As if to underscore their season-long offensive struggles, Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton threw three straight interceptions in the fourth quarter in a span of five passes and Jacksonville defensive end Yannick Ngakoue took one of them 23 yards for a touchdown with 4:18 left that broke open Cincinnati's 27-17 loss Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium during the Jags' 18-7 run in the final 12:41.
With the Jags leading, 17-10, Ngakoue grabbed a screen pass that was apparently meant for running back Giovani Bernard. But Dalton had to hurry it with tackle Taven Bryan steaming up the middle and threw it to nobody but Ngakoue.
On the series before the Bengals converted three third downs to put the ball on the Jacksonville 15 with less than nine minutes in the game. Dalton lost a shoe scrambling for 17 on third-and-12, hit wide receiver Tyler Boyd for 19 on third-and-17, and hit wide receiver a bowling ball Auden Tate as he bulled for 12 yards.
But on first down from the 15, Dalton threw his 10th career red-zone interception when he tried to hit Boyd over the middle and he appeared to throw it a tick behind him, allowing linebacker Myles Jack to pick it off. Dalton finished 22 of 43 for 276 yards in a very tough offensive display. Dalton had all 33 rushing yards on a day running back Joe Mixon had just two yards rushing on 10 carries as the Bengals just can't unleash the defending AFC rushing champion. Running back Giovani Bernard had no yards on four carries and wide receiver Alex Erickson lost two on two carries while gathering highs in catches (eight) and yards (137).
Dalton led a last-minute scoring drive that ended up on his one-yard run with 23 seconds left.
The Jags took that recipe and pounded them with 38: 7 time of possession a week after the Ravens racked up nearly 40 minutes. Rookie quarterback Gardner Minshew didn't have to do much and he didn't. He went 15 of 32 for 255 yards for a touchdown, but he didn't have a pick as his mates rushed for 216 yards on 4.9 per carry (131 on 29 Leonard Fournette carries), the third straight game the Bengals have allowed 200 yards rushing, and spoiled a winnable effort by the defense.
The Bengals defense, stingy all day in keeping their lifeless offense afloat, finally wilted after Randy Bullock gave them a 10-9 lead on a 38-yard field goal with 31 seconds left in the third quarter. On the last play of the quarter, wide receiver DJ Chark Jr., ran a jet sweep, cut it up inside and used a missed tackle at the line of scrimmage to scamper for 20 yards. On the first play of the fourth quarter, cornerback B.W. Webb let wide receiver Chris Conley get inside of him a slant and then missed the tackle on what looked like was going to be a 15-yard gain. Conley took it for 47 yards to set up Minshew's third-down two-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Keelan Cole in the right corner of the end zone that gave them a 15-10 lead with 12:41 left in the game. Then Minshew found wide receiver Chris Conley cutting across the middle covered by cornerback Tony McRae for the two-pointer that made it 17-10.
Jacksonville cashed the first mistake of the Bengals' four second-half turnovers on the first series of the second half, courtesy of Boyd just trying to do too much. It wrecked Tate's monstrous 33-yard catch despite cornerback Tre Herndon hanging on him for an interference call. But Boyd, at that point without a catch on five targets, finally got one over the middle and after he made a guy miss, he tried to get more and he allowed cornerback D.J. Hayden to strip it for a short-field fumble recovery at the Jaguars 43.
The Bengals used some six-man lines up front to stop the Jags run game and at times protected the perimeter by flashing a wide-nine look. So Fournette took aim at the middle on this drive of 12 plays, on which he carried five times, busting one for 10 and one for 13. But when Fournette went to the bench to rest, they got Minshew in a third down and they bottled him up on a good rush that held him to a two-yard scramble and forced Josh Lambo's 37-yard field goal with 6:52 left in the third quarter that gave the Jags a 9-7 lead.
The offense countered with a three-and-out (a nothing run, an incompletion, a sack by rookie Josh Allen made possible by Calais Campbell not allowing Dalton to step on a bull rush) and the defense picked them up again. They fired back a three-and-out when they forced Minshew to scramble on first down and defensive end Sam Hubbard dropped Fournette for a two-yard loss on second and Minshew threw too early on third down to force a punt.
A stout effort by the Bengals defense that that sacked Minshew Mania twice and pitched a fourth-down goal-line stand along with their first first-half touchdown in five games staked the Bengals to a 7-6 half-time lead .
After they held Mixon to three yards on six carries with 1:25 left in the half, the Jaguars allowed Mixon to get loose on Jack and Dalton found him for a two-yard touchdown pass to wipe out a nightmarish offensive first half.
When the Bengals got the ball with 2:14 left, they had 30 yards, minis-six rushing, five punts and Dalton was just two of 11 for 17 yards, both catches by Erickson. And that's who Dalton went to here. He hit Erickson over the middle on a 48-yard catch-and-run. After two devastating penalties, an illegal shift and right tackle Bobby Hart false start when the ball wasn't snapped, set up second-and-18, Dalton hit Erickson on the right sideline for a five-yard catch and he slid off cornerback A.J. Bouye for 22 more to set up Mixon's TD, Dalton's only non-Erickson completion of the half.
That gave Erickson his first 100-yard day of his career with 110 on six catches and Dalton finished the half seven of 16 for 112.
The Bengals' rebuilt secondary help up pretty well, except on the last series of the half. McRae eyed an interception on third-and-10 on a floater by Minshew. But Dede Westbrook came out of nowhere for a 33-yard catch that set up Lambo's 29-yard field goal with seven seconds left in the half. That marked the 29th time in the last 39 games the Bengals allowed points in the last two minutes of a half.
But McRae and Darqueze Dennard combined to break up an end-zone pass to Westbrook to set up the field goal. Dennard, in his first game since last season, was all over the place. His coverage of Conley on two third-down incompletions held them to that first field goal and forced a punt.
When the Jags took that 3-0 lead with 6:30 left in the half, they had 202 yards compared to the Bengals' 13. The Bengals did a nice job containing Mihnshew (11 of 24 for 190 yards), and they didn't let Fournette pound them with 72 yards on 12 carries.
The Bengals mustered a goal-line stand on fourth-and-one when middle linebacker Preston Brown went airborne with Fournette and knocked him back after great penetration by tackles Andrew Billings and Josh Tupou.
Webb had to be the happiest guy in the building. Two snaps before right end Sam Hubbard tipped a Minshew pass and if Webb had caught the deflection he would have been gone for a pick-six. But Webb, playing with a cast on his broken right forearm, saw it bounce off his arm for a harmless incompletion.
But the offense could do nothing with it on third-and-one. After Dalton muscled a quarterback sneak out of the shadow on the goal for four yards, they tried to go wide to Mixon and he had no shot sweeping to his left and lost three yards on his first carry of the day.
But the Bengals defense forced a punt on the next series with tackle Geno Atkins' second sack of the season and gave the offense terrific field position at the Jags 43. Fournette did ramble for 19 on that first series, but they bottled him on this one and a holding call on right tackle Jawaan Taylor allowed them to get some good pressure, causing Minshew to have to move as he was throwing.
But, again, the offense came up empty. After a first-down slant to Erickson for 11 yards, Dalton threw three straight incompletions. He overthrew Mixon on first down, had his second-down pass was tipped by tackle Marcell Dareus and he couldn't hit Erickson over the middle on third down.
But on fourth down, wide receiver Stanley Morgan downed Kevin Huber's punt at the Jags 3 and that set up Atkins' second of the sack of the day when the ends Hubbard and Andrew Brown, making his first NFL start, got pressure on Minshew in the end zone. Anthony Zettel, picked up Tuesday, also got some heat on what appeared to be his first snap of the season. Meanwhile, Atkins blew up guard Will Richardson Jr., and Minshew had the play of the day when he somehow dragged his knee out to the one-yard line.
The first quarter betrayed the offense again. Dalton was two of six for 17 yards, Mixon had two rushes for a yard and the team had an overall performance of 11 yards in a quarter they got outgunned, 110-11. The centerpiece was minus-six rushing, featuring a horrific play after Atkins' second sack.
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After Mixon got four on his own on first down, they tried a zone read where Dalton faked to Mixon and then flipped it to Erickson coming across the other way to the left. But Tate couldn't set the edge and Ngakoue blew it up for an 11-yard loss. Then on third down Dalton hit Boyd over the middle (with a great pass-pro block by 5-9 running back Giovani Bernard on 6-8 Calais Campbell and Boyd dropped it.
That ended the first quarter and the second quarter began the same way. Mxon got stoned on his first two carries from his own 12 and on the last one got a yard on his own because Bryan just stood up a block in the right interior. Then on third down Dalton overthrew the doubled-team Tate on the sideline, leaving him two of seven for the game.