The Bengals tried to take over Sunday's game against Arizona with their run game but the Cardinals excited more crisply as their 27th-ranked rushing attacked gouged the Bengals in the first half for 148 to take a 13-6 halftime lead at rainy Paul Brown Stadium.
The Bengals lost another wide receiver (Alex Erickson with a concussion), saw safety Shawn Williams carted off the field and extended their streak to six quarters without a touchdown when they could muster just 90 yards, 22 in the air. Quarterback Andy Dalton was four of 10 and had three passes dropped.
Meanwhile, Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray juked the zone read for 48 yards and running back David Johnson skated for 64 more on just 10 carries. The Cards rolled down the field with ease in the final 3:27 of the half and needed a huge play from cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick and curious play call from Cards head coach Kliff Kingsbury. With 14 seconds left, Kirkpatrick read a screen to wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald and the Cards had to scramble to get the field goal.
Check out some of the best gameday images from the Bengals hosting the Arizona Cardinals in Week 5.
After the Bengals nice opening drive (when they got 65 of their yards in the half), the Cards adjusted and gummed up the running game. Dalton, the victim of two dropped passes in the first drive, might have been the victim of another on third down on the third series. He was throwing to rookie Stanley Morgan, Jr., who ran a come-back route and got his hand on a ball that rookie cornerback Byron Murphy, Jr., also got hand on.
Morgan, who had his first NFL catch on the snap before when he took a six-yarder on the sideline, was playing in his first NFL game because a few snaps before Erickson was escorted off the field after he banged his head on the turf converting a first down on a short slant and was done with a concussion. They already went into the game with two receivers on the inactive list that left them with Morgan, another rookie Damion Willis and his four career catches and Auden Tate and his 15. Plus, last year's 1,000-yard receiver Tyler Boyd
Not only that, with Erickson down they had to turn to new return men. Safety Brandon Wilson took the opportunity and took off on his second pro kick return for 52 yards. The Bengals parlayed that, five yards of offense and a Cardinals' personal foul penalty into Randy Bullock's 48-yard field goal with 3:27 left in the half.
Coming into the game with an offensive imbalance, the Bengals moved right away to right it when they gave Mixon the ball eight times on their first drive of the game as he chewed up 60 yards, two off his season-high. But it wasn't enough to end the NFL's longest drought without an opening-drive touchdown.
On third-and-goal from the Arizona 5, Tate dropped a slant that would have walked him into the end zone and for the ninth time in 12 red-zone trips this season the Bengals couldn't get a touchdown. They had to settle for Bullock's chip shot for a 3-0 lead with 8:30 left in the first quarter.
With a reduced roster of receivers, there had been speculation Bengals were forced to look beyond their base personnel set of three wides. Some options would be pairing Giovani Bernard with Mixon in the backfield or using more double tight end sets. That would entail getting more use out of Bernard, who took 31 percent of the snaps Monday night in Pittsburgh, as well as second-round pick Drew Sample at tight end after averaging 13 snaps per game in his first four games.
They did open with double tight ends and it looked like Tate dropped the first snap, too, on a rollout pass. But the Bengals then gave it six straight times to Mixon against an Arizona defense ranked next-to-last overall and fourth from last against the run. Mixon took his turns left and right on inside zones. The biggest pop was an 18-yarder behind left tackle Andre Smith and left guard Michael Jordan. When they got in the red zone, the Bengals did toy Mixon and Bernard on the field together.
But the Cardinals promptly took their first lead of the season with Murray dinking, dunking and running them down the field. He hit four of his first six passes for just 27 yards, but Johnson ripped off 17 on his first three carries. Still, the Cards were facing fourth-and-2 from the Bengals 6 and went for it. Murray faked to Johnson, hid the ball behind his left leg on a rollout and cornerback William Jackson III bit on the fake just enough let Murray get outside for a leap-and-lean run that made it 7-3 with 3:40 left in the first quarter.
Murray followed the same script on the next drive. Johnson rambled for 17 yards and Murray found tight end Charles Clay wide open for 23 more behind Will Jackson after coming into the game with 23 yards all year. Murray also muscled a third-and-three first down over the middle that had the benefit of a nice spot. But wide receiver KeeSean Jackson dropped a fade on third-and-six with the help of Kirkpatrick defending and Zane Gonzalez saw his streak of 19 straight field goals snapped when he sliced a 37-yard try right.
With Mixon getting 67 yards on his first six carries and then six on the next six (he ended the half with 63 yards on 13 carries) and wide receivers dropping like flies, the offense was going nowhere. The Cards jacked it to 10-3 on Gonzalez's 23-yard set up by Murray's two conversions on third-and-long. Murray came into the game sacked a league-high 20 times, but not on those two throws because he had plenty of time. On one of them, defensive tackle Geno Atkins was called for roughing Murray and on another slot corner B.W. Webb tried to muscle Fitzgerald in the slot but ended up on the ground.
PRE-GAME NOTES: The Bengals may be down two starting wide receivers without A.J. Green and John Ross, but for at least their announced starting lineup Sunday against the Cardinals at Paul Brown Stadium they were sticking to their base group of three wide receivers.
Auden Tate moved from the Z spot to Ross' X spot and Alex Erickson moved up the depth chart to make his seventh NFL start and first this season in Tate's spot. Tyler Boyd remained in the slot.
The Bengals opted to dress eight defensive linemen with swing man Andrew Brown getting the nod over rookie nose tackle Renell Wren. They again went with five linebackers in making running back Trayveon Williams and cornerback Greg Mabin inactive. Joining Green (ankle), Wren, Mabin and Williams on the inactive list were third quarterback Jake Dolegala, left tackle Cordy Glenn (concussion) and defensive lineman Kerry Wynn (concussion).