DENVER - It was as wild as it can get Sunday at Mile High Stadium when the Bengals defense pitched a golden effort in a huge 15-10 victory over the Broncos.
With a win, the Bengals improved to 8-6 and have a 52 percent chance at the playoffs. A loss and the chances would have slid to 16 percent.
The game included Evan McPherson's Bengals record 58-yard field goal and a frightening head injury to Broncos quarterback Teddy Bridgewater that sent him to the hospital and knocked him out of the game in the third quarter to bring on Drew Lock. But the Bengals defense rallied to hold the Broncos to 294 yards and gave them just ten points their fewest since a 22-6 win over the Jets in December of 2019.
Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow hit an ice-cold 15-yard pass to slot receiver Tyler Boyd going over the middle with 3:28 left to help put in the dagger. Boyd, who finished with five catches for 96 yards and a score, had even bigger catches. Such as a 56-yarder that gave them the lead for good with 30 seconds left in the third quarter, and a 19-yarder with nine seconds left in the half that set up McPherson's record bomb.
Burrow game-managed a grinder finishing 15 of 22 for 157 yards and one touchdown for another triple digit passer rating, this one at 103.
Lock had thrown three passes all year, but on his second one Sunday he gave the Broncos a 10-9 lead late in the third quarter on a 25-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Tim Patrick. Cornerback Trae Waynes had him covered, but Patrick outfought him for the ball.
But, suddenly lightning two plays later. After being saddled all day by the Broncos elite secondary, Burrow finally had a shot to make a play with 30 seconds left in the third quarter when Boyd was left all alone and when he made a nice jump cut on safety Justin Simmons, it was a 56-yard touchdown for their longest play in November and December, aided severely by tight end C.J. Uzomah's cut block.
The normally reliable Boyd dropped a perfectly delivered two-point conversion as the Bengals took a 15-10 lead into the fourth quarter.
But Lock channeled Elway. His fourth straight completion was a 24-yarder on third-and-eight when tight end Albert Okwuegbunam got a step on strong safety Vonn Bell. Then on third-and-11, cornerback Eli Apple was called for pass interference.
Yet when Lock drove them to the Bengals 9, Bengals right end Khalid Kareem channeled Earnest Byner and took it right out of his hands at the Bengals 15 with about ten minutes left before Lock even thought about a run-pass option. But Kareem had to be carted off as the hero after his ensuing fumble return was negated by being down by contact. His condition was unknown.
The Bengals couldn't get a first down, but the defense answered the call as they did all day when left tackle Garrett Bolles' holding call trying to block Trey Hendrickson killed the drive.
McPherson's franchise kick and his 53-yarder was the only smidgeon of offense in a first half the Bengals could muster just 91 yards, five punts and one first down.
McPherson's franchise kick gave them a 6-3 halftime lead and gave him nine of 50 this season, one shy of the NFL rookie record, and punctuated a brilliant defensive effort. At the two-minute warning of the first half, the Bengals had allowed just 83 yards, two first downs, and most, importantly, the Denver running game had just 34 yards even though Melvin Gordon III and Javante Williams came into the game as the NFL's only tandem that each had 700 yards. Denver finished with 133 rushing yards, but it took them 34 carries for less than four yards per carry.
The Broncos' 54-yard field goal that tied it came after the Bengals made two brilliant defensive plays back-to-back. Cornerback Eli Apple never gave up after wide receiver Courtland Sutton had a 35-yardish touchdown his hands when Apple knocked it out.
Then on the next play, Hendrickson, who would add to his 12.5 sacks later in the game, dropped into coverage and stoned Williams on a short pass to set up Brandon McManus' 54-yarder that tied the game at three.
View some of the best in game images as the Bengals faced the Broncos in Week 15 of the 2021 NFL season.
Hendrickson and tackle Larry Ogunjobi teamed up for sack to make it 13 for Hendrickson, but Hendrickson needed another half sack to extend his streak to 10, which would be the second longest of all-time.
The Bengals, the least penalized team in the NFL, had a problem with four flags in the first half and they were all tough ones. Left guard Quinton Spain was called for a hold that wiped out Burrow's 46-yard scramble and fling to rookie wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase.
They were just one of seven on third down in the half and one reason was because on third-and-five left tackle Jonah William false started. Then, the Broncos' two-minute drive at the end of the half got jump started on a third-and-six when tackle B.J. Hill was called in the neutral zone.
But McManus went wide right from 51 with nine seconds left and Burrow went right upstairs to Boyd for 19 yards over the middle for his longest pass of the half to set up McPherson for 58, breaking Randy Bullock's record of 57 set in 2019.
It was tough sledding. The Broncos took away the deep ball with its steel-belted secondary, holding Burrow o 75 yards on 10 of 14 passing in the half. One was a coverage sack and Chase had no catches on two targets. Mixon had eight carries for 25 yards, but there weren't enough first downs to get in sync.
The right side of the Bengals offensive line, already scene of No. 3 tackle Fred Johnson's first start of the season, saw another change early when right guard Hakeem Adeniji left late in the first quarter with what appeared to be a foot injury and was replaced by Jackson Carman and that made things difficult .
Against a soft zone, wide receiver Tee Higgins picked up 17 yards over the middle, but they couldn't get another first down. On third-and-seven the Bengals appeared to collapse on Chase over the middle in front of the first-down marker, but it didn't matter because right end Bradley Chubb tipped it.
McPherson drilled it from 53 for the 3-0 lead.