The Saints flipped the script Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium when New Orleans hogged the ball for 74 of 117 and a devastating time of possession of nearly 40 minutes as they broke to a 35-7 half-time lead and eased to a a 51-14 that featured quarterback Drew Brees missing just three passes all day.
Brees directed a scoring drive on all eight of his possessions as New Orleans amassed 509 yards of total offense to improve to 8-1 on the season. The Bengals dropped to 5-4.
By the time Saints cornerback Eli Apple grabbed Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton's tipped pass at the line of scrimmage for New Orleans' second interception of the day with eight minutes left in the game, the Saints already had the ball for 32 minutes in a game the Bengals knew they had to be on the field longer than Brees in order to douse the NFL's hottest quarterback and his absurd 77 completion percentage.
With two AFC North games looming the next two weeks, in Baltimore and back at PBS against Cleveland in two weeks, the Bengals have to figure out quickly what happened in one their worst losses home or away in franchise history in a game they allowed their most points ever in a home game.
Defense will be at the top of the list. The Bengals became the first team in the Super Bowl era to allow three straight 500-yard games when Brees hit 22 of his 25 passes for 265 yards.
Back-up quarterback Jeff Driskel's 27-yard touchdown run on a zone read on fourth-and-one with 4:42 left came with Dalton lifted after completing just 12 of 20 passes for 153 yards and a 61 passer rating, his worst of the season.
He didn't have the ball long enough to do much. He did line up as a receiver on his lone touchdown drive that was bolstered by Driskel's eight-yard zone read. But that was about it. The Bengals missed all six third-down tries.
The Bengals had hoped to control the clock against the Saints and their seven-game winning streak, but they got clocked instead.
As has been the case all season the last minute of the half proved disastrous for the Bengals. Dalton's 10th pass of the game was a bomb that just didn't make it to wide receiver John Ross and safety Marcus Williams came out of center field to pluck the underthrown ball and went 78 yards the other way before wide receiver Alex Erickson hauled him down at the 17 with eight seconds left.
That's all Brees needed against a defense that allowed five touchdowns on all five first-half possessions. This time he hit his best wide receiver, Michael Thomas, all alone in a zone between safeties Jessie Bates and Shawn Williams for the touchdown.
The Saints answered the Bengals' move to three safeties with stunning balance. In the first half they threw it 21 times and ran it 19 as running back Mark Ingram began a day that ended with 104 yards on eight carries a pop per a slew of missed tackles.With their linebacker corps limping, the Bengals were looking to get nimble coverage people on the slippery Saints in space.
The key part of the half? The Saints immediately went ahead, 14-7, after the Bengals tied it with the help of two plays that are a microcosm of the Bengals defensive struggles: coverage of running backs and missed tackles. Both were big passes to Ingram. The first one when linebacker Jordan Evans, starting for the injured Vontaze Burfict, fell down when he tried to avoid a pick and Ingram was all by himself up the right sideline for a 27-yard route. Moments later they couldn't keep pace with Ingram on a screen out of the backfield. Defensive end Sum Hubbard couldn't reach him after he caught it and Evans got pancaked to the ground. Ingram finished it off for a 28-yard touchdown play when he spun and safeties Shawn Williams and Jessie Bates missed the tackles at the goal line 1:27 into the second quarter. It was 14-7 and the Saints were gone moments later.
That's when, with the help of a 17-yard flip to running back Joe Mixon, the Bengals moved to a fourth-and-one on the Saints 40 and went for it. But tight end Matt Lengel false started and that brought on punter Kevin Huber. Running back Mark Walton got tangled up and his man ran into Huber, so there was no flag for roughing but Huber appeared hurt even though he stayed in. He put the Saints on their 10, but since Brees was in the process of hitting 14 of his first 15 and converting all six third-down tries in the half, it didn't matter.
The Bengals turned to Mixon five times in their eight-play opening drive capped by Dalton's two-yard touchdown pass to Ross running from the slot right to left along the back line of the end zone when he fried Apple off the ball.
Mixon attacked the NFL's No. 1 rush defense with 35 yards on his first four carries that included a jump cut on a seven-yard sweep following left tackle Cordy Glenn. He also added a seven-yard catch off Dalton's action. And Driskel got into the act with an eight-yard run off a zone read. The Bengals used a diet of backup tackle Jake Fisher as the sixth lineman and was in on the touchdown pass that began on Dalton's play action.
But when they got down 21-7, Mixon came out, Giovani Bernard came in and they went the dreaded three-and-out in less than a minute when Dalton got sacked on third down. Mixon finished the half with those 34 yards and on five carries. The Bengals didn't have it very often, only long enough to go 0-for-2 on third down and for Dalton to go seven of 10 passing for 92 yards. Mixon had another catch after the first drive and ended up with 24 yards catching, 61 rushing on 11 carries. 0 Wide receiver Tyler Boyd had three catches for 65 yards, one a 36-yarder over the middle.
Bengals cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick was ruled out early in the second half with a concussion.
The Saints opened the game the way the Bengals were supposed to play it when they kept the ball for 15 plays and 75 yards on 8:30 and took a 7-0 lead when Brees threw a low-and-away seed to Thomas and despite great coverage by cornerback William Jackson it was even greater throw and catch for a nine-yard touchdown catch.
The Bengals started three safeties when they inserted Clayton Fejedelem and Brees responded with balance. He hit six of his first seven passes, but they also ran it eight times and that included two zone read runs by backup quarterback Taysom Hill. one for a first down.
But Brees was Brees. Just before blitzing Shawn Williams blew him up on a corner blitz, he drilled a 15-yarder over the middle to Thomas covered by Fejedelem. Then on third-and-three in the red zone Thomas got inside Jackson over the middle and Brees had time to hit him in the chest as the Saints converted their first seven third downs.