Emerging from his three-game exile quarterback Andy 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 halftime lead over the Jets Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium.
Among Dalton’s come-back heroics was his 17-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Tyler 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 Ken 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, wide receiver Tyler Boyd (four caches for 50 yards in the half) drew a 39-yard pass interference call on linebacker Neville Hewitt at the Jets. Bengals running back Joe 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 has just 18 yards on seven carries in the half, but three of them were for at least five yards against a crew along just 2.6 yards per rush during the last month. Plus, Mixon was active on swing passes with three catches for 17 yards
The Jets opened the game with a 13-play drive that resulted in Sam Ficken’s 42-yard field goal six minutes in. Quarterback Sam Darnold (18 of 25 for 134 yards) set the tone on that drive on the third play, a third-and-six he converted when wide receiver Robbie Anderson beat cornerback William 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 back right tackle Brandon 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 wide receiver Auden 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
The on the next play Dalton unleashed a terrific line-drive bolt to pass 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 Randy 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.
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 left tackle Kelvin 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.