The Bengals famously steel belted special teams melted in the heat of Sunday's first half when the Dolphins parlayed wide receiver Jakeem Grant's 70-yard punt return for a touchdown and a blocked field goal into a 14-0 halftime lead at Paul Brown Stadium.
It was a dagger with 23 seconds left in a stunningly lethargic half. Grant's dash marked the 14th time in the last 21 games the Bengals have allowed points in the final two minutes of the half.
A week after a thrilling last-second win in Atlanta to vault to 3-1, the Bengals could do nothing right in the first 30 minutes. Their high powered offense went 0-for-5 on third down, an interception and the blocked field goal prevented them from scoring points in the red zone for the first time this season, and the defense racked up countless of missed tackles against the Dolphins' speedy receivers as Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill eased to 12 of 18 passing for 114 yards.
The Bengals' league-best streak of 34 straight scores in the red zone ended on their first series Sunday when quarterback Andy Dalton went for wide receiver A.J. Green coming across the middle at the Dolphins 5 on a third-and-15 snap. Safety Reshad Jones broke on the ball and tipped it in the air and it was grabbed by linebacker Kiko Alonso for the Dolphins' NFL-best 10th interception.
The Bengals had a first down on the Miami 13, but failed to get red-zone points for the first time this season after tight end C.J. Uzomah was called for a hold on running back Joe Mixon's five-yard run.
It's too bad because it was Uzomah that got the Bengals there. As the Dolphins blitzed Dalton, he picked up a low snap and flipped it to Uzomah on a great-call screen pass that went for 25 yards.
Dalton hit his first four passes to different receivers, starting with Alex Erickson and including wide receiver Tyler Boyd along with Uzomah and Green. But that was the best they looked. Dalton hit 11 of 16 passes for 141 yards in the half, but they never got anything going.
For example, Dalton threaded the needle to Boyd on a 31-yard pass down the sideline to give them a first down at the Miami 27 with 5:26 left in the half. But then all hell broke loose. End Robert Quinn beat left tackle Cordy Glenn to blow up a snap and lead to an incompletion. Then on third down the Dolphins collapsed the middle of the pocket and Dalton had to scramble for seven yards to the 19 to set up that blocked field goal from Randy Bullock. Two Dolphins roared up the middle, helped along by right tackle Bobby Hart getting called for failing to line up on the line of scrimmage.
Images from week 5 as the Miami Dolphins face the Cincinnati Bengals.
The Bengals came in wanting to exploit the Dolphins' alignment of wide defensive ends with a down-hill running game featuring the return of Mixon 22 days after a knee scope. Then when Pro Bowl pass rusher Cameron Wake was declared out, Dolphins defensive coordinator Matt Burke had his hands full.
But Burke, a former Bengals linebackers coach, had a good bead on his old team. Mixon's 10 first-half carries netted just 19 yards. When he lost four yards on a play where they completely whiffed on Quinn, it destroyed a great opportunity to grab the momentum.
It came just after the Dolphins ran into punter Kevin Huber and gave the Bengals a first down at the Cincinnati 44. But after Quinn blew up the run, Dalton couldn't hook up with Boyd over the middle as Dalton looked for an off-side call on Miami and didn't get it. On the previous third down, an incompletion to Green over the middle, Green was looking for a holding call on rookie slot receiver Minkah Fitzpatrick.
A Miami offense with the third fewest yards in the league, went 95 with shocking ease for the day;'s first score that made it 7-0 with 7:22 left in the first half.
It was helped by a bevy of missed tackles on speedy receiver Albert Wilson. One went for a first down when WILL linebacker Vontaze Burfict couldn't secure him in the backfield and then nose tackle Andrew Billings missed him. When middle linebacker Preston Brown had to leave when he re-aggravated an ankle injury, Hardy Nickerson replaced him and missed a tackle on Wilson that ignited 16-yard pass play.
The Bengals gave up their obligatory third down on third and four when Tannehill had plenty of time to hit wide receiver Danny Amendola getting inside cornerback Darqueze Dennard for 16 more.
Then Nickerson got matched up on 4.3 speedster Kenyan Drake out of the backfield and when Drake zipped past him Tannehill easily hit for a 22-yard touchdown pass.
Brown, who missed two games with that ankle injury, came back in later. Tight end Tyler Kroft left with an elbow injury and his return was questionable.