It wasn’t the most pleasant of Sunday’s for the Bengal faithful, but overall a successful one. The Cincinnati Bengals (8-3-1) survived a trap game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-10) winning the ball game 14-13 to maintain their first place status in the AFC North.
The game was highlighted in the first half by the inconsistent play of quarterback Andy Dalton. After suffering from a sickness the night before and during the game, Dalton came out after the opening kickoff to throw an interception on the first play of the game to Buccaneers cornerback Jonathan Banks who returned the pick 32 yards to set up an early Tampa Bay field goal.
The Buccaneers would take a 10-0 lead after a nine play- 71 yard drive which was capped off by a ten yard touchdown run by third year running back Doug Martin, who set his season high in rushing yards this season on Sunday with 58.
Dalton would throw two more interceptions in the first half, one in the end zone- and the other an awful pass towards the sidelines that was intercepted right before the half.
Sandwiched between interceptions 2 and 3 was the Bengals’ only scoring drive of the first half, an eight play-64 yard drive capped off by a five yard touchdown run by Dalton to get the Bengals on the board.
Cincinnati went into the locker room trailing 10-7, they were 0-3 this season when trailing at halftime coming into Sunday.
Cincinnati would take the lead in the third quarter, after an enormous punt by Kevin Huber– 37 yards to the Tampa Bay two yard line. After three consecutive runs, Cincinnati got the ball back just inside their own 40 yard line.
Dalton was great on the drive, completing six of seven passes for 62 yards. On 2nd and eight from the Bucs’ 13, Dalton found AJ Green up the seam for a 13 yard score to put the Bengals ahead 14-10.
Following the touchdown was a confusing move by head coach Marvin Lewis, who elected to kick an onside kick which the Buccaneers recovered. Following a Brandon Thompson personal foul, the Buccaneers entered the red zone without having to snap the ball for the second time in the game. Cincinnati’s defense would hold, sacking quarterback Josh McCown on 3rd down to set up another field goal to cut the lead to one.
Each team would punt twice following the field goal, which gave the Bengals the ball with four minutes still left on the clock. On 3rd and 11 from the Cincinnati 19, Dalton made the throw of the game, 30 yards to seventh round rookie James Wright down the right sideline to move the chains. Cincinnati would pick up one more first down before punting into the end zone, setting up a dramatic final two minutes of the game.
Facing 2nd and 10 from their own 35 yard line. McCown dumped off a short screen to running back Bobby Rainey who dodged a tackle and galloped 29 yards to the Bengals’ 36 yard line, already in field goal range for rookie kicker Patrick Murray.
After a holding call on the Bucs, Tampa’s offense was facing 2nd and 15 from the Bengals’ 41 yard line when the most crucial of plays occurred.
With the pocket collapsing, McCown stood strong and fired a 21 yard strike to wide receiver Louis Murphy down to the Cincinnati 20 yard line, which looked to set up a game winning attempt by Murray. Bengals coach Marvin Lewis then threw the challenge flag, which is illegal with less than two minutes to play, costing the Bengals a timeout.
Because of the timeout, this gave officials a chance to check what Marvin was pleading since the beginning of the play– that the Buccaneers had 12 men on the field for the play. Genius.
Upon review, the Bucs did have 12 men running the play, which cost them five yards and negated the apparent game winning 21 yard completion.
“They guys upstairs were saying it right from the start, before they snapped the ball,” Lewis said after the game.
Three plays later on 4th and 20, cornerback Leon Hall tackled receiver Mike Evans seven yards shy of a first down and the Bengals came out with their eighth win of the season.
This was a game Cincinnati had to win. With the second toughest schedule in the NFL for the final four weeks of the season, this win over a 2-10 Buccaneers team is bigger than most people realize.
What a difference a half makes for Andy Dalton. After a three interception first half, the Red Rifle responded to complete 11 of 17 passes for 114 yards and a touchdown, better yet no interceptions.
“Obviously, I got to play better, especially early on in the game. I thought we did some really good things in the second half but still can play better. We still left a lot out there, and we’ll watch the tape. We’ll look at it but at the end of the day, I got to play better,” Dalton said postgame.
If the win wasn’t big enough, Cincinnati got some help around the league. The New Orleans Saints went into Pittsburgh and won 35-32, the Bills dominated the Cleveland Browns 26-10 and the San Diego Chargers came from behind to beat the Baltimore Ravens 34-33 in the final seconds of regulation. A perfect week for Bengals nation. With the win and three losses by their fellow division foes, the Bengals now sit at 1.5 games above the entire division.
- The win Sunday marked the first time in Bengals’ history they won three consecutive road games.
- Andy Dalton is now 12-3-1 in his four year career against NFC teams.
- Cincinnati has the 2nd toughest schedule in the NFL in the final four games of the season (vs. PIT, @ CLE, vs. DEN, @ PIT )
- This was the first Bengals win at Tampa Bay since 1983.
- Last time the Bengals played at Tampa Bay, they lost due to a personal foul on Justin Smith that was highly controversial. Final score of that game? 14-13.
Cincinnati will return to Paul Brown Stadium to host the Steelers this Sunday, their first game their since losing 24-3 to the Cleveland Browns on November 6th. The Bengals are 2-4 against the Steelers in the last three seasons.