After record-setting quarterback Andy Dalton staked the Bengals to a 17-6 half-time lead, the defense pulled the plug on one of the NFL hottest offenses in the second half to break a franchise-long 13-game losing streak and give head coach Zac Taylor his first NFL victory with a 22-6 win over the Jets Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium.
The Jets came in scoring 34 points in each of their last three games, but on Sunday they fell victim to left end Carlos Dunlap's hat trick, tying his career high of three sacks, as the Bengals pass rush sacked quarterback Sam Darnold four times and forced a game-changing safety with a hold in the end zone. The game fittingly ended with Dunlap chasing Darnold to the sideline for a throwaway as Cincinnati suffocated the Jets on 271 yards. It's the first time nearly four years to the day the Bengals defense kept a team out of the end zone when they beat the Browns in Cleveland, 37-3.
In his return from the bench, Dalton matched the 88 career passer rating he brought into the season with 22 of 37 for 243 yards while passing Ken Anderson on the club's all-time touchdown passes list.
The first Bengals' penalty of the game (they only had two while the Jets had a crushing 10 for 106 yards) didn't come until their first series of the second half and it was a killer. (It's also one of those where they may get a sorry-about-that letter this week). Wide receiver Auden Tate was called for a block in the back during running back Joe Mixon's 31-yard run that would have put the Bengals on the Jets 4.
The Bengals couldn't recover on that drive. On third-and-five Dalton had to unload it quickly with cornerback Brian Poole racing in from the edge. Wide receiver Tyler Boyd wasn't ready and it was drilled through his hands. Then Randy Bullock missed his first field-goal try of fewer than 52 yards since early in the season when his 48-yarder went wide right. But Mixon and Boyd were yeoman on this day. Mixon plowed for 44 yards on 19 carries against the Jets' No. 1 rush defense allowing just 2.6 yards per the last month and Boyd wriggled for 59 yards on five catches and each accounted for the Bengals' touchdowns.
After the Jets matched it with a holding penalty of their own that wiped out running back Le'Veon Bell's 23-yard run on third-and-14, Dalton went back to work. Mixon got blown up for a four-yard loss, but he came back to rifle a 16-yard pass to Tate over the middle for the first down. Then, on fourth-and-two from the Jets 45, Dalton lined them up quickly. But he backed off when the Jets didn't move and it was left to punter Kevin Huber dropping it on the Jets 2.
It turned out that Huber, in his record-breaking 170th game as the Bengals punter, made what could been the hugest play. With Darnold dropping back in his end zone and hitting Bell on a dump pass, Jets left tackle Kelvin Beachum was called for a hold against back-up end Andrew Brown on his second snap of the game and 10th in the last month. That was a safety that gave the Bengals a 19-6 lead with 5:46 left in the third quarter
The Bengals couldn't put it away on the ensuing series, but they did gain their first 16-point lead of the season when Bullock rebounded to hit a 47-yarder with 1:15 left in the third quarter. Dalton got a first down when he scrambled on third-and-one and then got sacked for the first and only time (with 2:26 left in the third quarter) despite a play-action, but nose tackle Steve McLendon roared up the middle for a 10-yard loss.
The Bengals defense was immense along with that special teams unit that gave Cincinnati a 13-yard edge in field position heading into the fourth quarter. The Cincinnati defensive line came to play and they went into the fourth quarter forcing three incompletions on a three-and-out, the last one coming when right end Sam Hubbard flushed Darnold out of the pocket and then hit his arm as he pursued.
That wasn't enough for a defense that flexed its muscles against what had been a torrid New York offense. The Jets started the fourth quarter with just two field goals and they began the quarter with another three-and-out, courtesy of a third down they blitzed linebacker Nick Vigil, safety Shawn Williams and Hubbard red-dogging as a linebacker. But it was Dunlap that got the sack, his second of the day for 3.5 sacks in the last three games.
View photos from the Week 13 matchup as the Bengals host the Jets at Paul Brown Stadium.
The Bengals needed it because the offense sputtered as the game lurched from the third quarter to the fourth. They had to take a timeout on third-and-eight with one second left in the third quarter and then Dalton couldn't hook up with Tate over the middle.
Then on their next series on third-and-four, center Trey Hopkins rolled a rare bad snap and Dalton tried to foolishly hot-potato it to running back Giovani Bernard in the flat, but it was ruled an incomplete pass.
Have no fear, Carlos was here. The Jets got their first first down of the second half early in the fourth quarter, but Dunlap got his third sack of the day (tying his career high set in Denver in 2015), pummeling right tackle Brandon Shell once again to set up a fourth-and-eight. But Darnold couldn't find his top guy, wide receiver Robbie Anderson, with Will Jackson on the coverage and the Bengals had the ball again.
Emerging from his three-game exile Dalton gave the Bengals a lift on and off the field when his razor-sharp 155-yard effort in the first half staked the Bengals to a 17-6 half-time lead.
Among Dalton's come-back heroics was his 17-yard touchdown pass to Boyd with 1:12 left in the first quarter that gave them a 7-3 lead and Dalton the Bengals' all-time touchdown passes record with 198 to eclipse Anderson. To honor Anderson's precision, this No. 14 went 14 of 20 to go with a 109 passer rating in the half.
Dalton got a big hand from his defense that held the NFL's hottest offense to two field goals in the half. In their three-game winning streak the Jets had scored 34 points in each game while averaging 365 total yards and 272 passing yards. In the first half the Bengals held the Jets to 161 and 116, respectively.
With the Bengals defense generating two sacks and the Cincinnati offensive line keeping Dalton clean in the half, Dalton escaped from a certain sack when he wriggled away to the left and throwing against his body somehow got the ball to tight end C.J. Uzomah and Uzomah somehow kept his feet in for a 12-yard play on the last-play before the two-minute warning.
Then Dalton's main man, Boyd (four caches for 50 yards in the half) drew a 39-yard pass interference call on linebacker Neville Hewitt at the Jets 5. Mixon then converted to give the Bengals their first two-score lead of the season when he followed terrific interior blocking for a five-yard touchdown that gave the Bengals a 17-3 lead with 1:46 left in the half.
Dalton had the Jets' No. 8 defense back on its heels getting the ball out of his hand quickly to help keep their dangerous sackers at bay.
Rookie left guard Michael Jordan got back into the starting lineup for the first time in two months and he was part of the Bengals' sixth different offensive line this season that in the first half handled the Jets' top-ranked run defense. Mixon had just 18 yards on seven carries in the half, but three of them were for at least five yards against a crew along allowing that 2.6 per lately. Plus, Mixon was active on swing passes with three catches for 17 yards, four for 26 for the game.
The Jets opened the game with a 13-play drive that resulted in Sam Ficken's 42-yard field goal six minutes in. Darnold (18 of 25 for 134 yards) set the tone on that drive on the third play, a third-and-six he converted when Robbie Anderson beat Jackson III inside.
As promised, Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo tried to show Darnold different looks. They came out with five defensive linemen and when end Sam Hubbard dropped on the tight ends, Ryan Griffin and Daniel Brown, Darnold found them to help move the sticks. Rookie Renell Wren lined up at right end to start the game and Pro Bowl defensive tackle Geno Atkins didn't check in until third down.
The Bengals got their first sack of the game on the next series. On second-and-three they forced a check-down pass to make it third-and two and that's when Dunlap walked Shell into Darnold, giving Dunlap 3.5 sacks in the last three games.
The Bengals kept it going on the next series on third-and-four when they showed a double A gap blitz but it was right and Sam Hubbard's bull-rush that got another third-down sack that was Hubbard's fifth of the year.
Dalton's return series ended up in a punt. On his first snap he had Boyd down the seam, but over threw him. Mixon got chewed up on his one carry up the middle for a loss and on third-and-four the Jets chased Dalton out of the pocket and he had to throw it away.
Mixon got it going on the next drive with pair of six-yard runs on first down as he stalked the Jets' left side behind the three receiver-set. And then it was Dalton and his old friend Boyd, but only after Tate made what is becoming a signature play, a bounding, leaping, cloud-scraping 18-yard catch, this time working on safety Marcus Maye. That was big because, like Mixon's runs, it was on first down
On the next play Dalton unleashed a terrific line-drive bolt on a throw Anderson, the most accurate quarterback of his era, would have loved. The record-breaker was perfect, fired between three Jets at the goal line and Boyd secured it amid the mayhem to give the Bengals a 7-3 lead with 1:12 left in the first quarter.
On the next series the Bengals took a 10-3 lead on Bullock's 24-yard field goal with 9:13 left in the half. But it should have been 14-3 for their first two-score lead of the season. On third-and-two from the Jets 6, Uzomah ran from right to left wide open along the goal line and Dalton put it right there, but Uzomah dropped it. But he would come back with that great toe-tapping catch.
With the Bengals defense stout on third down, their offense did a nice job against Jets defensive coordinator Gregg Williams' vaunted third-down blitzes. On third-and-eight, safety Jamal Adams, 6.5 sacks in the last four games, lined up on the Bengals' left edge and Dalton directed traffic well enough that Adams got swallowed up by left tackle Cordy Glenn. Meanwhile Dalton threw a 17-yard seed to Boyd in the middle of the field. Adams had one tackle in the half and played the whole game before leaving PBS in a boot.
Then up 10-3, the defense forced another punt when Darnold's 23-yard screen pass to running back Bilal Powell was wiped out by Beachum's illegal block. On second-and-19, Will Jackson submarined slot receiver Jamison Crowder for a one-yard loss as the Jets tried to set up another screen.