Quarterback Carson Palmer's intercepted pass intended for wide receiver Terrell Owens got picked off inside the 10 with 2:43 left Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium to seal a crushing 22-14 defeat to the Dolphins that puts the Bengals in a 2-5 last-place hole in an AFC North running away from them.
After ripping off a touchdown on their first series of the game, the Bengals offense couldn't muster much else with the Dolphins taking their first lead of the game on Dan Carpenter's fifth field goal of the day, a 31-yarder that put Miami up, 15-14, with 2:47 left in the third quarter on a 15-play drive that chewed 7:29 off the clock. The Dolphins then microwaved their first touchdown of the game on 96 yards and 2:49 to take a 22-14 lead with 11:15 left in the game.
After reeling off their first four third downs of the game in no-huddle, the Bengals stayed no-huddle much of the game but missed their next seven and were working on four straight three-and-outs when they had to punt the ball away with 1:49 left in the third quarter.
With the Bengals backing away from the no-huddle, a quick throw to running back Cedric Benson out of the backfield and a two-yard Benson run set up a third-and-five on the first snap of the fourth quarter. But Palmer's throw over the middle to Owens was one-yard short for Cincinnati's fifth straight three-and-out and eighth straight unsuccessful third down.
It took its toll on an undermanned defense that had given up no touchdowns when Miami took over from its own 2-yard line with 14:04 left.
That changed rather quickly as the Bengals promptly allowed a 25-yard pass to a wide open wide receiver Brandon Marshall on the first snap against Cover 2, a 24-yard completion to wide receiver Brian Hartline on the next snap on which he made cornerback Leon Hall miss, a 30-yard reverse to Hartline, and then an 18-yard run to the 1 by running back Ricky Williams in which he ran up the middle on a misdirection. Williams popped it over from there with 11:15 on a run that held up on the Bengals unsuccessful challenge that left them with one timeout.
So the Dolphins went 96 yards in 2:49 on just six plays and that meant the Bengals were held hostage to the Dolphins running game. After holding the Bengals on the ninth straight unsuccessful third down, the Dolphins were content to run it three straight times and punt it back to them with 7:05 left.
The Bengals chose to huddle up and Miami then stoned them on third-and-two for the 10th straight bad third down and that set up a fourth-and-one for the whole thing from their own 30 with about six minutes left and Benson got it with four yards to spare on a run up the middle.
Palmer then broke the third-down drought with throws over the middle to wide receiver Jordan Shipley on third-and-six (for 10 yards) and and wide receiver Chad Ochocinco on third-and-10 for 14 yards (his first catch since the first drive) and when Ocho and Palmer couldn't connect on the next one, a third-and-10, the Bengals got a life when defensive end Kendall Langford was called for unnecessary roughness for a first down at the Miami 22 with three minutes left
But on second down, it appeared that Palmer led Owens too far inside the 10 and cornerback Sean Smith picked it off with 2:43 left to end it and put the Bengals where they never thought they would be.
On a day Palmer started five-for-six on the first series for 44 yards and a seven-yard touchdown pass to Owens, he finished 17-of-38 for just 156 yards and a 63 passer rating. Things also went south in the running game. Benson, who had 52 yards on 13 carries in the first half, got the ball seven times in the second half and finished with 69 yards.
The Bengals thought they got the break they needed all year long, but they still managed to give the Dolphins momentum heading into the locker room when Carpenter hit a career-long 54-yard field goal at the halftime gun to cut Cincinnati's lead to 14-12 with two field goals in the final 54 seconds.
And the Dolphins got the ball back to start the second half.
One snap after Bengals cornerback Morgan Trent came up with an interception in his first NFL start, Palmer conspired with the NFL gods and Owens for a 37-yard touchdown play that gave the Bengals a 14-6 lead with 2:45 left in the first half.
Palmer had Owens one-on-one with safety Chris Clemons running down the seam and when he underthrew it, Clemons looked like he had a pick. But it bounced off his hands at the six-yard line and Owens looked in the rebound for his second touchdown of the game.
But just like the Bengals couldn't close out the game three weeks ago here against Tampa Bay in the final 2:28, they couldn't close out the half in the final 2:41 as their special teams allowed the Dolphins two field goals after getting the break. Mike Nugent's ensuing short kickoff to the 20 gave Miami the ball at the Bengals 45 and Carpenter ended up making it 14-9 on a 24-yarder with 58 seconds left.
Miami had all its timeouts left and the Bengals couldn't kill the clock. Owens dropped a pass on first down on the sideline that would have been a first down, and after a short run, Dolphins linebacker Cameron Wake blew up a screen on third down that Palmer had to throw into the ground and Miami had a life with 31 seconds left.
Bengals gunner Andre Caldwell then overran punt returner Davone Bess with the ball hanging in the air, and Bess returned it 17 yards to the Bengals 49 to set up the final field goal on a couple of short passes.
The Bengals literally broke fast when they took the opening kickoff and went 15 plays out of the no-huddle to go 86 yards and take a 7-0 lead when Palmer hit Owens on a seven-yard touchdown pass on third-and-one for Cincinnati's first touchdown of the season on the opening drive with 7:40 left in the first quarter and it was good enough to hold up for a 7-6 lead midway through the second quarter.
Palmer, the lowest-rated AFC passer on third down, was four-for-four on third down on that drive, including hitting Owens slanting away from cornerback Jason Allen. He also hit a leaping Ochocinco twice on third down as he worked on cornerback Vontae Davis. Running back Bernard Scott threw in an 18-yard run and overall Palmer was 5-of-6 passing in the drive for 44 yards in a newer version of the no-huddle that featured it on third down.
The Dolphins answered with a five-minute plus drove of their own, but the Bengals held to force Carpenter's 38-yard field goal with 2:16 left in the quarter. Quarterback Chad Henne immediately tested the undermanned Bengals secondary and found wide receiver Brandon Marshall working on cornerback Leon Hall for a 20-yard throw on a sideline route and Trent gave Bess some cushion on some completions.
But with safety Chris Crocker working in the slot, Henne made an overthrow in the end zone and Hall had Marshall covered on a third-down incompletion in the end zone to force the field goal.
The Bengals tried to get up 14-3 on their second series and moved it to the Miami 39, but Palmer misfired on his first third-down pass when his bid for Owens in the middle sailed high.
Kevin Huber could only get off a 19-yard punt and the Dolphins moved from their 21 to a 42-yard field goal from Carpenter with 8:20 left in the first half to cut the Bengals lead to 7-6. Henne kept picking on the secondary and got a 15-yard completion tight end Anthony Fasano on third and three and looked ready to generate another first down when he hit Bess in front of Trent for an eight-yard gain on second down.
But when the Bengals dropped seven on the next snap, Henne couldn't find anyone downfield and running back Ronnie Brown dropped his pass in the flat with WILL linebacker Brandon Johnson poised to pounce, and it brought on Carpenter for his second field goal.
The Bengals went no-huddle all the way in the first half until that last drive. But they never approached what they did on the first two drives, when Palmer got big plays from four receivers, including a 14-yard pass to Shipley in the middle on second down after right tackle Andre Smith's false start made it second-and-12. While Benson had his 52 yards on 13 carries in the half, Palmer was 9-of-16 for 104 yards for a 115.6 rating.
But after making those first four third downs, the Bengals missed on their next 10, including the first of the second half when Palmer had to get rid of it early with Dolphins sack ace Cameron Wake in his face.
Trent had a huge first half. Not did he have the interception, but he had one pass defensed and a team-high seven tackles.
The defensive line also got banged up. Tackle Tank Johnson left with a right knee injury midway through the third quarter and didn't return
PREGAME NOTES:Two Bengals got their first starts in the Cincinnati secondary Sunday with Morgan Trent playing in place of cornerback Johnathan Joseph (ankle) and Reggie Nelson in place of safety Chinedum Ndukwe (knee), and rookie Brandon Ghee was expected to get his most NFL action as the third corner against the Dolphins.
Joseph and Ndukwe tried to go in the Paul Brown Stadium pregame during drills with secondary coaches Kevin Coyle and Louie Cioffi, but for the second straight week Joseph couldn't go with a high ankle sprain that typically takes four to six weeks to heal. It will be four weeks and a day for next Monday night's game against the Steelers.
Trent, a second-year player who was the Bengals third corner last year, got the promotion when Adam Jones (neck) went on injured reserve last week. He missed the first couple of practices last week himself with a knee issue and was questionable.
Nelson, a former first-round pick with the Jaguars, has been playing on special teams since coming over in a Cutdown day trade for cornerback David Jones and a draft pick. Safety Rico Murray, who has played some corner, got called up from the practice squad Friday and was active for the first time this season and the sixth time in his career.
Out for the third straight game was safety Roy Williams (knee). Defensive lineman Jon Fanene (hamstring) was also an injured inactive. Tackle Anthony Collins, wide receiver Jerome Simpson, and center Reggie Stephens were out as they have been for most of the season.
Fanene played last week after missing the four games since the opener, and his reaggravated hamstring may keep him out more than Sunday's game.
The huge matchup featured the young corners on Dolphins big-play man Brandon Marshall with cornerback Leon Hall working against Bess. Ghee, a third-round pick out of Wake Forest, said he spent the week trying to adjust to calls made by the first-team safeties. The 6-4, 230-pound Marshall is highly regarded by Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer. His jump-ball ability and his yards-after-catch are most likely going to dictate a double-team.
The Bengals took the field in sunny 53-degree weather with a wind coming out of the north at about 11 miles per hour. They wore their black jerseys and white pants, a 14-19 won-loss combination so far. Head coach Marvin Lewis introduced his revamped starting defense looking to rebound fron last week's 452-effort in the 39-32 loss in Atlanta.
The Bengals won the toss, took the ball, and sent out running back Bernard Scott and wide receiver Quan Cosby to return the kick.