Another Sunday, another disappointment for the Bengals, as they let a 14-6 lead slip away and choked on more offensive ineptitude and defensive breakdowns in a 22-14 home loss to the Dolphins today.
The Bengals started the game well, with an impressive 15-play, 86-yard drive to start the game capped by Carson Palmer’s 8-yard TD pass to Terrell Owens. Palmer was 4-for-4 on 3rd downs on the drive. It was the first opening-drive touchdown of the season for Cincinnati, and it was facilitated by the hurry-up offense and the 3-WR alignment.
Miami responded with a drive that quickly got into Bengal territory. The Dolphins were clearly attacking a thin defensive secondary, with Johnathan Joseph, Roy Williams, and Chinedum Ndukwe all inactive with injuries, but a 3rd-and-9 incompletion to Brandon Marshall made the Fins settle for Dan Carpenter’s 39-yard boot, and a 7-3 Bengal lead.
After the next Bengal drive stalled in Dolphins territory early in the second quarter, Miami drove into Cincy territory, but they also stalled. Dan Carpenter’s 42-yard kick inched them closer at 7-6.
The Bengals went three-and-out on the next drive. After a Dolphins drive stalled, the Bengals got the ball back but also were forced to kick. Miami got the ball back with 3:49 left in the first half at their own 10 yard line. On 3rd-and-10, Henne’s pass was picked off by Morgan Trent, starting in place of Joseph, at the Fin 37.
Then it got weird, and the orange and black got some Halloween luck.
Palmer immediately went for paydirt, going deep to T.O. down the left side of the field. His ball was underthrown, and Miami CB Chris Clemons looked to have the interception, but he bobbled the ball, and tipped it in the air as he fall to the ground. The ball fell into Owens’ hands and he strolled into the endzone for a 14-6 Bengal advantage with just under 3 minutes to play.
The Dolphins got a good kick-off return from Patrick Cobbs that gave them field position in Cincy territory at the 45 with 2:37 to go. Miami immediately went to the hurry up to try to pull closer before the half QB Chad Henne quickly got them deep into Bengal territory, but their drive stalled at the six-yard line, forcing them to kick a field goal with :58 seconds left. The Bengals looked soft on defense, allowing Miami to get down the field quickly, but stiffened when it counted. Marvin Lewis also was aggressive with his use of timeouts, ensuring the Bengals would have almost a minute to try and respond.
But the Bengals had a very fast 3-and-out, and Kevin Huber’s short punt gave Miami another drive in Bengal territory at the 49. They were able to get to the Bengal 36-yard line with 8 seconds left; just enough for Dan Carpenter’s fourth field goal of the game from 54-yards out, and a 14-12 difference at the half.
The second half began with the teams trading punts. But then, Cincinnati got some more Halloween luck.
Kevin Huber’s punt was lost in the sun by Devon Bess, who touched it as it bounced to the ground in Bengal territory. DE Michael Johnson, covering the kick for the Bengals, found the ball bouncing gently into his hands as he pursued the play, giving the Bengals another opportunity 35 yards up the field. But three plays produced only 8 yards, and the now-sputtering offense was forced to kick again, with Rico Murray, recently brought up from the practice squad, downing it at the five yard line.
Miami was able to mount a drive and got into Bengal territory due to some good plays on the thin secondary and a pass interference call on Leon Hall. The real story on the drive though was the complete lack of a Bengal pass rush. As has been the case all year, the Bengals were unable to generate a rush on Henne—even when blitzing. Finally the Bengals were able to blunt the Fin drive at the 14, but Carpenter’s fifth field goal of the game gave them their first lead at the 2:47 mark in the 3rd quarter at 15-14.
The Bengals responded with their fourth consecutive three-and-out, but the defense finally stiffened and forced one of their own as the third quarter came to an end.
The Cats couldn’t do anything as Palmer’s 3rd-and-five pass to T.O. only got two yards. Huber punted again to end a fifth three-and-out, and the Dolphins set up shop again, this time at their own four.
It didn’t take Miami long to slice up Cincy’s wilting defense. A 24-yard pass to Brandon Marshall was followed by two more 20+ yard plays by Brian Hartline, and a 12 yard gallop by Ricky Williams to get to the one. Williams would score on the next play, and the Dolphins had an 8-point advantage, 22-14. The 96-yard drive made the Bengal defense look tired, undermanned, and overmatched. Marvin Lewis challenged the call, foolishly in my mind, and it was upheld, wasting a time-out.
Now down, the Bengal offense which had wasted away in the second half and had caused the defense to play far too many snaps, had to respond. After a first down, the Bengals faced a 3rd-and-16 after a run blitz set them back. They were forced to punt after Palmer’s pass was nearly intercepted.
With 9:08 remaining, Miami had the ball and an 8-point lead at their own 34. The Bengals’ beleaguered and battered defense needed a stop, and they did, holding Miami on 3 run plays. With 7:05 left, the Bengals got the ball back. After an 8-yard Palmer run and a drop by Jermaine Gresham, Palmer scrambled to get the first, taking a shot from Miami defenders and ending up a yard short. The Bengals, desperate, went for it on fourth-and-one and Benson was able to convert it to keep their dying season alive.
After another tense third down, the Bengals were in Dolphin territory. A deep pass to a wide open T.O. in the end zone was dropped. A second down pass was deflected. The third down pass was incomplete, but a roughing the passer call gave the Bengals new life at the 22 yard line. Palmer then threw a killing interception to Shawn Smith and the Bengals were on life support.
At 2:00 left in the game, and with Cincinnati out of time-outs, the Dolphins were able to run out the clock.
The Bengals fall to 2-5 and are now looking at almost no chance of making the playoffs. The Dolphins go to 4-3 and remain competitive in the AFC East.
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