EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton got sacked on back-to-back bull rushes by a rampaging Giants defensive line with three minutes left Monday night and New York's No. 32 ranked running game converted a third-and-six on running back Rashad Jennings' nine-yard run with 2:50 left to secure it as the Bengals let another one slip away, 21-20.
The Bengals dropped to 3-5-1 and a game and half behind the Ravens in the AFC North after whiffing on their first seven third downs and nine of their first 10 in not being able to put away a 20-14 lead in the fourth quarter.
Despite getting outplayed by the Bengals in the third quarter, the Giants took that 21-20 lead with 14:05 left in the game when they won a fourth-and-three gamble on quarterback Eli Manning's three-yard touchdown pass to rookie wide receiver Sterling Shepard.
No one was on Shepard as he ran a crossing route from his right to his left at the goal line in what turned out to be the biggest play of a game decided 20 yards and in. The Giants scored touchdowns on all three red-zone forays while holding the Bengals to two touchdowns on three trips and held them to a field goal after they reached the 20.
The Bengals couldn't move the ball an inch when they needed it all night. When they had a first down from the Giants 7 in the first half, they didn't get a yard and had to settle for a field goal.
Then after they traded interceptions early in the fourth quarter with the Bengals down, 21-20 (Dalton overthrew tight end Tyler Kroft down the middle and it was corralled by safety Landon Collins before Bengals safety George Iloka made a nice over-the-shoulder grab off a Manning deep post at the Bengals 12), the Bengals were facing a third-and-one from their 21. They loaded it up with an extra offensive lineman and fullback Ryan Hewitt and running back Jeremy Hill couldn't get the yard.
It summed up a night they got only 78 yards on 23 carries in a run game where the Giants flipped the script. Their anemic run game was the one that actually rushed for 100 yards with 122 on 27 carries.
That play dropped the Bengals to 1-for-9 on third down (they finished 2-11) and the Giants were all over Dalton. He hit just two of his first nine passes of the second half and four of his first 11 on his way to hitting just 16 of his 29 passes for 204 yards and a 74.5 passer rating while getting chased. His scrambling prevented more than sacks while his big target, A.J. Green, had just 78 yards on seven catches.
Bengals rookie wide receiver Alex Erickson's 84-yard kick return to open the second half and 15-yard punt return after the Giants' ensuing three-and-out staked the Bengals to 10 points and a 20-14 lead in the first 6:08 of the second half.
After Erickson got dragged down at the Giants 13 on a touchdown saving tackle by safety Coty Sensabaugh, Hill did the rest on two carries. The last one was an untouched nine-yard touchdown run between a huge hole generated by Pro Bowl left tackle Andrew Whitworth and left guard Clint Boling and helped along by a fake reverse to Green on the play.
After Erickson's alert punt return, Dalton hooked up with Green on a crossing pattern for 21 yards, his longest catch f the night, as the Bengals rolled into the red zone emphasizing the run. Two runs to Hill set up a third-and-five and rookie wide receiver Tyler Boyd appeared to score his first NFL touchdown pass on a ball down the middle from the Giants 20 but he couldn't control it as he went to the ground and they had to settle for Mike Nugent's 38-yard field goal with 8:52 left in the third quarter to give the Bengals a 20-14 lead.
The offense simply couldn't finish off the Giants when the defense gave them every opportunity in the third quarter that began with three straight New York punts.
The Bengals had running back Giovani Bernard's third-down run for 12 yards and a first down at the Giants 47 wiped out on a holding call on Whitworth and when Dalton got chased out of the pocket on the new third down, they were 0-for-6 on third down.
After another punt, the Bengals started from their own five and slid to 0-for-7 on third down when wide receiver Brandon LaFell dropped a pass at the sticks that would have been a first down.
After Dalton took just 2:07 to answer the Giants' opening drive touchdown with a 72-yard strike to tight Tyler Eifert followed by a 13-yard touchdown pass to Green, Cincinnati could manage just 78 yards the rest of the first half in falling behind New York, 14-10, at halftime.
The Bengals defense recovered to get a fourth-down sack from defensive tackle Geno Atkins and an interception from Dre Kirkpatrick that put the ball on the Giants 7, but they could only get three points out of it all.
The Giants got their second wind after that red-zone stuff when Manning (hitting 28 of his 44 passes for 240 yards and three red-zone TD passes cancelling out two picks) escaped Atkins and defensive end Will Clarke to scramble away from a sack. That set up his 10-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. when Beckham beat cornerback Adam Jones on a double move and got behind him with 1:17 left in the half.
Beckham caught all of his eight targets in the half for 79 yards and while they prevented the yards after the catch, he exploited zones for big catches of 21 and 18 yards. The Bengals got good pressure on Manning, but he held up enough to complete 19 of 27 passes for 190 yards and a 99.3 rating.
Dalton, who was 12 of 17 for 154 yards in the first half for a 118.3 passer rating, engineered his big play when he split his tackles wide. With Eifert lined up in the interior, he took off down the middle beating linebacker Jonathan Casillas and Dalton floated it into the wide-open Eifert's hands and he was off until he got dragged down at the 8 for the longest play of his career and the Bengals' longest play of the season.
After a penalty for an illegal formation, Dalton found Green at the goal line with a back-shoulder throw when cornerback Janoris Jenkins shut off the inside for the NFL's No. 1 red-zone defense. That gave the Bengals six TDs in their last seven red-zone forays. But big plays to Green were few and far between in the first half, when he had five catches for 39 yards.
Manning wasted no time stunning the Bengals in the opening drive when he hit all six passes for 72 yards as New York took less than four minutes to take a 7-0 lead.
Manning hasn't been going to his tight ends very often this year, but he started the game hitting a wide open Will Tye down the middle for 14 yards and got the touchdown when tight end Jerrell Adams beat linebacker Vincent Rey off the line for 10-yard touchdown pass just 3:55 into the game.
Manning's quick release was as advertised and on the next series (with defensive lineman Wallace Gilberry making his 2016 Bengals debut) the Bengals sent slot cornerback Darqueze Dennard on a third-down blitz and were rewarded with a drop by wide receiver Roger Lewis Jr. down the that would have been a first down.
Dalton's bomb to Eifert was the lone highlight of a very shaky offensive outing in the game's first 22 minutes in which they got just 51 yards after the big bomb.
The Bengals wasted great field position midway through the second quarter when the Giants went for it on fourth-and-two from the Bengals 37 and Atkins split a double team and stormed under Manning at the Bengals 48.
But a poorly blocked screen pass got Bernard blown up at the line of scrimmage on first down and on second down Robert Thomas came over left guard to dump Dalton and then send them to 0-for-3 on third down.
Then they really whiffed in the red zone a few minutes later. Adding to his two interceptions of Peyton Manning on Monday Night Football in 2014, Bengals cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick read Eli's eyes and was all over Lewis' route on the sideline. Kirkpatrick made a diving catch and then got up to return it 20 yards to the Giants 7.
But the Bengals couldn't move it an inch and had to settle for Mike Nugent's 25-yard field goal with 4:25 left in the half. Dalton couldn't hit Bernard coming out of the backfield on first down and on second down Giants safety Landon Collins was all over a pass to Eifert at the corner of the goal line. Then on third down the Giants all-out blitzed and Dalton checked to a screen pass to Green that got nothing. By the time they got the ball back with 1:17 left in the half, they were still stuck on 133 total yards, their total from the drive they couldn't do anything with Atkins' sack.
The Bengals' second drive got blown up when they couldn't keep left end Olivier Vernon from penetrating over right tackle and he dropped running back Jeremy Hill for a five-yard loss on second down as the Bengals could manage just 14 yards rushing in the half.
The Giants' third series never got off the ground when old friend Marshall Newhouse was called for a hold on the perimeter on first down and Kirkpatrick made a nice tackle on Beckham Jr. to hold him to five yards on a crossing route over the middle.
The Bengals also stumbled on their third series when Dalton's 11-yard scramble on third-and-10 got wiped out when Bernard got mauled by blitzing linebacker Keenan Robinson and he was called for a holding penalty.
PRE-GAME NOTES: The First Domino in the Bengals' bye week defensive tweak turned out to be lineman Margus Hunt. He ended up on head coach Marvin Lewis' inactive list for Monday night's game against the Giants at MetLife Stadium.
It's the first time Hunt has been inactive this season, so look for Wallace Gilberry to get the majority of Hunt's nearly 30 snaps per game at end and inside in the nickel in his first game back for Cincinnati.
With middle linebacker Rey Maualuga (fibula) out, look for Vincent Rey to get the start in the base defense. That wouldn't be a new move there since Rey would be making his 27th start over the last three seasons.
Cornerback Chykie Brown is a relatively new addition. With Chris Lewis-Harris gone on waivers, Brown was active for the third time this year.
On offense, rookie wide receiver Cody Core was active for the second game this season in place of James Wright (hamstring). They were hoping special teams would still be OK even though Wright is the Bengals' leading tackler in the kicking game and Rey, the special teams captain, probably wouldn't be playing as much on those plays as a regular backer.
Also inactive were the usual fare of defensive tackle DeShawn Williams, quarterback Jeff Driskel, offensive lineman Christian Westerman, and cornerback KeiVarae Russell.
Former Bengals cornerback Leon Hall was inactive for the second straight week for the Giants.
Wide receiver Victor Cruz, who has 25 catches, was out, as well as left guard Justin Pugh, the NFL's No. 1 rated guard, according to profootballfocus.com.
Expected to start for Pugh in his first NFL start was Brett Jones, a second-year player from Regina in Canada
Cincinnati Bengals travel to take on the New York Giants in week 10 of the regular season.