football. He returned it 31 yards to the Panthers 24-yard line.

Yet, Cincinnati struggled mightily to circumvent Carolina's gift. Andre Smith commits an offensive hold that nullifies Jeremy Hill's 22-yard touchdown run. Smith added a false start for good measure, putting Cincinnati into a second-and-23 with 2:31 remaining in the game. Andy Dalton tries hooking up with Mohamed Sanu, but the football was tipped Carolina's secondary... where Sanu catches it anyway for a 17-yard gain. Dalton misfires to Dane Sanzenbacher on quick pass (that appeared like a backwards lateral) on third down, forcing a field goal attempt.

Mike Nugent gave Cincinnati a 34-31 lead on a 38-yard field goal with 2:16 remaining.

Carolina took advantage of open gaps in underneath coverage, capitalizing on gains of 16 yards, eight yards before Newton successfully converted a fourth-and-two at the Bengals 41-yard line to pick up a first down with 45 seconds remaining in the game. Completions of eight, five and three yards gave Carolina the football at the Bengals 26-yard line with six seconds remaining.

Even with a Marvin Lewis icing-the-kicker ploy, Graham Gano converted the 44-yard field goal sending the game into overtime.

Cincinnati, after winning the toss and taking the ball, reached Carolina's 19-yard line but Dalton's poorly read read-option lost two yards and Charles Johnson's third down sack lost another three. Mike Nugent converted the 42-yard field goal to give Cincinnati a 37-34 lead with 8:35 remaining in overtime. Carolina responded clock-suffocating 12-play drive, using a mix of runs and short passes. Eventually stalling at Cincinnati's 18-yard line, Gano converted the 36-yard field goal, re-tying the game at 37 each with 2:24 remaining in overtime.

Next score wins.

Cincinnati fought. With only two minutes remaining, Dalton completed passes of 8, 7, and 5 before reaching their own 45-yard line with 40 seconds remaining. Dalton finds James Wright down the right sidelines, picking up 24 yards. Charles Johnson was flagged for another 15 after tugging on Dalton's facemask, reaching Carolina's 16 yard line.

And then Mike Nugent missed the 36-yard field goal... wide right.

Tied.

***

Normally we'd prefer not saying this, but these officials... wow.

Vontaze Burfict was twice called for a personal foul... both times nullifying results that benefited Carolina. The first, midway through the first, was a roughing call that gave Carolina a first. The play initially fell well short of a first. The Panthers sustained the possession and scored an eventual touchdown.

With 10:26 remaining in the second, Burfict was flagged for hitting a "defenseless receiver", after a Kelvin Benjamin seven-yard reception, moving Carolina from the 46 to their 31 yard-line. The hit, a pile-driving shot, occurred after George Iloka stood the receiver up.

Carlos Dunlap was called for a defensive hold on Carolina's field goal attempt with 7:50 remaining in the second, giving the Panthers an automatic first down. The officials said that Dunlap pulled an offensive lineman, opening a lane for a blocker. It really just appeared that Dunlap was blocked. Ultimately, it didn't hurt the Bengals because Carolina was forced to kick a field goal anyway.

An illegal shift nullified Mohamed Sanu's 47-yard reception at the five minute mark in the first half, but Cincinnati picked up the first down anyway.

INACTIVES

BENGALS PANTHERS
WR A.J. Green RB DeAngelo Williams
WR Marvin Jones RB Jonathan Stewart
RG Kevin Zeitler OG Andrew Norwell
DE Will Clarke LB D.J. Smith
LB Khairi Fortt QB Joe Webb
CB Chris Lewis-Harris CB Bene Benwikere
DT Brandon Thompson CB Josh Norman