Tom Brady's consecutive streak of 52 games with a touchdown pass ended Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium before 64,259 when cornerback Adam Jones picked him off at the Bengals 3 with 16 seconds left to preserve a 13-6 victory over the Patriots.
After Brady and the Pats were held to a field goal when he had a first-and-goal from the 1 in the middle of the fourth quarter, the Bengals forced a three-and-out with 2:32 left when right end Wallace Gilberry sacked Brady on third down for their fourth sack of the game and third on third down. It was a huge effort after rookie running back Giovani Bernard fumbled after a helmet hit by cornerback Devin McCourty and the Patriots recovered at the Cincinnati 44.
The defense needed to make one final curtain call. The Bengals couldn't generate a first down and when Kevin Huber drilled a 57-yard punt in a driving rain, Brady got the ball at his 35 with 1:48 left and one timeout. The Bengals gave him a life on fourth-and-four when safety Chris Crocker couldn't hold off on a blitz and was called offsides. Then the refs gave Brady a life when they called Gilberry for roughing Brady, but Jones made the final play.
The Bengals finally scored their first touchdown in 21 drives and eight quarters when former Patriots running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis's one-yard mash job on fourth down behind defensive tackle Domata Peko's block gave Cincinnati a 13-3 lead with 9:21 left.
It capped one of the craziest drives ever seen at the yard on the river, a 93-yard, 14-play slog that consumed 7:48. The Bengals were staring at a third-and-15 from their own two with 1:10 left in the third quarter when quarterback Andy Dalton caught the Pats defense and quick-snapped from his own end zone for a 28-yard play when wide receiver Marvin Jones went flying over cornerback Kyle Arrington to make the catch. On the next snap Bernard rung up another 28-yard play as he cut back on the longest run of his career. A catch-and-run for 17 yards by wide receiver A.J. Green got the ball to the 6 and Green-Ellis put the Bengals on the doorstep when it broke down.
From the 1 on third down Peko lined up as a fullback, but moved before the ball was snapped, putting the ball back at the 5. Dalton ran for four yards on a draw and head coach Marvin Lewis decided to go for it and this time Peko didn't move.
The Bengals defense was immense. It allowed Brady only one third-down conversion on 12 shots, sacked him four times, and hit him eight times. WILL linebacker Vontaze Burfict's blitz on one third down literally tripped up Brady when he crawled to make the play with a diving tackle. On the next third down late in the third quarter, Burfict converged on a short pass to Brandon Bolden and stopped him two yards shy to force another punt.
Mike Nugent hit the seventh field goal of his career of at least 50 yards to give the Bengals a 6-3 lead with 5:43 left in the third quarter as they desperately stalked their first touchdown since 4:05 into the fourth quarter Sept. 22 against Green Bay.
Dalton, who finished 20-of-27 for 212 yards and an 81.1 passer rating, didn't target a wide receiver until about there were about six minutes left in the first half, but when the dust cleared after he hit three different ones the Bengals had a 3-0 lead over the Patriots with 3:12 left on Nugent's 39-yard field goal in a half that ended 3-3.
The Patriots, who have scored more than 500 points in each of the last three seasons, avoided getting shut out in the first half for the first time since Christmas Eve 2011 when Brady got the ball on a Huber punt at the 50 with 37 seconds left after the Bengals ran it three times. A juggling catch over the middle by wide receiver Danny Amendola despite tight coverage by Crocker for 21 yards is all the Pats needed for Stephen Gostkowski's 42-yard field goal with eight seconds left.
But defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, who got the game ball for his efforts, had Brady on his heels all during a game played mostly in overcast but dry conditions until the two-minute deluge and forced the future Hall of Famer to punt five times in the half. The Bengals sacked him twice, hit him a total of five times, and held him to 1-for-7 on third down as he finished 18-of-38 for 197 yards and a 52.2 rating.
But the Bengals offense couldn't take advantage. For all the harping about the running game, the Bengals didn't get much movement until the second half. They ran it more than they threw it (16-12), but only got 3.6 yards per rush with Green-Ellis netting 41 yards on 10 carries and Bernard just three yards on four carries. But the Bengals ended up rushing for a season-high 162 yards on 4.2 yards per carry.
The Bengals scored when left end Carlos Dunlap tomahawked a fumble from the arms of Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount and Reggie Nelson recovered at the 30 as Dunlap atoned for a 15-yard penalty on a horse-collar tackle. Facing a third-and-five, Dalton floated an 18-yard pass over cornerback Aquib Talib to Green on the left sideline and Green picked up 11 more when he ran a slant in front of Talib. When Dalton hit Marvin Jones on another slant for 11, the Bengals had the ball at the 25. But Dalton was sacked by end Chandler Jones working the right side and he had to get the ball to wide receiver Mohamed Sanu for 11 yards to get close enough for Nugent.
Dalton finished the half 10-of-12 for 107 yards as the Bengals went 1-for-6 on third down.
Brady went to work against a reduced Bengals defense without one of its top pass rushers, right end Michael Johnson (concussion), and its best cover player, Leon Hall (hamstring). With Brandon Ghee (thigh) also down, the Bengals didn't have their two top slot corners. No problem on the first series.
Tackle Geno Atkins shot through left guard Logan Mankins and left tackle Nate Solder on a play-action and immediately blew up Brady for a nine-yard loss on second down. Burfict then sniffed out a screen to force a punt to Adam Jones, returning punts for the first time since Sept. 16.
Second series, another sack. This time it came on third-and-two when Brady went play-action again, but Gilberry was right on top of him to force another punt. Burfict showed blitz, but backed off at the last minute and Gilberry whipped past the frozen Solder.
Yet the Bengals had to punt both times after the sacks. They ran it on their first five snaps but despite the absence of Patriots Pro Bowl nose tackle Vince Wilfork they had only one significant gain and that came on the first one when Green-Ellis went left for 13 yards. Bernard checked in on the next series and found no room on a sweep left on first down. After Patriots end Rob Ninkovich beat left tackle Andrew Whitworth inside for a sack, Dalton had to resort to hitting tight end Jermaine Gresham on a checkdown pass on third-and-long.
Dalton's first career red-zone interception couldn't have come at a worse time, in a scoreless game with Brady, and it stopped his NFL-best streak of 37 straight red-zone touchdown passes without an interception. The Bengals got into the red zone with some hellacious running by BJGE, the former Patriot (a 13-yard run ignited by right guard Kevin Zeitler), and big throws to the tight ends. Gresham got a 12-yard gain on mostly yards-after-catch and Dalton went play-action to Tyler Eifert down the middle for 22 yards over the linebacker and under the safety.
It was Eifert that Dalton went after in the red zone, but he made the mistake of throwing back over the middle as he scrambled to his right and linebacker Brandon Spikes was sitting right there as the offensive woes from last week continued. With 7:54 left in the first half Dalton had yet to target Green or any wide receiver. And on the series after the interception, Dalton got four yards on a quick throw to Gresham, Bernard got nothing up the middle and on third down the Bengals tried a swing pass to Bernard and linebacker Jerod Mayo blew up Bernard just as he caught it.
The Bengals didn't get a sack in the first half after the first two series, but continued to get good pressure. Rookie end Margus Hunt, playing in his first NFL game, got into the rotation and showed some good bullrushing. He had one pressure on third-and-six and got a piece of Brady as he threw an incompletion.
The inactive list didn't bode well for the Bengals as they prepared to play the undefeated Patriots and quarterback Tom Brady on Sunday at sold-out and drenched Paul Brown Stadium.
As showers peppered PBS, head coach Marvin Lewis revealed he wouldn't have one of his top pass rushers in right end Michael Johnson (concussion) and his two top slot cornerbacks in Leon Hall (hamstring) and Brandon Ghee (thigh). Meanwhile, Brady had wide receiver Danny Amendola back in the lineup for the first time since the opener to test a devastated secondary down to the bare bones.
Johnson had never missed a game in five seasons, ending his club-long 71 games played streak.
Safety Reggie Nelson returned after missing last week's game in Cleveland with a hamstring injury, but backup safety Chris Crocker, just 10 days removed from the couch, was going to have to take a bunch of snaps in the slot where he would see the NFL's top slot receiver in Julian Edelman, as well as Amendola at times.
Terence Newman and Adam Jones get the starts at cornerbacks, but the guys behind them don't have much experience. Dre Kirkpatrick (hamstring) has missed the last two games and played just one snap from scrimmage this season. Chris Lewis-Harris began the season on the practice squad.
Wallace Gilberry got his first Bengals start, fourth NFL start, and first since 2011 in place of Johnson and rookie end Margus Hunt, the second-round pick from SMU, was active for the first time this season. Other Bengals inactives were the usual: offensive linemen Tanner Hawkinson and Mike Pollak, wide receiver Ryan Whalen and running back Rex Burkhead.
Lewis's captains were Jermaine Gresham and Andre Smith for the offense, Domata Peko and Terence Newman for the defense, and Vincent Rey for special teams. The Pats won the toss and took the ball with under partly sunny skies and no rain.