NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Bengals completed their fourth fourth-quarter comeback of the season and their first five-game winning streak in 23 years with a 24-17 win over the Titans on Sunday at LP Field that put them into a tie for first place in the AFC North with Baltimore at 6-2.
The Ravens took a page out of the Bengals playbook and beat the Steelers, 23-20, Sunday night with eight seconds left, dropping the Steelers a half-game behind at 6-3 to set up this Sunday's 1 p.m. steel cage match at sold-out Paul Brown Stadium as the Bengals got a leg up on such powers as the Steelers and Patriots in the wild AFC standings.
Then the Bengals got the first turnover of the game with 3:49 left on a strip by cornerback
Tennessee, out of timeouts, could get no further than the Bengals 32 as the clock ran out.
This was one of the AFC games the Bengals didn’t want to come back and haunt them at the end of the season. Now at 5-1 in the conference the Bengals have a game edge on the 4-2 Patriots, Ravens and Steelers in AFC play, a game and a half lead on the 4-3 Jets, a two-game lead on the 3-3 Chargers and Chiefs, and a three-game lead in the loss column on the Titans and Raiders.
The Bengals received a scare late in the game as defensive
Dalton hit 22 of 39 passes for 217 yards and a 97.9 passer rating.
Dalton’s first three-touchdown game came as the result of an amazing drive in which the Bengals overcame holding penalties to right guard
But rookie wide receiver
Green (83 yards on seven catches) led a big second half for Dalton’s wide receivers, Caldwell and
The Titans took Green out of the game in the first half, but Dalton went for him down the left side in the middle of the third quarter and McCourty was called for a 45-yard pass interference penalty.
Then Simpson made the first of the man-mountain plays by Cincinnati's starting wide receivers. Simpson took a bullet 15-yard pass on third-and-five from Dalton over the middle at the goal line and survived hellacious a Titans sandwich on hits by Griffin and linebacker Barrett Ruud for the touchdown that cut the lead to 17-14 with 6:33 left.
The Bengals defense turned around its shaky first half with some good pass pressure and held running back Chris Johnson to 64 yards on 14 carries. Dunlap came up with a sack and a third-down pressure that turned into a punt, and tackle
The Bengals blitzed Titans quarterback Matt Hasselbeck and the 36-year-old veteran made them pay in the first half with his pinpoint passing staking Tennessee to a 17-7 halftime lead.
With the Bengals front four unable to come up with any pressure in what has been their staple this season, Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer brought the blitz, particularly on the two-minute drill that began with 2:55 left and the Bengals didn’t get near him as Hasselbeck hit wide-open backup receiver Lavelle Hawkins for his first NFL touchdown catch on a 16-yarder with eight seconds left that made it 17-7.
The Bengals dropped eight into pass coverage and somehow Hawkins got behind cornerback
Johnson was having his best game of the season with 55 yards on nine carries in the half, but it was Hasselbeck that did the damage. Johnson did jump-start Tennessee's first touchdown drive with an 18-yard run on the left edge aided by a block on safety
But outside linebacker
The Bengals offense could only produce one touchdown in the first half even though Benson came off his one-game suspension running hard with 38 yards on 10 carries and
But the Titans Cover 2 took Green out of the game with double teams, holding him two catches for 16 yards, and he didn’t get much help from his other wide receivers. Caldwell (no catches) struggled with Pro Bowl cornerback Cortland Finnegan in the slot and Simpson (one catch for 18 yards) killed one drive when he dropped an easy third-down catch for a first down, wiped out Scott’s 13-yard run with a hold, and his illegal shift negated a first-down run by Benson.
So Dalton had to look elsewhere. Despite starting tight end
That set up a third-and-goal from the 1 and with Benson the only back behind him, Dalton had 320-pound defensive tackle
After a three-and-out, the Bengals defense found out on its second series that Johnson is far from washed up. The Titans went 55 yards for Rob Bironas’s 43-yard field goal that gave Tennessee a 3-0 lead halfway through the first quarter. Johnson squirted away from safety
The Bengals survived the loudest venue in the NFL last week in Seattle, but it took just four snaps for them to have a problem here. On third-and-10, Dalton had to run to the sideline to get the play from offensive coordinator Jay Gruden and then had to call timeout as the play clock hit zero.
When play resumed, Dalton nearly took a coverage sack before he threw an ill-advised ball to running back
Benson got warmed up on the second Bengals drive, wiping out a false start by left guard
PREGAME NOTES: As expected, three key Bengals were sidelined for Sunday’s game at LP Field against the Titans when middle linebacker
Jones worked out with Bengals secondary coach Kevin Coyle during pregame and jogged fairly hard but the coaches must have decided to get him ready for next Sunday’s game at Paul Brown Stadium against the Steelers.
Maualuga continues to move much better, while indications were Gresham didn’t make the trip and it’s unclear when any of the three are going to practice but there is hope all or some can go Wednesday.
Also inactive for the Bengals on Sunday were the four rookies that have become weekly appearances in linebacker
Head coach Marvin Lewis made it clear early in the week he’s not going to rush anybody who’s injured and he’s ready to move on with his depth. He singled out backup tight ends Donald Lee and Colin Cochart after the way they filled in for Gresham last week.
“I thought the guys did a nice job in his place last week, and if that is the way we go, that is the way we go,” Lewis said Wednesday.
“But we are kind of moving beyond that ‘worry about this guy, worry about that guy’ mentality. I know you guys have to ask those questions, but I don’t think we really care who is in there. We are just going to go and play, and the next guy will step up and play. You (injured players) can catch up to us at some point. Maybe you will maybe you won’t. But the other guys just have to keep playing.”
Lee was expected to start Sunday, but Cochart started the game last week.
Raiders quarterback Carson Palmer threw no brickbats at his former club when he sat down with Shannon Sharpe of CBS for an interview before his first start with Oakland. He told Sharpe what he’s been telling everybody: It was time to move on and he respects Bengals president Mike Brown and Lewis.
Safety Reggie Nelson, a big reason for the Bengals’ success against the run, knows Titans running back Chris Johnson well. They not only played each other twice a year when Nelson was in Jacksonville in ’08 and ’09, but they have a mutual friend in wide receiver Mike Sims-Walker, drafted with Nelson to Jacksonville in 2007. Nelson says Johnson is not the kind of guy changed by a big contract.
“I’ve hung out with him a few times and Chris is a good dude,” Nelson said. “Chris is Chris. Everybody has some bad games. He’s a great back. You’ve seen his highlights. He’s fast. Not many are faster. You know he’ll have some big games, we just have to make sure it’s not against us.
Earlier in the week, Jones, drafted by the Titans with the sixth pick in the 2005 draft, took responsibility for his raft of off-field problems during his three years with them. As he walked off the field during pregame he signed autographs and talked to fans.