EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ — After a one-point win at MetLife Stadium on Sept. 11th, the Cincinnati Bengals (3-5-1) return to the venue was not as joyous, falling to the New York Giants (6-3) by a point, 21-20.
Consecutive sacks on quarterback Andy Dalton forced a Bengals’ punt with just over three minutes remaining. They wouldn’t see the ball again. The Giants, the NFL’s worst rushing offense, converted a key third and six on the ensuing drive on a nine-yard run by Rashard Jennings, forcing Cincinnati to burn their final timeout.
Two plays later, Jennings busted off a season-long 25-yard run to the Cincinnati 21, sealing a fifth loss for the defending AFC North champions.
Bengals’ wide out Tyler Boyd was celebrating his first professional touchdown in the third quarter when he snagged a 20-yard pass from Dalton and dove into the end zone. But the rookie turned around to see officials calling the pass incomplete as he lost control of the ball as he dove across the goal line despite taking two steps.
Cincinnati was forced to settle for a second Mike Nugent field goal, giving them a 20-14 lead with 8:52 left in the period. However, the Bengals’ final five drives resulted in just 37 yards on 22 plays.
Eli Manning and the Giants were set up with a short field near the end of the third and capitalized. After a Vontaze Burfict tackle on Tavarres King forced fourth and goal, Giants’ head coach Ben McAdoo kept his offense on the field instead of kicking a chip-shot field goal.
From the gun, Manning surveyed the field and found rookie Sterling Shephard streaking across the field for a three-yard touchdown to give New York a 21-20 advantage.
Offensively for Cincinnati, it was a game highlighted by the blitz schemes of Steve Spagnuolo that worked well for the Giants’ revamped defense. The Bengals were two for 11 on third down and allowed Dalton to be sacked three times to a Giants team that was last in the category coming into the game.
Giovani Bernard‘s 12-yard run was a huge third-down conversion with 6:32 left in the third quarter, but a holding penalty on Andrew Whitworth negated the big run. The Bengals would punt two plays later.
The offense got off to a big start. After Manning drove the Giants 80 yards for a touchdown on the opening drive, Dalton completed his first three passes for 85 yards, including a 71-yard strike to Tyler Eifert and a redzone touchdown to AJ Green, tying the game at seven.
But Dalton would finish just 16 of 29 for 204 yards, his lowest yardage output of the season. Dalton’s fourth interception of the season came one drive after Shephard’s go-ahead touchdown. The Red Rifle overthrew backup tight end Tyler Kroft and ball-hawk safety Landon Collins snatched the pass at the Giants’ 38.
Giants’ star wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. was the game’s leading receiver, edging Eifert by a single yard (97-96). Beckham hauled in a season-high 10 catches and beat defensive back Adam Jones on a double move for a 10-yard touchdown with 1:17 left in the first half to give New York a 14-10 lead going into the intermission.
Debatable will be the Bengals’ time management at the end of the half. With only one timeout to work with, the Bengals were in no rush after a nine-yard catch by Brandon LaFell to the 30-yard line 40 seconds left. Consecutive completions to Green and Eifert, respectively, forced Marvin Lewis to use his final timeout, but it only setup a Hail Mary attempt that fell incomplete.
After a 65-yard kick return in the tie with Washington, Alex Erickson once again was able to find the spark that made him a preseason favorite. The undrafted rookie returned the opening kickoff of the second half 84 yards to the Giants’ 13-yard line. Two plays later, Jeremy Hill‘s nine-yard touchdown gave the Bengals a 17-14 lead.
Earlier in the game, the Bengals could not capitalize on solid field position. Dre Kirkpatrick‘s interception and 21-yard return with less than five and a half minutes left in the half set Cincinnati up at the Giants’ 7. Three straight pass plays followed, which netted zero yards, forcing Nugent to come on for a 25-yard field goal to make it 10-7.
- Green finished with seven catches for 68 yards and a touchdown. The Bengals are 0-5 when Green is held under 100 yards.
- Geno Atkins tallied the only sack from the Cincinnati defense. He pulled down Manning for an 11-yard loss on fourth down with 9:51 left in the first half.
- The Bengals averaged just 3.4 yards per carry (78 yards on 23 attempts). The longest run of the game was an 11-yard third-down scamper by Dalton on Cincinnati’s final drive.
- Jennings ran for a season-high 87 yards. His previous high was 75 in the season-opening win over Dallas.
- The Bengals won the turnover battle, 2-1. One play after Dalton’s lone turnover, George Illoka intercepted Manning on a poorly-thrown deep ball. Second straight game with a pick for Illoka, who was injured late in the game.
- Rey Maualuga missed the game with a leg injury. Vincent Rey replaced him and recorded a team-best 16 tackles (10 solo). Bufict had 11.
- Erickson added an 18-yard punt return early in the third quarter. The longest punt return this season for the Bengals.
- Cincinnati was penalized nine times for 60 yards. The Giants twice for 15 yards.
The loss certainly damaged the possibility of a second-half run by the Bengals for a sixth straight postseason trip. They sit at 3-5-1, just one game back in the loss column behind the division-leading Baltimore Ravens, a team they will see twice in the final six weeks and have beaten five straight times, dating back to 2013.
Realistically, Cincinnati cannot afford any more setbacks. With three teams in the AFC West — Denver, Oakland, and Kansas City — sitting at seven victories already, the possibility of a wild card spot is bleak. It’s division or bust for the five-loss Bengals, with four games remaining against their AFC North foes. They will likely have to win all four.
Cincinnati heads back to Paul Brown Stadium next week to host the Buffalo Bills. The team’s first game at the venue since a 31-17 win over Cleveland on Oct. 23rd.