SEATTLE — The Bengals survived their venture into the NFL's loudest venue to make some explosive noise of their own Sunday with two electrifying punt returns that gave Cincinnati a 34-12 win over the Seahawks here at CenturyLink Field.
Wide receiver Brandon Tate's 56-yarder for a touchdown down the left sideline with 3:22 left in the game secured Cincinnati's fourth straight victory and completed its first perfect October since 1975 for a 5-2 record in its first win here since 1994 as Marvin Lewis became the winningest head coach in club history.
Safety Reggie Nelson joined in the fun with an interception return for a 75-yard touchdown with 36 seconds left.
Tate's first NFL punt return touchdown bookended cornerback Adam Jones's 63-yard punt return that set up the first Bengals touchdown late in the first quarter on a play that chased Jones out of the game with a hamstring injury. But Jones was the first guy to greet Tate on the sidelines with a chest bump.
A 16-yard run by running back Bernard Scott, his longest of the day behind an unbalanced line to the left side, and scrambling quarterback Andy Dalton's four-yard pass to wide receiver Andre Caldwell on third-and-10 set up Mike Nugent's huge 48-yard field goal with 4:50 left that made it 20-12.
This one was a defensive masterpiece. After Nugent's field goal, Carlos Dunlap got his first sack of the season on third down to force the punt for Tate's return.
After the Cincinnati defense had performed brilliantly all game, it faltered early the fourth quarter when the Bengals allowed two passes of 30 yards to set up Seattle's first touchdown of the game, running back Marshawn Lynch's two-yard run with 8:55 left that cut the lead to 17-12 when the two-point conversion was denied on cornerback Nate Clements's pass defensed in the end zone.
Dalton's two touchdown passes and Jones's return highlighted the 17-3 halftime lead in a game Dalton would finish 18-of-29 for 168 yards, but he survived two second-half interceptions on bombs to wide receiver A.J. Green that were picked off inside the Seattle 10.
But the Bengals defense, which held Seattle to nine rushing yards on 10 carries, saved the best for last in the half when Seahawks coach Pete Carrol went for it on fourth-and-two from the Bengals 3 with 14 seconds left in the half and an unblocked Nelson slanted into the middle to upend Lynch at the goal line. Since Carroll had just used his last timeout, the clock ran out with the Bengals running off the field with a goal-line stand in a half they generated three sacks, safety Gibril Wilson recovered a fumble, and they held Seattle to 133 yards.
Dalton finished the half 13-of-18 for 125 yards, barely more this glittering passer rating of 128.2. In the 12th man of Seattle's notorious din, Dalton calmly hit his first six passes, one a 14-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Jerome Simpson on a slant with Simpson knifing inside rookie cornerback Richard Sherman for his first touchdown of the season.
The score was set up by Jones's scintillating return in his first action since injuring his neck 371 days ago as he got a block at the point of attack and then veered almost entirely across the field to the left sideline where he outran everybody but punter John Ryan as he grabbed his hamstring when he was pushed out at the Seattle 26.
Tate, the regular returner, took the next two in the second quarter, and Jones didn't start the second half when the Bengals went to their nickel package.
Dalton finished the first half scoring with his longest touchdown pass of the season, a 43-yard over-the-shoulder bomb down the middle of the field to Green working against free safety Earl Thomas with 1:51 left.
Seattle converted two third downs for the Bengals on the drive, one an encroachment penalty on third-and-one and another on third-and-six when cornerback Brandon Browner was called for interfering with Green. The Bengals also survived right tackle Andre Smith's second false start of the game.
The Bengals had a couple of chances to put the Hawks away in that first half. When Carroll turned to Tarvaris Jackson to quarterback early in the second quarter, Jackson and Lynch mishandled a handoff with help from Bengals outside linebacker Manny Lawson and Wilson recovered at the 31.
But Smith and right guard Bobbie Williams committed back-to-back holding calls to take the Bengals out of field-goal range. Earlier in the half the Bengals had a chance to put Seattle in an even deeper hole when minutes after they went up 10-0, Nelson had a clear shot for an interception and dropped it at the Bengals 30. Then Nelson picked a 15-yard unnecessary roughness call to ignite a drive that ended in kicker Steven Hauschka's 47-yard field goal that made it 10-3 on the first play of the second quarter, which turned out to be starting quarterback Charlie Whitehurst's only contribution to the Seattle cause.
The Bengals opened the game with a 13-play drive that consumed the first 8:16 of the game with Dalton hitting all five passes and it ended on Nugent's 34-yard field goal for a 3-0 lead. It was a give-and-take deal with the longest play a 10-yard throw to wide receiver Andre Caldwell and the big play a six-yard dump pass to running back Brian Leonard for six yards on third-and-five from the Seattle 30.
PREGAME NOTES: With Jermaine Gresham sidelined with a hamstring problem Sunday, veteran Donald Lee was expected to get his second Bengals start at tight end and rookie Colin Cochart was active for the first time since the second game of the season. But Cochart came out to take the first snap.
Gresham played in every game as a rookie last year except for the last one with a strained knee. He surfaced on the injury report Friday, but had been listed as probable after a limited practice. It's a tough injury for the Bengals because not only do they miss his 25 catches, which is second on the team, but they needed his beef and ability to stretch the field against Seattle's run defense that is allowing an NFL-low 3.2 yards per rush.
With outside linebacker Thomas Howard nursing a hamstring injury, Brandon Johnson got his first start of the season.
Dalton could have really used Gresham as he tries to become only the second rookie quarterback to win at CenturyLink Field. Only Tampa Bay's Josh Freeman has won in the seven games a rookie has started here.
Seattle started quarterback Charlie Whitehurst after the Seahawks didn't like the looks of Tarvaris Jackson in warmups. Running back Marshawn Lynch, after he missed last Sunday's 6-3 loss in Cleveland, started but Seattle put down starting wide receiver Mike Williams.
Also out for the Bengals were cornerback Morgan Trent, linebackers Rey Maualuga and Dontay Moch, offensive lineman Clint Boling, safety Robert Sands and wide receiver Ryan Whalen.
With cornerback Adam Jones back off PUP and former Seahawks cornerback Kelly Jennings returning after missing the last two games with a tender hamstring, Trent (ankle) went inactive after he also surfaced on the injury report when didn't practice Friday and was categorized as questionable.
Jones, playing in his first game in 371 days, didn't waste any time making an impact. After a Geno Atkins sack forced a Seattle punt, he raced 63 yards on the return to set up Dalton's 14-yard touchodwn pass to wide receiver Jerome Simpson that gave the Bengals a 10-0 lead with 3:47 left in the first quarter.
But as punter Jon Ryan chased him out of bounds, Jones injured his hamstring and his return was questionable. Wide receiver Brandon Tate returned the next punt three minutes into the second quarter. Seattle sack ace Chris Clemons injured his knee early and his return was questionable.
As advertised, the game broke under cloudy skies with the temperatures at about 60 degrees and a wind of about 14 miles per hour. The Bengals captains were Bobbie Williams, Jerome Simpson, Geno Atkins, Reggie Nelson and Gibril Wilson, and one of them asked the Seattle captains if they were sure they wanted to defer and give the ball to the Bengals.