WEMBLEY, England - Still searching for that complete game on offense, the Bengals couldn't keep up with the Rams scoring machine when they didn't score in the second half of Sunday's 24-10 loss to the Rams at Wembley Stadium despite two red-zone chances.
After converting fourth-and-10 (to wide receiver Auden Tate) and fourth-and-13 (to wide receiver Tyler Boyd), on fourth down from the Rams 6 quarterback Andy Dalton tried to hit rookie wide receiver Stanley Morgan on a slant that was short of the goal line with five minutes left.
That was the first failed fourth down of the day in five tries as Bengals head coach Zac Taylor tried to keep pace with old boss and Rams head coach Sean McVay. With Dalton adding to his NFL in pass attempts, he went up top more than 50 times for the second time this season with 52 and hit 32 of them for 329 yards and a touchdown with no picks. Yet he was sacked five times and just couldn't get anything going after his one-yard TD to running back Joe Mixon with 5:18 left in the first half tied the game at 10. The Bengals' sixth and final fourth-down try came after Tate had a touchdown overturned with 14 seconds left and Dalton's ensuing try from the Rams 9 was incomplete and ended the game.
View photos from London as the Bengals square off against the Los Angeles Rams in Week 8.
Rams quarterback Jared Goff sifted the middle of the field for 372 yards on 31 passes and just 17 completions with a shocking array of long completions averaging nearly 22 yards. The main beneficiary was wide receiver Cooper Kupp, who racked up the third most receiving yards against the Bengals with 165 of his 220 yards coming in the first half.
On the Rams' first series of the second half, L.A. gave the Bengals a brutal reminder what has happened to them this season on defense. Trailing, 17-10, the Bengals just couldn't get off the field on third down even though they knew where the ball was going.
On third-and-four, Kupp was available over the middle despite grabbing 165 yards on the first half. Then on third-and-10, Goff had all the time in the world with old friend Andrew Whitworth shoving end Carlos Dunlap inside to cut off a potential sack. Goff launched it down the middle of the field to the double-covered Kupp. The ball got over the leap of safety Shawn Williams and cornerback Tony McRae couldn't knock it out and Kupp had a 40-yard catch to go with his 65-yard touchdown in the first half.
That put the Rams on the Bengals 14 and they ran it four straight times with an eye to those perimeter runs that have hounded the Bengals all year, the last one a three-yard sweep from running back Todd Gurley with plenty of room to give the Rams a 24-10 lead five minutes into the half.
The Bengals couldn't match it on the next series. Mixon, who had 53 yards on his 10 ten carries, got cooled off by the Rams defensive line early in the second half. They had done a good job on perennial Pro Bowl defensive tackle Aaron Donald until that first series of the half, when he stoned Mixon for Donald's first tackle for loss of the game.
The Rams' pressure was symbolized on third-and-seven from the Rams 36. They tried a screen, but Dalton had to sidearm it around the pass rush and it never got there with end Dante Fowler batting it back to Dalton and he got dumped by Donald for a four-yard loss out of field-goal range.
Then on the next series, Dalton had Tate wide open down the left sideline after he scorched cornerback Troy Hill. But Dalton missed him, the third straight game he hasn't been able to convert an open double move that may have gone for a touchdown. Then on third-and-long, Dalton was taken down for a sack on a defensive game that blew up the right side of the line.
And that was the difference Sunday. The Rams converted on third-and-eight or longer four times making plays like the Bengals missed.
The Bengals also dropped two interceptions in that second half, one by Williams on a drive that ended up in a punt but it could have shaved off key moments in time of possession. And late in the third quarter, linebacker Nick Vigil had one in his hands over the middle, dropped it and end Carlos Dunlap and McRae missed the rebound.
Up 24-10, the Rams first-round front was just able to tee off. Donald had a pile-drive sack on Dalton on second down and on third down he moved over left tackle John Jerry to consume a double team that opened up pressure.
The Rams dared them to throw against the pressure and gummed up the run game, forcing the Bengals out of some double tight end sets and six offensive linemen packages designed to battle that Rams' golden front. Mixon had just two yards on his first four carries in the second half and finished with 66 yards on 17 carries.
Sunday's mirror offenses reflected the Rams' lethal deep passing game and the Bengals' new-found running attack in an entertaining first half as Kupp's 65-yard touchdown catch off a double reverse flea flicker gave L.A, a 17-10 half-time lead.
When Mixon caught a four-yard flip after Dalton's fake of a jet sweep handoff, the Bengals were tied at 10 with 5:18 left in the first half and it was courtesy of a running game that had 81 yards at that point after coming into the game averaging 53.
After Dalton went deep on third-and-one and from his 45, Taylor went 2-for-2 on fourth downs when Mixon pounded for three behind center Trey Hopkins and his guards. Mixon then rambled for 13 behind right guard Alex Redmond and on the next snap, with lineman Michael Jordan reporting eligible, running back Giovani Bernard squirted out from behind left guard Billy Price and made a bevy of Rams miss for his longest run of the year, a 25-yarder.
With Mixon churning for 53 yards on ten carries, the Bengals had their earliest offensive touchdown in weeks. He also helped Dalton pull into a tie with Bengals legend Ken Anderson. With Anderson looking on from his Wembley seat, he saw Dalton throw his 197th touchdown pass.
But the Bengals just couldn't cover Kupp. Moments after tying the game, the Bengals saw the Rams run a double reverse flea flicker that started on a flip to Kupp. It ended up with Kupp catching Goff's pass downfield and the play was compounded when cornerback B.W. Webb fell down. That allowed Kupp to finish a 65-yard touchdown play that put the Rams ahead, 17-10, with 3:57 left in the half as Kupp finished the half with five catches for 165 yards.
The Bengals crept into field goal range on their next series, but got sacked out of it when Dalton hit the deck on linebacker Ogbonnia Okoronkwo's rush.
It's as crisp as the Bengals offense has looked early since the opener. Dalton was 15 of 19 in the half for 141 yards and a 115.1 passer rating. And he had to be because the Bengals couldn't get near Goff and he torched them for 273 yards on those same 19 passes. He hit 13 of them, four of them for at least 30 yards.
On the Bengals' first series Dalton fired two big completions, a 27-yarder to tight end Tyler Eifert for his longest catch of the year on third-and-long down the seam beating safety Taylor Rapp. Then he got Boyd for 22 working out of the slot against cornerback Nickell Roby-Coleman on a nice back-shoulder fade that Boyd swiped from Roby-Coleman.
But this is why the Bengals are 30th in red-zone offense. Dalton took a coverage sack on first down (Dante Folwer got him from the right) and on third-and-five Hopkins was called for a false start. After their 21st trip inside the 20, they were stuck at 33 percent on seven touchdowns when Randy Bullock hit a 28-yard field goal on the first play of the second quarter. No points but they did take the ball away from the Rams for 6:44.
The defense had a great shot to back up the Rams after a big kick-off tackle by LaRoy Reynolds and were facing a third-and-six from the Rams 12. But ... Kupp. He was wide open over the middle for 32 yards. Then on third-and-eight he went for 23 over the middle again with Goff getting no pressure. Then Goff found wide receiver Josh Reynolds matched up on rookie middle linebacker Germaine Pratt in the slot and he beat him long for a 31-yard touchdown to put the Rams up, 10-3, with 10:43 left in the first half.
At that point the Bengals had stuffed the run (six carries for 16 yards, 10 for 35 for the half) and Rams wide receiver Brandin Cooks was gone with a concussion on the first series. But they couldn't get heat on Goff and while they tried to funnel help to the corners, Kupp killed them underneath. With 11 minutes left in the half the man had four catches for 101 yards while Goff was sitting unscathed, nine of 12 for 181 yards.
The Bengals tried to go with a couple of double tight end sets right away on that first series, but after a holding call on defensive tacke Aaron Donald and a 13-yard run by Mixon to the right, they went on a three-and-out. They tried a flip to Mixon (for three) and a run to Bernard up the middle (for three) out of a couple of heavy formations and on third-and-four they went multi wides. One of the receivers was Eifert, split wide, and Dalton tried to hit him on a slant and the play was broken up.