In a game that the Cincinnati Bengals had to win, the team dropped three interceptions and Andy Dalton struggled connecting with receivers on must have plays. In the end, the missed opportunities proved too much against a Dallas team that plays their best football in the fourth quarter. The Bengals took a loss for the first time in five games.
Cincinnati opened the game strong, making a statement in their first possession with a 70 yard drive that ended in a Dalton to Andrew Hawkins touchdown. They followed that up on their next offensive effort with a Josh Brown field goal, putting the Bengals up 10-3 at the end of the first quarter.
The Dallas Cowboys were challenged by the stout Bengals defense during the entire game. In the first quarter, they only allowed the Cowboys 80 yards of total offense and one field goal. The second quarter, they did allow DeMarco Murray a one-yard touchdown run, but held Dallas to just 72 yards of total offense and intercepted Romo to close out the quarter.
Andy Dalton also threw an interception in the second quarter. It was that interception that eventually led to the Murray touchdown. The Bengals went on to score another three points and went in to the half up 13-10 over the ‘Boys.
When the two teams returned to play, Cincinnati quickly drove down the field and the Bengals quarterback hit Marvin Jones for what would have been his first NFL receiving touchdown. It was quickly nullified, though, in a costly mistake by the rookie. He stepped out of bounds and came back in to catch the ball. After a lot of crazy calls on the field and a rare dropped pass by A.J. Green, the Bengals had to settle for a field goal.
At the end of the third quarter, it was the Bengals 19 and the Cowboys 10. As the team settled in, they appeared to get to comfortable and maybe even a little lackadaisical in their offensive schemes and passing attempts. As we all know from this season, resting on the Cowboys in the fourth quarter is never a good idea.
Tony Romo, who should have had drives ended several times by the Bengals defense, put on a show; hitting Dez Bryant up the middle for a 27 yard touchdown pass. Before Bengals fans knew it, their team was out of time outs with 3:44 left on the clock and the Cowboys were driving, only down by two points. With four seconds left on the clock Dan Bailey, who scored first in the game, finished the game and the Bengals with a 40 field goal. The final game score was a chilly 20-19 for the Cowboys.
This game could have had a different ending in favor of the Bengals several times throughout. Terrence Newman dropped two would-be interception balls and Nate Clements was right there with him, dropping one of his own. The problems weren’t just on defense either.
Cincinnati’s offense was sharp to start the game, but fell off somewhere in the middle. A.J. Green dropped two big passes; one for a touchdown and one for a big first down. Dalton and the receivers seemed out of sync. Many passes would be too high, too far behind, or the quarterback would not be on the same page as the route runner.
The whole game wasn’t a wash, though. Cincinnati’s defense proved once again, why they are a force in the NFL. They recorded three sacks, nine quarterback hits, and one interception. They limited the Cowboys to just 288 total offensive yards and only allowed 49 on the ground.
The loss isn’t as painful as it could have been, though, for the Bengals. The only team that walked away with a win today in the AFC North was the Cleveland Browns. The Steelers, the team Cincinnati was watching the closest, lost to the Chargers. And the division-leading Ravens lost one in overtime to the Washington Redskins, leaving the division playoff race wide open.
Now Cincinnati heads into a short week, going head to head with the Philadelphia Eagles on Thursday Night Football. It is going to be imperative that the team pulls themselves together to get the victory in Philadelphia. There will be a sense of urgency in practice, with playoff hopes on the line week after week.