You certainly can't knock how hard the Bengals played Sunday in the 37-37 tie with Carolina at Paul Brown Stadium.
Defensive lineman Wallace Gilberry coming back into the game after getting his helmet ripped off and a cut above his eye. Running back Giovani Bernard checking back in after getting his shoulder smoked by Panthers middle linebacker Luke Kuechly. Cornerback Adam Jones standing his ground against 6-5, 240-pound rookie wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin in space and stopping him on third-and-1 to force a punt.
Here are a couple of plays that turned Sunday's fortunes:
Panthers CB Antoine Cason's interception on the opening drive of the second half.
Facing a third-and-nine from the Carolina 26, Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton is at least looking at a field goal to put the Bengals up 20-10. Although he was sacked just once all day, he had yet to be hit like this this season with four hurries.
On this play Bernard makes a great block on Panthers end Charles Johnson and left guard Clint Boling kept out linebacker Thomas Davis until the last possible instant. Davis made a superb instinctive grab inside Boling just as Dalton was about to get it away and hit his arm for the flutter job to Cason that turned into an 80-yard return and changed the game.
Dalton's lone sack of the day comes on third-and-seven from the Panthers 21 on the first drive of overtime, when a TD wins. He split five receivers wide, but had no time to find any matchups as the Panthers overpowered the right side of the line. Johnson backed up right tackle Andre Smith into Dalton and tackle Dwan Edwards did the same to right guard Mike Pollak. Look at the down and distance on these last two plays. The longer and later in the drive, it's just harder to protect.
With the Bengals needing a stop to win the game in overtime, Panthers quarterback Cam Newton is looking at second-and-one from the Bengals 31. Like he did 15 times in the second half (and 17 times in the game for 107 yards), Newton keeps it for nine yards. Off the zone read, he fakes to running back Darrin Reaves right, keeps it left on a power play and nobody touches him until nine yards down field.
The inability to play the zone read is a bit of a mystery after the game. Defensive lineman Robert Geathers and Domata Peko say it shouldn't have been a surprise. Indeed, the Bengals defense has seen enough of it in practice. Dalton had the longest run of his career off a zone read earlier in the game on a 20-yarder.
"We do everything on the sidelines," Jones said. "Some of the younger guys who are not in the game get put in the game need to pay more attention on the side. I'm quite sure Paulie (Guenther) will fix it, coach (Marvin) Lewis. We'll look at it tomorrow and get better from it."
A snap after Newton's run, Panthers tight end Greg Olsen ties up defenders on Newton's five-yard run. On the next play Olsen is free for an 11-yard catch at the Bengals 44 in a zone coverage. Olsen leads the Panthers with 62 yards receiving on six catches and is wide open on their last touchdown, a 13-yard throwback. Last week in New England, two Patriots tight ends combined for 185 yards.
But there were also some good plays that kept the Bengals in it.
With 11:46 left in the fourth quarter from the Panthers 34, Dalton throws a great ball down the left sideline as wide receiver Mohamed Sanu strafes Panthers cornerback Melvin White for a tying touchdown at 24.
Then after the Bengals fall back, 31-24, Adam Jones talks special teams coach Darrin Simmons into letting him return a kick. Who didn't get a great block? Linebacker Vincent Rey and running back Cedric Peerman set the wedge and safety Shawn Williams drives his guy 10 yards downfield as Jones busts up the middle for 97 yards to set up the tying touchdown.