TAMPA, Fla. -They showed up as "Those Bengals," and then spent the rest of the day trying to find the first-place team that dominated the last two games on the road and found them just in time for a huge 14-13 victory over Tampa Bay.
They found the first place 8-3-1 Bengals with 4:11 left and clinging to a 14-13 lead over the Buccaneers as their defense came up with a huge third-down stop at the Cincinnati 42 when left end Carlos Dunlap knocked down a pass on an all-out blitz.
And then Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton pumped fake and hit rookie wide receiver James Wright for a 30-yard pass on third-and-11 with 2:29 left. When running back Jeremy Hill ripped off right tackle for 12 more yards, the Bucs had to start calling timeouts.
But the Bengals couldn't get that final first down and punter Kevin Huber, at the end of another Pro Bowl day, tried to pin them deep. But the ball took a high bounce at the 5 into the end zone and the Bucs had no timeouts left with 2:01 left when they got the ball.
Safety Reggie Nelson missed the tackle early on a 29-yard screen pass to running back Bobby Rainey and right end Wallace Gilberry was called for being in the neutral zone. But a holding call on new center Garrett Gilkey put the Bucs back at the Bengals 41.
But on third down, the Bengals couldn't get to McCown and wide receiver Louis Murphy caught a 21-yard pass over the middle as the clock ticked to 12 seconds and the Bucs ready to kick a short field goal for the win. But they were called for having 12 men on the field and had a second-and-20 with 26 seconds left from the Bengals 46.
They got big pressure for an incompletion on second down and on third down Nelson batted a pass away to set up a fourth down with 12 seconds left, when cornerback Leon Hall made a sure tackle on rookie wide receiver Mike Evans to end it seven yards from the first down.
The Bengals finally took a 14-10 lead over Tampa Bay with 2:09 left in the third quarter at Raymond James Stadium on Dalton's 13-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver A.J. Green as he tried to atone for three first-half interceptions.
But Bengals, knowing they needed to win to stay in first place heading into next Sunday's game against Pittsburgh, couldn't keep it going and opened up the door for the second guessers. Even though the Bengals defense had shut down the Bucs much of the day (despite the loss of nose tackle Domata Peko to an elbow injury in the third quarter), the Bengals decided to try an on-sides kick after going up 14-10 and their league-leading special teams unit faltered.
Kicker Mike Nugent didn't kick it far enough, linebacker Nico Johnson was offsides, and the Bucs recovered it and got the ball at the Bengals 31. Then Bengals defensive tackle Brandon Thompson picked up a roughing the passer call when he blew through the line before the snap.
But the Bucs returned the favor with a penalty and defensive tackle Geno Atkins (in one of his old-fashioned dominating performances) and Dunlap converted a third-and-long for a sack and the Bucs needed Patrick Murray's 42-yard field goal with 14:12 left in the game to cut the Bengals' lead to 14-13.
Dalton, battling flu symptoms this weekend and going through a sleepless Saturday night, gave the Bengals their first lead of the day at 14-10 when he converted two third-and-sixes. One was to Wright running a shallow cross across the field and the other was to wide receiver Mohamed Sanu at the numbers. Dalton then threw a TD seed to Green working out of the slot as he outmuscled cornerback Leonard Johnson.
But the Bengals offense did their defense no favors and kept them on the field in Florida heat. With 8:23 left in the game, the Bucs had just 168 yards of offense but the Cincinnati offense couldn't take advantage, largely because they couldn't run against the Tampa Two defense and the Tampa defensive line got enough pressure on Dalton to keep them at bay.
On the first two series after the TD, the Bengals went three-and-out. On the second series, Green caught a pass for a first down, but it was negated when he was called for offensive pass interference when he pushed off. Then on the next play, Sanu had a first down over middle, but he dropped it.
Hill had a career day with 59 yards on three catches to support Green's four catches for 57 yards.
The Bengals cut Tampa Bay's lead to 10-7 on Dalton's five-yard touchdown run off a zone read with 1:08 left in the first half
But they blew a great chance to at least time the game at halftime when Bengals cornerback Terence Newman cut in front of wide receiver Vincent Jackson at the Bucs 40 with 40 seconds left for his first interception of the season.
The Bengals had all their timeouts left, but after a four-yard pass to Wright, they failed to call a timeout and as they hurried up the Bucs came after them on a blitz. Dalton thought he was just throwing it away to the right sideline over Wright, but he was short and he suffered his third interception of a horrendous first half.
Dalton completed just seven of 11 passes for 62 yards and had a 39 passer rating in the first half but shook it off in the second half to finish 19 of 27 for 176 yards and a 60.6 passer rating.
After watching his offense struggle mightily and down 10-0 late in the first half, coordinator Hue Jackson called a reverse, a double pass, a shovel pass, and then finally the zone read and was rewarded with the TD. Also on the drive, the Bengals moved left guard Clint Boling to right tackle in place of Marshall Newhouse, indicating the Bengals are going to play guys there until they're happy with what they've got. Newhouse checked back into the game for the rest of the second half.
Sanu jacked his career passing to five-for-five when he caught a pass behind the line of scrimmage and then launched a pass to the other side to Green for 11 yards and running back Giovani Bernard raced to the edge for 21 yards on back-to-back carries to get to the Tampa Bay 6.
A holding call on cornerback Isaiah Frey working against Sanu gave the Bengals life and Dalton finished it off on the zone read when tackle Akeem Spence crashed on the edge and Dalton took it inside and then cut it back.
Dalton made a terrible throw on the game's first play for one interception and then threw into double coverage for another interception in the end zone as the Bengals failed to cut into Tampa Bay's 10-0 lead with 6:40 left in the first half.
After a play-action fake on the first snap gave him plenty of time to throw, he threw high and behind Green, right into the arms of Bucs cornerback Johnathan Banks and Banks returned it to the Bengals 9.
But the red zone has been good to the Bengals defense. They came into the game second in the NFL holding teams to no points in the red zone nine times, good for second in the league. They did allow Murray's 32-yard field goal, but only after left tackle Anthony Collins flinched for a false start on third-and-four. When Gilkey rolled back the snap on third-and-nine, it allowed Dunlap to get to McCown.
The Bengals' second drive wasn't much better. With Hill drawing the first two series at running back he lost a yard up the middle on the first snap. Then on third-and-four, Bucs all-world defensive tackle Gerald McCoy then penetrated inside Boling at left guard for a sack.
McCoy came back to haunt the third series when he hit Dalton's arm on third-and-10 to force an incompletion and almost another pick on a flutter ball. The Bengals snapped out of their funk when Bernard went in at running back and popped a 15-yard run up the middle from their own 1 and Dalton hit Green on a slant off play-action for a 20-yard gain. But on third-and-five center Russell Bodine was called for a false start to set up McCoy's pressure.
After McCoy's pressure, Bucs tight end Cameron Brate made his first NFL catch, a 17-yarder after Tampa Bay picked up the blitz. Wide receiver Vincent Jackson got a quick 15–yard throw from McCown working against Newman on the sideline and running back Doug Martin, averaging 2.8 yards this season, looked like a new man.
Martin hammered six yards up the middle to the 30 and then took a pitch for six more to get the Bengals 24 on the second play of the second quarter. Then on third-and-two in the red zone, Bengals defensive tackle Geno Atkins sacked McCown to force the field goal but it was wiped out when Atkins pulled him down by the face mask.
That set up Martin's seven-yard touchdown run when he walked in between SAM linebacker Emmanuel Lamur and Dunlap when they couldn't get off their blocks. That made it 10-0 with 12 minutes left in the half.
It also gave Martin 48 yards on 10 carries, a huge day for a running team that came in ranked 29th against the run. The Bucs were able to run it 15 times and pass it just 11 in the half. But the Bengals defense dominated in the end, allowing just 263 yards total on the day and just 75 yards rushing.
Bernard had 44 yards on five carries and Hill had 23 more on six carries in the half, plus Sanu took a direct snap for 10. Green had two catches in the half for 31 yards.
The Bengals responded to the Bucs' TD with a long drive and got some good running from Hill. But when they got to the Tampa 20, Dalton tried to find Green in the end zone and it was a bad decision because he was double covered and the guy in front of Green, cornerback Brandon Dixon, had an easy pick.
The Bengals caught a Bucs team that not only limped in at 2-9, but were without four starters on Sunday, starting with their best defensive player, WILL backer Lavonte David. Also out were defensive tackle Clinton McDonald, center Evan Dietrich-Smith, and tight end Brandon Myers. Also out was No. 2 tight end Luke Stocker.
PREGAME NOTES: Bengals Pro Bowl WILL linebacker Vontaze Burfict rehabbed before Sunday's game against the Buccaneers before they put him and backup right end Margus Hunt (ankle) on the game's inactive list.
But it's not clear if Burfict is going to be cleared to practice Wednesday when the Bengals begin preparing for next Sunday's Paul Brown Stadium game against the Steelers. Burfict hasn't practiced since his Oct. 29 arthroscopic knee surgery.
The biggest surprises on the inactive lists belonged to the Bucs, where they shelved their best defensive player, WILL backer Lavonte David, thought to be returning from injury.
Also out was their starting center, Evan Dietrich-Smith, who had been out with an illness this week. Their two top tight ends were also out. It had been expected that starting defensive tackle Clinton McDonald, the former Bengal who has three sacks in the last three games, would be out with a hamstring injury that took him out of practice this week and he was put down for his first miss of the season.
Just like last week the Bengals de-activated healthy running back Rex Burkhead, wide receiver Greg Little, offensive lineman Tanner Hawkinson and cornerback Chris Lewis-Harris. The Bengals activated wide receiver Dane Sanzenbacher, down last week, and replaced him on the inactive list with newly-signed offensive lineman Jamon Meredith.
As expected, Marshall Newhouse got the start at right tackle in place of Andre Smith after he was put on injured with a triceps injury following last week's game. But it's believed that left guard Clint Boling was also going to get some work at right tackle during the game.
LEAH STILL HONORED:
In honor of Bengals defensive tackle Devon Still and his daughter's fight against cancer, the Buccaneers on Sunday announced a $2,500 donation to the Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center and planned to air the tribute showcasing "Project Truly Brave," on the scoreboards at Raymond James Stadium before the game.
The Bucs also hosted 50 members of the Pediatric Cancer Foundation...
Former Bengals right end Michael Johnson led the Bucs on to the field carrying the pirate flag...