On Ring of Honor night installing two offensive legends before a Paycor Stadium record crowd of 67,260, the defense flexed its muscles Thursday night with strong safety Vonn Bell's second interception of the game at the Bengals 9 with three minutes left on the way to a rollicking 27-15 victory over the undefeated Dolphins.
Bell's 46-yard return inspired quarterback Joe Burrow's finishing flourish, a two-yard flip to tight end Hayden Hurst with 1:52 left for his first Bengals touchdown as the Bengals fended off a backup quarterback for the second straight game in solving Teddy Bridgewater.
Burrow racked up the third fourth quarter comeback of his career (and second on Thursday night) on 20 of 31 passing for 287 yards and 115.9 passer rating. With Miami eschewing its signature zonbe blitz while playing coverage, Burrow patiently converted eight of 15 third downs as the Bengals carved out 371 yards, their second most of the season. He saved his best for last to white out the Dolphins on white helmet night.
After Bell's pick (the first two-pick game of his career), wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase, held to 45 yards until he grabbed a 36-yard go route, set up the last score and finished with 81 yards. After going plus-four in turnovers last week against the Jets, Bell let them get to plus-two Thursday as they won eight out of 10 third downs.
Wide receiver Tee Higgins, wearing the No. 85 of Ring inductee Isaac Curtis, became the third Bengal receiver to have a 100-yard day this season with 124 yards on seven catches.
Wide receiver Tyler Boyd didn't have a catch with 51 seconds left in the third quarter, but that's when he got a 23-yard completion to Chase after a pass from Burrow, bailing out them out of a third-and-11 and right tackle La'el Collins' holding penalty.
Then on the next snap, the last play of the third quarter, Boyd got the first catch on a fou-yarder. Then on the first play of the fourth quarter he ran across the field for a 43-yard completion to give them a first down at the Dolphins 6. That was it for Boyd, but that's all they needed.
It was rough go from the 6. After running back Joe Mixon ran for three yards on first down, they couldn't get the next play in and had to take a timeout and Mixon got two yards on the next two carries, failing to crack the right side and they had to resort to Evan McPherson's 19-yard field goal for a 17-15 lead with 12 minutes left.
The Dolphins were just returning the favor from the previous series when the Bengals defense had a hellacious stand of its own after Hill's juggling 64-yard catch put Miami inside the five. But on third down AFC Defensive Player of the Week Trey Hendrickson bulled his old Saints teammate, Dolphins left tackle Terron Armstead to force Bridgewater from the pocket and throw an incompletion. Miami had to settle for a field goal that gave them their only lead of the night at 15-14.
The Dolphins lost quarterback Tua Tagovailoa with 5:15 left in the half when nose tackle Josh Tupou threw him to the turf on his first career sack and he suffered a head injury and was taken to the University of Cincinnati Hospital, where he was discharged and flew back with the team.
Bridgewater was watching history repeat itself. Back on Dec., 19 in Denver, he also had to leave a loss against the Bengals also strapped to board. When Jason Sanders tried a 52-yard field goal, rookie end Jeff Gunter blocked it.
Of course, it was No. 85 that gave the Bengals the lead heading into the halftime Ring of Honor ceremony. With Chase doubled on third-and-11, Higgins flayed Pro Bowl cornerback Xavien Howard in one-on-one coverage down the left sideline with 3:02 left in the half.
The 59-yard touchdown, the longest play of the year, pulled the Bengals out of the offensive doldrums. Up to that point, they had just 120 yards, two three-and-outs and they were headed to another one until the big play. It appeared the Dolphins called off their customary blitzes and played coverage on Burrow.
They tried to pound a Dolphins defense that took 90 snaps just four days ago in the heat of Miami. They gave it to Mixon 13 times in the half and he managed 38 yards while Burrow, reduced often to check-downs to Mixon, had 132 yards on nine of 16 passing. Chase had just one catch for eight yards in the half and Boyd didn't have any. Mixon finished with 61 yards on 21 carries.
Meanwhile, Bridgewater looked like he'd been playing all year on his first full drive. He hit five of six, including a third-and-five rolling away from pressure when he hit Trent Sherfield for 12 yards coming back to the ball.
They broke the Bengals' skein of eight straight quarters without allowing a touchdown on a seven-yard shovel pass to running back Chase Edmonds under the linebackers. When Sanders hit the right upright, it was 14-12 at the half.
A curious roughing penalty on defensive Sam Hubbard stopping a run was the big play in the drive.
Mixon bulled in for his first touchdown and the Bengals' first rushing touchdown of the season in style. On third-and-inches, Mixon kept his feet moving behind the right side in the Bengals' big 13 package of tight ends and extra tackle Hakeem Adeniji and Mixon followed him and right guard Alex Cappa for the second straight week they got an opening drive touchdown.
Burrow hit his first four passes for 43 yards to three different receivers, the big one on a third-and-one flip to Hurst and he got most of his 19 yards after catch.
It was the first of five straight third-and-one conversions in the first 18 minutes of the game, but they couldn't score because they couldn't covert a fourth-and-one from the Miami 24. They passed up McPherson's 42-yard field-goal try and went with Big 13. But this time they ran Mixon wide right and he got no gain.
That turnover turned into a field goal when on third-and-four Bengals cornerback Chidobe Awuzie couldn't get his head turned around in time on a bomb to Hill down the left sideline and it was a 24-yard pass interference penalty that put the ball on the Bengals 30. But they forced another field goal when linebacker Akeem Davis-Gaither hung with Hill on a pass over the middle and dislodged it for an incompletion and Sanders made it 7-6.