The Bengals' defense built the franchise record of 11 straight home victories, but Carolina and remarkable quarterback Cam Newton shattered it with a mind-blowing 37-37 tie on 27 second-half points as Cincinnati kicker Mike Nugent pushed a 36-yard field goal wide right at the overtime gun in one of the wildest Paul Brown Stadium games ever.
It was Nugent's first miss in four overtime kicks during his ten seasons in the NFL on his shortest attempt. It's only the second Bengals tie in the nearly four decades of overtime and the first since a 13-13 PBS standoff with the Eagles in 2008.
With 2:19 left in overtime Andy Dalton drove the Bengals from his own 20 to the Panthers 16 for what looked to be his 12th game-winning drive in the fourth quarter and overtime. First he converted a third-and-three to wide receiver Mohamed Sanu for Sanu's career-high 10th catch and then followed it up with a 24-yard throw to rookie wide receiver James Wright on a crossing route to the right sideline for his first NFL catch. The ball moved to the 16 when the Panthers were called for roughing Dalton.
Panthers quarterback Cam Newton was all over the place in the OT as he became the second straight 100-yard rusher against a Bengals defense (102) that allowed just one last year. They were also crushed by 13 penalties for 119 yards.
Leading 37-34 with 8:35 left in the OT, the Bengals needed a stop for the win. But like what happened the entire second half, they couldn't get it.
The Panthers got a life on third-and-10 when Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict was called for illegal contact, and Newton then ran a zone read for 12 yards to the Bengals 27. Cornerback Adam Jones defended a jump ball in the end zone to wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery and on third down he teamed with Burfict to stop wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin a yard shy of the first down and set up Graham Gano's 36-yard field goal with 2:19 left in overtime.
The Bengals drew first blood in overtime when they won the toss. Dalton, solid when he had to be on 33 of 43 passing for 323 yards, kept that first drive going on third-and-one when he scrambled out of the pocket. Then Sanu, racking up a career-high in catches and yards (120), picked up a first down with a throw on the sideline for 15 yards. Then Dalton quarterback sneaked on third-and-one to get the first down at the Panthers 24.
Then when running back Giovani Bernard lost two yards up the middle, Dalton was looking at third-and-seven from the Panthers 21 and he got sacked for the first time in the game. It looked to be a coverage sack with five receivers split wide.
Nugent then hammered a 42-yard field goal with 8:35 left in overtime to make it 37-34 and hand it over to the defense.
With 2:16 left in regulation, Newton drove the Panthers from his 20 to Graham Gano's tying 44-yard field goal as regulation ended. Newton converted a fourth-and-two and got a juggling nine-yard catch over the middle from rookie wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin with 23 seconds left to put them in field-goal range.
Cornerback Adam Jones, returning a kickoff for the first time since 2012, got the call with 4:50 left in the game after the Panthers had just taken a 31-24 lead and he wasted no time. Using blocks by Vincent Rey and Cedric Peerman, Jones burst up the middle, veered down the left sideline and got hauled down by safety Colin Jones at the Panthers 3.
Rookie running back Jeremy Hill did the rest with a three-yard run that tied the game at 31 with 4:32 left. Then as the crowd of 57,053 serenaded the tie, Hill gave the nod to Bengals great Ickey Woods with the Ickey Shuffle.
Newton then made a drastic overthrow and Bengals safety Reggie Nelson was in the middle of the field for the pick and he set up the return to the Panthers 24.
But this is where the Bengals couldn't salt the game away by running time off the clock or getting a touchdown. A holding call on right tackle Andre Smith negated what looked to be Hill's touchdown run and then on the next snap, Smith was called for a false start. But the Bengals got back into field-goal range on a whacky 17-yard play when Sanu caught a tipped pass off the hands of Panthers cornerback Antoine Cason.
It was left toNugent and he hit a 38-yard field goal with 2:16 left to give the Bengals the 34-31 lead.
In the middle of it all, the Bengals linebackers continued to take shots. Middle linebacker Rey Maualuga left in the fourth quarter with a hamstring injury and when SAM backer Emmanuel Lamur made the last tackle of regulation he left with a shoulder injury. The two don't look like they can go next week in Indianapolis.
Newton converted a third-and-seven with nine minutes left in the game when he got out of the pocket and rushed for nine yards. He then converted a fourth-and-two on a slant for 13 yards to Benjamin and followed it up with a throwback pass to tight end Greg Olson, wide open in the left flat for a 13-yard touchdown pass that gave the Panthers a 31-24 lead with 4:50 left.
A challenge call revived the Bengals early in the fourth quarter and gave wide receiver Brandon Tate a first down on a third-and-eight with a sideline catch. Dalton then hit back-to-back passes of 22 and 34 to Sanu, the last one a gorgeous touchdown throw down the left sideline as Sanu raced past cornerback Melvin White.
Newton couldn't have picked a more perfect time for his first rushing touchdown of the season when he followed his pulling guard and fought off goal-line tackles by Burfict and cornerback Terence Newman for a 12-yard TD that broke a 17-17 tie with 3:54 left in the Bengals' disastrous third quarter.
The Bengals had built the home winning streak on a defense that featured stingy third down play (23 percent) and a relentless pass rush but they lost their way in the 14-0 third quarter and they weren't helped by two Dalton interceptions. They had no sacks on the day and let Newton convert 47 percent (8-for-17) of his third downs.
Newton set up his touchdown when he stared down a third-down blitz and hit Cotchery through a zone on the right sideline for a 26-yard play. The big play on a day the Bengals were plagued by penalties was a 29-yard pass interference call on Newman running with wide receiver Philly Brown down the middle.
The Bengals dodged a bullet early in the fourth quarter when Dalton drilled his second interception over the head of tight end Jermaine Gresham in the middle of the field into the arms of safety Roman Harper. But Gano missed a 39-yard field goal to set up Sanu's touchdown.
The Bengals were about to show why they defer when they win the toss when they drove to the Panthers 26 on the opening drive of the second half with a 17-10 lead.
But Dalton threw a floating interception at the Carolina 10 as he was getting hit and Cason's 80-yard return to the Bengals 10 turned the day upside down. Two plays later Carolina running back Fozzy Whittaker went untouched up the middle for four-yard touchdown that tied it at 17 with 9:07 left in the third quarter.
Dalton had been having a heck of a drive after completing 14 of 16 passes in the first half. He cleared the way for a first down with a rolling block on 260-pound Mario Addison on the edge at the end of a reverse to wide receiver Brandon Tate. A few snaps later Dalton ran the zone read for 20 yards for the longest run of his career.
But on third-and-nine from the Carolina 26 Dalton appeared to get hit by linebacker Thomas Davis coming from the Bengals left side.
Not only did the Bengals have to respond to their loss in New England Sunday and the loss of Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green, they had to respond immediately to Carolina's first jab of adversity in the form of a 15-play drive to open the game.
The Bengals jetted to a 17-10 half-time lead when Bernard squirted through the middle, bounced off fullback Ryan Hewitt, veered to the left sideline and outran the house for an 89-yard touchdown that is now the second longest run in Bengals history. Bernard gave the Bengals the lead with 11:50 left in the first half with the longest touchdown in the NFL this season and the longest run in Bengals history behind only Corey Dillon's 96-yard touchdown in Detroit on Oct. 28, 2001. It also virtually guaranteed the first 100-yard day of Bernard's career and the first one for the Bengals since BenJarvus Green-Ellis on Dec. 13, 2012 in Philadelphia. He finished the half with 107 yards on eight carries and 137 on 18 carries for the game when he returned after injuring his shoulder on a big tackle from Panthers middle linebacker Luke Kuechly.
The Panthers wasted no time denting the Bengals' defensive stand during the PBS 11-game winning streak when they held the ball for the first 15 plays and 9:15 on the opening drive and Newton converted the fourth third down of the drive on a three-yard touchdown pass to Benjamin to give Carolina a 7-0 lead.
But the Bengals bounced off the ropes with a 14-play drive that gobbled 6:24 with Dalton hitting four different receivers on third down to keep the drive alive just a week after they went 0-for-7 on third down in New England. Dalton capped it off on a five-yard pass to Tate for his first touchdown in two years.
Tate motioned across the backfield and Dalton flipped it to him on the left perimeter, where he got a block from Sanu and Tate dove on the pylon to make it 7-7 with 14:21 left in the second quarter.
Tate converted the first third down, third-and-four, when he picked up 16 yards on a slant underneath Cason. Then it was wide receiver Dane Sanzenbacher converting a slant underneath for 15 yards on third-and-seven before tight end Jermaine Gresham converted third-and eight over the middle for a leaning 10-yard pickup. Sanu got the fourth when he went under Godfrey for six yards on third-and-six.
The Bengals had been holding foes to 23 percent on third down in the streak, but on third-and-13, the Bengals couldn't haul down Newton in the pocket and when he escaped, Burfict was called for hitting the quarterback late on the sideline to give Carolina a first down at the Bengals 10.
On third-and-three, Newton went play-action and found Benjamin wide open over the middle and he held on after a big hit by safety George Iloka.
The Panthers attacked the Bengals just like the Patriots and went over the middle. On the first third down, third-and-five from the Panthers 19, Newton threw it low and behind wide receiver Jason Avant, but he was all by himself and able to lean back and catch it for a 17-yard gain.
The Panthers also took a page out of the Pats' playbook and went for the tight end. Staring at a blitz and man coverage, Newton hit Olsen working on Nelson for a 13-yard gain as Newton hit seven of eight passes on the drive.
The Bernard TD was set up on a brilliant play by Adam Jones on third-and-one. Newton hit Benjamin with a quick throw at the line of scrimmage and despite his many jukes Benjamin couldn't shake Jones and the tackle forced the punt.
The punt return got pushed back to the Bengals 11 when rookie cornerback Darqueze Dennard was flagged for hitting a Panther out-of-bounds, but Bernard had the place going crazy 89 yards later.
The Bengals had a scare in the first half when Burfict went to the locker room following a hit to the head after missing the previous two games with a concussion. But he was allowed back and when he returned his second unnecessary roughness call set up Gano's 39-yard field goal that made 14-10.
Jones and Burfict converged on Benjamin over the middle and Burfict was called for hitting a defenseless receiver.
The Bengals came in as one of the least penalized teams in the league, but struggled in the first half. Dalton threw another beauty on third-and-two over the middle to Sanu, and he took it for 32 yards. But Gresham was called for being in motion and they had to go back to third-and-seven and Dalton went right back to Sanu. Sanu got the first down with a leaner on the sideline that got the spot.
Gresham, the Bengals leading receiver in the half with four catches for 44, shook loose for a 23-yard completion over the middle, but when he was called for illegal motion two snaps later the Bengals had to settle for Nugent's 44-yard field goal with three seconds left in the first half to make it 17-10.
Dalton and Newton put on a great show in the first meeting of 2011 draft classmates. Dalton went 14 of 16 for 111 yards and Newton went 13of 17 for 110 yards and each had a touchdown pass.
PREGAME NOTES: As expected, the Bengals lined up Sunday without Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green against the Panthers at Paul Brown Stadium after head coach Marvin Lewis categorized his big toe injury as "day-to-day."
It's the first time since his rookie year on Nov. 20, 2011 in Baltimore that Green has been inactive, although he played just five snaps because of his toe back on Sept. 14 in the victory over Atlanta.
With wide receiver Marvin Jones (ankle) inactive for every game this season, the Bengals bulked up for a smash-mouth game with every offensive linemen but Kevin Zeitler (calf) active. One thing that was unexpected was both running backs, Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill, were announced in the starting lineup. It was Hill's first NFL start.
Running back Rex Burkhead was also active for the first time this season and second time in his two years. But it was a special teams move with the newest Bengal, linebacker Khairi Fortt, inactive. Claimed by the Bengals on Tuesday after he was waived by the Saints, Fortt didn't practice until Thursday.
Also inactive were two defensive linemen, tackle Brandon Thompson (knee) and rookie end Will Clarke. Cornerback Chris Lewis-Harris also didn't dress.
As expected, Pro Bowl linebacker Vontaze Burfict checked back into the lineup after missing the last two games with a concussion.
Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart (knee) was inactive, joining the club's other leading rusher, DeAngelo Williams. That meant former Cleveland running back Fozzy Whittaker got the start. Whittaker came into the game without a carry this season and 28 in his career.
The Bengals won the toss and deferred.