ARLINGTON, Texas -- For the second straight week Sunday the Bengals lost a heartbreaker on a walk-off field goal, as Cowboys kicker Brett Maher nailed a 50-yarder as time expired to give Dallas a 20-17 win.
After a 19-play, 83-yard Cincinnati scoring drive capped off by a two-point conversion tied the game at 17 with under four minutes left, the Bengals defense once again forced a three-and-out, giving quarterback Joe Burrow the ball back with a chance to win the game. But Dallas' star cornerback Trevon Diggs came up with a key tackle on Tyler Boyd on a third down and on the ensuing drive Cooper Rush completed three straight passes to get the Cowboys in Maher's range. It was Rush's (19 of 31, 235 yards, 95.5 passer rating) day. One of those three completions was tipped and still got there.
The Cincinnati defense, which started the day by giving up a pair of extended touchdown drives in the first quarter, was lights out in the second half. Coordinator Lou Anarumo's unit held Dallas to just two first downs in the fourth quarter before the final drive, and when the Cowboys were threatening in Bengals territory late in the third, strong safety Vonn Bell stripped tight end Dalton Schultz and nose tackle D.J. Reader came up with his first career fumble recovery to swing momentum in Cincinnati's favor.
Though Burrow and the offense had a quick three-and-out following the turnover, the Bengals' defense once again did its job and forced a punt. On the next possession, Burrow led a 19-play, 83-yard drive that ate up 8:54 and ended with a five-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Tee Higgins, where Burrow rolled away from the rush to the right waving Higgins to go with him and as Higgins ran away from cornerback Anthony Brown Burrow hit him for the touchdown.
Cincinnati converted three third downs and a fourth-and-six during the drive to keep the chains moving. After the Higgins score made it 17-15, the Bengals went for two and Burrow found wide receiver Tyler Boyd wide open in the back of the end zone after his big-league pivot on an option route.
One of the drive's most crucial plays came early, when Burrow rolled away from pressure and found Higgins near the left sideline to convert a third-and-10. Burrow had to navigate the pocket all afternoon, as the Cowboys were able to get sustained pressure and recorded six sacks. The Bengals reached the marker on two more third downs, going to tight end Hayden Hurst on each. Then came a fourth-and-six at the Dallas 27-yard line with just over six minutes left, when Zac Taylor opted to put the ball in the hands of his quarterback. The decision paid off, as Burrow connected with wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase on a slant for eight yards that got Cincinnati inside the red zone.
Defensive end Sam Hubbard took over on the following drive to force Dallas' third punt of the second half. On a first down from the Cowboys 49-yard line, he crashed into the backfield and swung down his old Ohio State teammate Ezekiel Elliott for a four-yard loss, and on the next play pressured Rush into a quick throw that fell incomplete. Defensive tackle BJ Hill got his hand on Rush's pass on third-and-14, as the defense was once again able to get off the field.
The Bengals started the following drive from their own eight-yard line with 2:13 left, looking to string together another big time series to win the game. Burrow was faced with a third-and-three and again expected pressure, and hit Boyd on a quick out to the right side. Boyd had only Diggs to beat, but the Pro Bowl corner wrapped him up at the line of scrimmage and Cincinnati had to turn it back over to Rush.
Though Kevin Huber stepped up with a 63-yard punt to the Dallas 21, a strong return by KaVontae Turpin put the Cowboys in good position for their last-minute drive. Completions of eight yards to wide receiver CeeDee Lamb, 12 to wide receiver Noah Brown and another 10 to Lamb quickly got Dallas into distance for a Maher game-winner. Just as Chris Boswell did for the Steelers last Week at Paycor Stadium, Maher drilled his kick through the uprights to send the Bengals to an 0-2 start.
The Cowboys didn't score a touchdown in their Week 1 loss to Tampa Bay, but Rush got them one on the opening drive that marked the first time they had been in the red zone this year. Noah Brown began his huge day with two killing plays, a wide-open 17-yard catch over the middle on fourth-and-two and a nine-yard touchdown running away from safety Jessie Bates III's on Rush's play-action naked bootleg for the 7-0 lead.
Burrow was sacked three times in a first half that also saw the Bengals convert just two of seven third downs. Cincinnati could only muster 88 total yards, and Burrow -- completing seven of 12 passes for 72 yards -- was harassed enough that he wasn't able to target Higgins or Boyd.
Meanwhile Rush was 12 of 18 for 162 yards in the half.
Cincinnati's first nine points came from Evan McPherson, who improved to a perfect 24-of-24 on field goal attempts on the road in his brief career. McPherson was good from distances of 43, 50 and 46 yards, and each snap came from Cal Adomitis, a rookie making his NFL debut after being signed to the active roster earlier this week.
Cowboys game-breaking linebacker Micah Parsons, who was a point of focus for the Bengals O-line entering the game, made his presence felt with two sacks.
The Bengals did finish the game relatively healthy, but tight end Drew Sample was declared out with a right knee injury sustained in the second quarter.
That was a huge injury, though. Sample was part of a third down package designed to protect Burrow from the versatile Parsons. When he went down, they were used backup tackle D'Ante Smith as an extra offensive lineman and two tight ends in an effort to get running back Joe Mixon going after he had five carries for five yards in the first half. Mixon finished with 57 yards on 19 carries.