Perennial Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green, still fuming over his dropped third down pass on Sunday in the fourth quarter against Denver, took over the Thursday night showcase at Paul Brown Stadium before 60,834 with 10 catches for 173 yards and led the Bengals to an ugly but utterly necessary 22-7 victory.
The win lifted them back to 2-2 in front of a 10-day break before they head to Dallas and New England. The night was a celebration of defense as the Bengals rung up five sacks with marauding Pro Bowlers Carlos Dunlap (two) and Geno Atkins (1.5) doing the damage with
multiple sacks and holding Miami out of the red zone on two of 11 on third down four days after Denver clicked on half their tries.
Quarterback Andy Dalton survived another brutal night by the running game (2.1 yards per on 37 carries) with a crisp 296-yard passing night built on a 111.8 passer rating on 22 of 31 passes
Left guard Clint Boling (shoulder) and safety Josh Shaw (stinger) went to the locker room during the second half but appeared not to suffer major injuries as Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis gave his players a three-day weekend.
But season-long problems in the red zone and running game continued to plague the offense. After a third down Atkins-Michael Johnson sack of Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill opened the second half (and made Miami 1-for-7 on third down) and continued the rebuilt Dolphins offensive line's misery, Green went to work again after a 123-yard first half.
Green beat cover two when he strafed cornerback Tony Lippett off the line and raced down the left sideline and before Pro Bowl safety Reshad Jones could get over there Dalton dropped a beauty over his shoulder for 43 yards. But when the Bengals had a first down at the Dolphins 2, they went backward when running back Jeremy Hill got wrapped up for no gain and then a two-yard loss and then on third down rookie wide receiver Tyler Boyd couldn't haul in a pass at the goal line that looked to be tipped and that brought on Nugent for his fourth field goal to make 19-7 in the middle of the third quarter.
The defensive mastery of the Dolphins allowed the Bengals offense to get off easy. When Dunlap continued his torture of right tackle Ja'Wuan James with his second sack of the night that led to Miami's sixth three-and-out on a night they had seven, that left Miami one out of eight on third down.
Dalton, who came in leading the NFL passing yards and didn't hurt his cause Thursday, fired a 23-yard seed to wide receiver Brandon LaFell just as he was going out of bounds at the Dolphins 20.
But a bad shot-gun snap lost 14 yards and when right guard Kevin Zeitler false started, they were staring at second-and-29. Nugent again had to rescue the drive, this time hitting a career-high fifth field goal from 47 yards out to make it 22-7 with 13:35 left in the game.
It was a sloppy offensive effort (Dalton had an option pitch knocked out of his hands on third-and-one when backup right guard Jake Fisher got beat as they whiffed on 12 of 15 third-down tries), but they still rolled up 362 yards.
That was thanks to Dalton, Green and a defense that got cornerback Chris Lewis-Harris' first career interception with 4:53 left to seal it.
The Bengals' inability to cash that solid defensive effort that held Miami to 0-for-5 on third down in the first half after an early snafu forced them to turn to Nugent for three field goals. The last one, a 43-yarder with 1:06 left in the half, came courtesy of Dunlap's sack—and-strip of Tannehill at the Dolphins 27 that was recovered by nose tackle Domata Peko.
But they could get nothing on the ground (42 yards on 18 carries in the half) and even when running back Giovani Bernard took a flare out of the backfield for a first down in the red zone, it got called back on rookie wide receiver Tyler Boyd's offensive pass interference and on came Nugent.
Without help from his running game, Dalton was immense in the first half while posting a 115.2 passer rating on 16 of 22 passing for 197 yards.
With the Bengals on their own 10, Green accounted for 77 yards in the touchdown drive that he ignited with a leaping-highest-point catch over rookie cornerback Xavien Howard in one-on-one coverage for 51 yards, their longest play since the Sept. 11 opener. Dalton made it happen after he wriggled away when his boot-leg rollout got blown up and he set his feet long enough to get it to Green.
Then on third-and-four from the Dolphins 26, Dalton sensed a Bengals' style Double A Gap Blitz from Dolphins defensive coordinator Vance Joseph, the former Bengals secondary coach. Dalton called in Bernard to help center Russell Bodine pick up the blitzing linebackers and that left Green one-on-one on a shallow cross that he busted for 19 yards.
Then on second-and-7 from the 7, Dalton threw his first red-zone touchdown pass of the season, but it was all Green. He split left with Lippett on the island and on a quick throw at the line Lippett missed the leg tackle and Green walked in.
It took just six minutes for the Bengals defense to get shredded again when Dolphins wide receiver Kenny Stills ran wide open through the Bengals secondary for a 74-yard touchdown catch that gave Miami a 7-3 lead on its second snap of the game.
After getting beat for two touchdown bombs on Sunday against Denver, safeties Shawn Williams and George Iloka ended up looking at each other as the Bengals gave up their fifth pass of at least 40 yards this season after giving up just six all last year.
But they allowed just 148 yards in the final 54 minutes.
The Bengals moved seamlessly down the field the game's first drive with a bevy of short, quick throws, the big one a 12-yarder to Bernard baking linebacker Kiki Alonso in coverage. Hill banged for 16 yards on three carries and ended up with 71 yards on 21 carries.
Then three straight passes from the Dolphins 24 got nothing and they had to settle for Nugent's 42-yard field goal to briefly go up 3-0.
The Bengals rebounded from the bomb to offer five straight three-and-outs to end the half and one of them featured a classic read by linebacker Vontaze Burfict in the return from his three-game suspension. He dropped into a zone and knocked away a pass headed to slot receiver Jarvis Landry, the NFL's leader in receptions. Dunlap was also a thorn in the side with three unassisted tackles to go with his sack in the half.
The Bengals went up 13-7 as Green continued to bedevil Lippett, starting in place of the benched Byron Maxwell. Another shallow crossing route to Green went for 15 yards and then Green snuck in the middle of a Cover 2 zone in front of former Georgia teammate Reshad Jones and Dalton lofted it over the linebacker for 21 yards to put the ball at the Miami 40.
Then Hill and Bernard combined for just one yard on five rushes. When Dalton's 19-yard arrow to tight end C.J. Uzomah put them at the Dolphins 11, Bernard could only rush for a yard on the first two downs and Nugent had to kick a 22-yard field goal with the Bengals on the way to going two-for-eight themselves on third down. That made it 13-7 with 4:12 left in the half.
Tannehill was the biggest victim of the Bengals' third-down magic with awful numbers, three of nine passing for 83 yards despite the big bomb on his way to a mere 189-yard night on 15 of 25 passing. Take away that 74-yarder and....
PRE-GAME NOTES: As expected Pro Bowl tight end Tyler Eifert (ankle) didn't make his long-awaited 2016 debut Thursday night against the Dolphins and joined starting cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick on the inactive list at Paul Brown Stadium.
Kirkpatrick (hamstring), who had played in 46 straight games, was replaced by Darqueze Dennard in his second NFL start. The other five inactives have been on the list all year: wide receiver Cody Core, defensive tackle DeShawn Williams, guard Christian Westerman, quarterback Jeff Driskel, and cornerback KeiVarae Russell.
Eifert practiced in limited fashion the past two weeks and with ten days until the Bengals' next game the thinking is he'll be ready for the Cowboys in Dallas on Oct. 9.
Also as expected, linebacker Vontaze Burfict made his 2016 debut after his three-game suspension ended earlier this week. The Bengals waived linebacker Trevor Roach to make room for Burfict a few hours before the game. Head coach Marvin Lewis sent out four linebackers and 12 players for the defensive starting lineup, leaving it up for grabs if Burfict or Vincent Rey would start. The PBS crowd gave him a hearty welcome and Burfict ended up getting the start.
It was Burfict's first snaps since the unbelievable end to last season in the Wild Card Game, also a night game at PBS. Burfict appeared to clinch the win with 1:32 left when he made an interception deep in Pittsburgh territory. But a Jeremy Hill fumble gave the ball back and a 15-yard penalty on Burfict for his hit on wide receiver Antonio Brown kept the winning drive alive.
The Dolphins had a host of new starters thanks to injuries and benchings. With their top two centers hurt, they started No. 3 Kraig Urbik. With left tackle Branden Albert iced, first-round draft pick Laremy Tunsil moved from left guard to make his first NFL start at left tackle, reconfiguring the entire left side that lined up against Cleveland Sunday.
Former Bengals secondary coach Vance Joseph came back as the Dolphins defensive coordinator and offered a benching when they sat down cornerback Byron Maxwell in favor of backup Tony Lippett. That meant former Michigan State teammates were starting opposite each other. Joseph had the 2015 fifth-rounder in Lippett and the Bengals had Dennard, their first-round pick in 2014.
Cincinnati Bengals take on the Miami Dolphins at Paul Brown Stadium in week 4 of the regular season 9/29/2016