MIAMI — With one defensive tackle and their middle linebacker already out, the Bengals lost the heart-and-soul of their front seven for the game late in the second quarter when two-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Geno Atkins went down with what is believed to be a season-ending ACL tear in his right knee and the Bengals rallied from under the cloud and a 17-3 third-quarter deficit to put the game into overtime.
But Cincinnati's bid for a fifth straight victory blew up when Dolphins defensive end Cameron Wake blew past Bengals right guard Kevin Zeitler on a stunt for a sack and safety of quarterback Andy Dalton with 6:38 left in OT to give Miami a 22-20 victory. In this week of walkoff obstructions and pickoffs, this was just the third game in NFL history that ended with a safety.
After the Bengals held the Dolphins on their opening possession of overtime, the Cincinnati offense drove to the Miami 38, where on third-and-eight Dalton couldn't connect with wide receiver A.J. Green on a deep sideline route. On the previous play, wide receiver Mohamed Sanu dropped a pass that would have placed the Bengals inside the Miami 35.
Rather than attempt a 57-yard field goal, Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis opted for field position and a Kevin Huber punt, which Miami signaled for a fair-catch at the 14-yard line.
The defense came up with a huge stop by James Harrison on third-and-one following cornerback Terence Newman's 38-yard pass interference penalty when Dolphins wide receiver Mike Wallace ran past him one-on-one in a blitz look. Miami's ensuing punt pinned the Bengals on their own 8-yard line, resulting in the eventual game-ending safety.
Dalton threw over 50 passes for the first time in his career, hitting 32 of 53, but none went for a touchdown and three got intercepted. His 116.8 passer rating in the four-game winning streak crashed to 55.4, and Green had a career-high 11 catches for 128 yards in his fourth straight 100-yard game during what looked to be another thrilling victory.
But it was not to be. In regulation Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill took about a minute to move 50 yards to set up rookie Caleb Sturgis's tying 44-yard field goal with 11 seconds left to make it 20-20. Tannehill negated right end Michael Johnson's sack with a big throw to wide receiver Rishard Matthews for 16 yards and then dropped a 21-yard pass over cornerback Adam Jones covering wide receiver Brian Hartline well only to see Hartline make a fine play to keep his feet inbounds to help set up Sturgis as the injury-riddled Bengals defense went to overtime for the second time in four games even though its offense rung up 465 total yards.
For the second time in three weeks Mike Nugent appeared to hit his longest game-winner, a 54-yard bullet with 1:24 left in a drive that was set up by quarterback Dalton's 16-yard throw to Sanu, the sixth third down of at least nine yards Dalton converted Thursday night. The Bengals stormed back from a 17-3 deficit to tie the game at 17 early in the fourth quarter on rookie running back Giovani Bernard's seemingly impossible 35-yard touchdown run.
After Green converted Cincinnati's fifth third down of at least nine yards on a spin move that left cornerback Brent Grimes in the dust on third-and-16 for a 21-yard gain, the Bengals had a golden chance to take the lead. But Sanu dropped a ball over the middle at the Dolphins 14 and linebacker Dannell Ellerbe picked off the deflection with 4:56 left in the game for the fourth Bengals turnover. At that point the Bengals had more yards than the 402 they had in last Sunday's 49-9 win over the Jets but the four turnovers killed them.
Bernard, a Boca Raton, Fla., resident making a Halloween night homecoming, tied the game with 12:32 left on a play it appeared he was going to lose five yards on a sweep right. But the more ground he gave up, the more he gained. Bernard spun out of tackles in the backfield by Grimes, right end Olivier Vernon and linebacker Phillip Wheeler as he cut it back to the left sideline behind blocks by Dalton and tight end Jermaine Gresham. He then cut back across the grain where he incredibly made Grimes miss again at the 10 for the touchdown.
As if to underscore the adversity the Bengals had to face all night, Bernard wasn't on the field late in the game because of a rib injury after a career-high 79 yards rushing on nine carries.
What an odd game. The Bengals held the ball for all but 2:50 of the third quarter in a gritty, resourceful stretch in the second half and they ended up keeoing the ball 12 more minutes than Miami while outgaining the Dolphins by 80 yards.
Moments after Bengals wide receiver Marvin Jones's trying 50-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown at 10 was negated by Gresham's holding penalty in the middle of the third quarter, Dalton threw the second red-zone interception of his career when he tried to hit Jones working on Grimes on the right side inside the 5. Dalton threw it short and behind Jones and later said it slipped out of his hand. Grimes was able to tear it away from Jones and take off on a 94-yard interception return, the second-longest return ever against the Bengals. That gave the Dolphins a 17-3 lead with left 7:37 left in the third quarter.
But the Bengals responded with another 80-yard touchdown drive and Bernard was at the center of it with an 11-yard run, a 10-yarder and a three-yard run for the touchdown that cut it to 17-10 with 2:10 left in the third quarter.
In the first half the Dolphins buried the proud Bengals defense with their running game and used a terrible turnover in the last minute to take a 10-3 halftime lead.
Dolphins cornerback Dimitri Patterson wrestled a sideline pass out of the arms of Green with 28 seconds left in the first half and Tannehill threw a couple of out routes to set up Sturgis's 36-yard field goal with six seconds left in the half.
The team that looked so powerful just four days ago in a 49-9 victory for its fourth straight victory blinked on the national stage as its defensive injuries kept piling and the offense couldn't score a touchdown after three straight games of 400 yards of offense in first half.
Dalton finished the half far off his AFC Offensive Player of the Month numbers with 13-of-22 passing for 121 yards and the interception for a 55.3 passer rating. The Dolphins played a bunch of zone defenses and the front seven still held up, stoning the Bengals on 35 rush yards on 10 tries.
Miami was already having its way with the Bengals front seven that came into the game missing its top two middle linebackers with injuries before Atkins had his right knee fallen on during a tackle. The devastating turn of events left Cincinnati with just two tackles in Domata Peko and Brandon Thompson since Devon Still is out with an elbow injury.
Atkins, the Fort Lauderdale, Fla., product, left on a cart and wave to a group of about 40 family members and friends.
And to make matters worse, the Bengals briefly lost another linebacker when Harrison left with a thumb injury late in the first half but he was supposed to return. If he didn't, rookie free agent Jayson DiManche was the next man up.
The defense went into halftime knowing one of its two best defensive players is gone for the season with cornerback Leon Hall's surgery for a torn Achilles and it had to be wonder about Atkins, the defense's other top player. Head coach Marvin Lewis confirmed an ACL injury.
The Dolphins took a 7-3 lead with 2:39 left in the half on Tannehill's one-yard sneak that capped the 93-yard drive that claimed Atkins, who appeared to twist his knee after it was planted and then it got rolled.
The Dolphins ran it eight times on the 11-play drive as they gouged the Bengals for an unthinkable 142 yards on 22 carries. It was the most the Bengals have given up in a game except for the 182 they allowed the Packers as Lamar Miller went for 89 yards on 11 carries and Daniel Thomas added nine carries for 39 yards. The strategy was pretty clear. The Dolphins only threw it 12 times.
The big play in the touchdown drive was a pass, a 40-yarder to Wallace running through a gap down the middle working on Newman as Tannehill beat a blitz by WLL backer Vontaze Burfict.
And the biggest run ended up not hurting the Bengals as Miller zig-zagged for 41 yards to put the ball on the Bengals 10, but left end Carlos Dunlap came out of nowhere with a hellacious tomahawk chop from behind and the ball squirted into the end zone and into the hands of cornerback Adam Jones, who went 43 yards the other way.
And the Bengals looked to be rolling with Green wide open on the sideline in Miami territory on third down and he dropped it. It was symbolic of the perplexing punchless offense after such a hot streak.
After scoring on all five red-zone trips last Sunday against the Jets, the Bengals settled for Nugent's 31-yard field goal three minutes into the second quarter to take a 3-0 lead.
Bernard spun out of a tackle for five yards to get the Bengals into the red zone.
But Dalton got some heat up the middle on first and second down and he took an ill-advised sack in the red zone when Wake chased him out of the pocket and Dalton didn't throw it away.
Dalton hit six of his first 11 throws for 63 yards and four of them were to Green for 47 yards. Green, the AFC leader in receiving yards, set up the field goal converting two third-and-10s against Grimes. Grimes fell down on the first one, which went for 17, and then Green made a leaping catch over Grimes over the middle for 19.
It was Tannehill who was supposed to fumble the ball in the pocket Thursday night since he came into the game with eight of them. But it was Dalton who put the ball on the deck first when Wake beat right tackle Andre Smith and swiped the ball out of Dalton's hand at the Bengals 25.
But the Bengals defense, which didn't let the Jets into the red zone on Sunday, didn't let the Dolphins here, and Sturgis missed his fifth field goal in six tries when he hooked a 34-yarder with 2:53 left in the first quarter.
Atkins wasted no time on the first series making himself right at home near his home. On second down he beat left guard Richie Incognito for his sixth sack of the season and on third down he forced the punt when he chased down Miller on a screen.
But the Bengals couldn't convert on three runs and uncharacteristically failed to cash a third-and-one. Running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who led the NFL last season on 14-for-15 on third-and-and one situations, came into Thursday's game 4-for-5 this season until the Dolphins D-line pushed back Zeitler and BJGE had to make his cut in the backfield before his second effort was stopped. PREGAME NOTES:As expected, Bengals left tackle Andrew Whitworth (knee) was inactive for Thursday night's game against the Dolphins at Sun Life Stadium, giving Anthony Collins his 20th NFL start after playing for Whitworth on Opening Day.
Not expected was head coach Marvin Lewis dressing all seven wide receivers with the activation of Andrew Hawkins earlier in the day from injured reserve-recall. But how much Hawkins (ankle) and Mohamed Sanu (shoulder) can go may be a question. Sanu didn't practice during the one extended workout of the week and was listed as questionable. Ryan Whalen dressed for the first time since Sept. 29 for the third game this season.
Rey Maualuga (knee, concussion) and Michael Boley (hamstring), the top two middle linebackers, were also inactive, giving four-year special teams ace Vinnie Rey his second start and first since last season's second game of the year.
Also inactive for the Bengals were running back Rex Burkhead, cornerback Chris Lewis-Harris, center Trevor Robinson and defensive tackle Devon Still.
The Bengals had the same captains they have had most of the streaks without Whitworth: quarterback Andy Dalton for the offense, defensive tackle Domata Peko and safety Reggie Nelson, and Rey and running back Cedric Peerman for special teams.