As it has for the second half of the season, the Bengals defense kept them breathing until the end of the 19-7 loss.
And as they have during their first season together, it was the safety combo of Jessie Bates III and Vonn Bell that was the heart of Sunday's effort that held the offense to one touchdown for the second straight week.
Make that six touchdowns allowed in the last 14 quarters.
Just exactly what their TNT Tandem means to this outfit took center stage as Sunday's clock ticked under four minutes and Miami running back Myles Gaskin running toward a 47-yard touchdown that would supply the finishing touches and …
But Bates ran him down at the 20 like his Pro Bowl dash at the close of his third season. He punched it out and for the second straight week Bell picked up a rolling fumble (this one at the 13) and took it back to midfield as the Bengals hung in by a thread and moved Miami to 0-for-9 on third down.
A Ryan Finley interception ended it all moments later, but only after Bates logged a career-best 13 tackles to end a week he began by vowing to be more physical. He had also vowed to check in with Dolphins head coach Brian Flores at some point Sunday to tell him he appreciated Flores' mid-week praise of his play.
He checked both boxes.
"Pregame I was able to go over there and dap him up," Bates said. "Just said, 'what's up man? I appreciate you,' and stuff like that. I just like what he stands for and I support everything he does."
Bates gave him an eyeful on a day the Bengals defense gave Flores' offense very little in the first half (two field goals by an offense averaging 17 first-half points) and then next to nothing in the red zone in the second half.
The secondary is carrying them and if you want to know why Miami's best receiver, DeVante Parker, took a poke at Shawn Williams early in the fourth quarter, start by going back to earlier in the second half when cornerback William Jackson III defended Parker on a pair of third-down end-zone passes to force field goals.
"The thing I like about what we're doing is we just continue to fight. Just continue to challenge the guys in the huddle," Bates said. "We give up a big play, they're down there on the goal line and I just continue to preach 'We cannot give up a touchdown. We cannot give up a touchdown.' And we held our own. I think we held a team to 19 points in back-to-back weeks. It doesn't happen a lot in the NFL. Not moral victories or anything like that, but I like the energy that we played with on defense today."
Bell, too. Defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo is using him more and more on the blitz. He blew up Dolphins rookie quarterback Tua Tagovailoa just as he was throwing on a third down in the second quarter.
Linebacker Jordan Evans picked up the ball and jogged 55 yards for a touchdown while the Dolphins watched, but a replay called it merely an incomplete pass. Yet it was part of an effort that held the Dolphins without a third-down conversion until they ran out the clock. It was 1-for-10 as Anarumo forced Tagovailoa to move beyond his first read. It showed just how far Joe Burrow is ahead of Tagovailoa and it's a lot more than No. 1 pick and the No. 5 pick.
It was only the tenth time since 1991 the Bengals allowed one or no third-down conversions and the first time in six years. Not always a lock to win. They're 6-4 in those 10.
"Coach Lou had a really good idea of what they wanted to do. Tua, like I said at the beginning of the week, he doesn't check a lot at the line as far as how Ryan (Fitzpatrick) does it," Bates said. "We had a really good feel for that, but in the second half I don't think they got in a third-down situation. They were just moving the ball really well. We got to continue to preach to be more consistent. That's something we have to continue to work on."
If the offense had a bad half, the defense had a bad quarter. The third. They didn't get much help from an offense that went three-and-out twice, but after holding Tagovailoa to 111 yards in the first half, he had more than that in the third and finished with 296 yards. The Dolphins did it by getting to the line in a hurry.
"In the first half I think we stopped the run," said Bates of that 32-yard effort. "We eliminated the explosive plays. In the second half they got us on our heels when they were going hurry up and in that empty formation that they continue to go into. They kind of got us backed up and they were moving the ball really well.
"But like I said we continued to fight and we were giving up three points and I'll live with that any day."
Bates has bigger fish to fry than the game's turning point when Bengals wide receiver Tyler Boyd got ejected for fighting when he came up bristling after he got mauled on the sidelines by two Dolphins cornerbacks and a cameraman. When there were no offsetting 15-yard penalties, only one on Boyd, the 53-yard field goal was missed.
"I think on defense you kind of like that stuff," said Bates, when asked if that threw them out of sync. "It gets you going even more throughout the game. Tyler doesn't play on defense, so it didn't really affect us on defense. We just continued to play with energy. Like I said, I'm just proud the guys continuing to fight."
Bates is worried about larger things than turning points. Like winning, leading and doing it the right way. The 13 tackles are going to get him even more Pro Bowl pub, but …
"That only means so much. I play this game to win football games. I'm here and I feel like I'm leader of this team on the defensive side," Bates said. "My main goal is to win football games. Like I said and like I continue to say, as long as I continue to do what I've got to do, live right and make sure my family is good, God will take care of the rest of that. I'll get the national media (attention) when I need to, but right now I'm just focusing on building the right environment around here."
Right now, Bates and Bell and their defense are giving them the air.