The Bengals handed Cowboys quarterback Andy Dalton a homecoming gift Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium by losing three fumbles in their first three series and then having a touchdown taken of the board with a penalty in the second half during a 30-7 loss.
Quarterback Brandon Allen played a gritty, courageous game before leaving with a leg injury late in the fourth quarter. He had his best game yet in relief of Joe Burrow on 27 of 36 passing for 217 yards and a touchdown.
But it wasn't enough to overcome the turnovers and Dalton's workman-like 16 of 23 for 185 yards and two touchdowns. The Bengals had 309 yards, their most without quarterback Joe Burrow, but for the third straight game they could only score one touchdown. And they had the ball nearly 10 more minutes than Dallas.
The Bengals couldn't capitalize on the momentum they swiped at the end of the first half on A.J. Green's five-yard touchdown catch with eight seconds left that cut the lead to 17-7. It underlined Green's bounce-back game with six catches for 62 yards after going catch-less in the last two games.
Their steel-belted special teams buckled on the opening kickoff of the second half when they gave up their longest kick return since 2017 on running back Tony Pollard's 60-yard run.
They did get a stop inside the 5 to force a field goal, though. On second down, cornerback William Jackson III had wide receiver Amari Cooper covered at the back pylon and on third down cornerback Darius Phillips had wide receiver Michael Gallup over the middle.
Phillips, in his first appearance since Nov. 1 after a knee issue, looked like he came up lame, but he did come back.
The Bengals offensive frustration continued on their first series of the second half. After right tackle Bobby Hart was called for a hold, Allen had to call a timeout on second-and-17 when it appeared Green and wide receiver Tyler Boyd didn't get the call and they ended up punting for the first time in the game.
Then they had to do it again on the next series. On second-and-six rookie wide receiver Tee Higgins dropped a first-down pass over the middle and on third down the Cowboys weren't fooled on a screen to running back Giovani Bernard that got stopped for two yards by cornerback Rashard Robinson.
That continued the Bengals' grueling stretch coming out of the locker room for the second half. They haven't scored in the third quarter since Oct. 25.
But their defense kept giving them chances. Two snaps after free safety Jessie Bates III should have had an interception, he blitzed on third-and-eight and hit Dalton's arm, plus he got an intentional grounding call.
The Bengals offense took the hint and embarked on a 15-play drive that went 70 yards and more than seven minutes.
But no points.
After he dropped another pass and came off a block too early on Allen's third-down scramble, Higgins turned a fourth-and-two quick-hitter over the middle into an 18-yarder.
During the drive, Cowboys rush end Randy Gregory drilled Allen and it looked like his foot got hurt. Even though he was limping, he did find Green for 16 yards.
Then came the killer. Running back Samaje Perine broke a 15-yard touchdown run through the middle, but right guard Quinton Spain was called for a hold as he grabbed middle linebacker Jaylon Smith outside the shoulder pads.
Check out some of the best images from the Week 14 contest as the Cincinnati Bengals faced the Dallas Cowboys from Paul Brown Stadium.
Faced with a third-and-seven and fourth-and-seven, Allen couldn't convert and he had trouble getting some mustard on his throws as he limped to and from the line of scrimmage in a great effort. On third down he threw behind tight end Drew Sample on the sideline and on fourth down he badly overthrew the double-covered Boyd in the left corner of the end zone on what would be his last pass of the day before being replaced by Ryan Finley.
On the next snap, Cowboys running back Zeke Elliott, quiet all day with just 22 yards, busted a 26-yarder. The Bengals defense rallied again with a third-down sack by linebacker Jordan Evans, but Greg Zuerlein drilled a 55-yarder to make it 23-7.
With the Cowboys teeing off, Finley got sacked on two of his first throws and he pumped an incompletion into the middle to a blanketed Boyd on fourth down to give Dallas the ball on the Cincinnati 16 and Dalton was left to grind it out.
He threw his second touchdown pass of the day on a fourth-and-one play-action miss-direction pass to Pollard from seven yards out on the first play after the two-minute warning.