The proud Bengals defense dared Denver quarterback Trevor Siemian to beat them with his arm in the first road start of his career at Sunday's sold-out Paul Brown Stadium opener and he shocked the crowd of 63,850 with four touchdown passes in a stunning 29-17 victory that dropped the 1-2 Bengals to under .500 for the first time since the morning of Nov. 18, 2012 outside of the 2013 Opening Day loss.
The loss came five years to the day of the Bengals' last September loss at PBS and that's the last time they've been 1-2 and lost a home opener.
Siemian came into a building where only Andrew Luck has thrown for four touchdowns in the last 28 regular-season games and sifted the Bengals for 312 yards. In becoming the first man in NFL history to throw for four touchdowns and 300 yards in his first road start, the kid hit them for touchdown passes of 41 and 55 yards, the last one with 4:23 left and sealing it. And this is a guy who came into the game with no completions on balls thrown 20 yards down field.
Siemian, channeling his best T.J. Yates, came into the fourth quarter down, 17-16, and then proceeded to go 7-for-7 on the go-ahead touchdown drive against the Bengals' look that usually crowded the box with eight men. The killing play came on wide
receiver Demaryius Thomas' short catch on third-and-six and he made cornerback Darqueze Dennard miss.
Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, en route to a 117-yard game, then made cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick miss on the other side on another short flip for 17 yards and it set up Sieman's one-yard touchdown pass to tight end John Phillips to make it 22-17 with 6:56 left in the game.
When Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green dropped a third-and-three pass on the sideline, Siemian went for the kill on the first snap despite being backed up at his 17. His 28-yard seed to tight end Jeff Heuerman working on safety George Iloka for his first NFL catch set up the 51-yarder to Thomas working against cornerback Chris Lewis-Harris for his 100-yard game. Lewis-Harris was in the game with Adam Jones on the sideline with cramps.
After holding Denver to 15 yards in the third quarter (featuring left end Carlos Dunlap's first sack of the season), the Bengals took a 17-16 lead on the second play of the fourth quarter on Mike Nugent's 34-yard field goal. It capped a grinding 15-play drive that came up short in the red zone, where the Bengals were looking at first-and-10 from the Denver 15 after Green slithered in front of Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib for nine yards.
But running back Giovani Bernard lost a yard on the first two downs and they had to settle for the field goal. The Bengals ran the ball pretty well against Denver's most-feared-in-the-NFL defense as running back Jeremy Hill stalked his first 100-yard game since the finale of his rookie year in 2014. He finished with 97 yards on 17 carries and Dalton's 40 yards on six scrambles left them at 143 yards on 29 carries.
But after rolling up 65 yards on his first four carries, Hill went for 32 yards on his last 13 as they slipped back under three yards per carry like they did the first two weeks.
And they didn't go downfield until late as Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton ended up throwing maybe three or four passes 20 yards downfield. He finished 21 of 31 for 206 yards, but had no TDs and threw a late pick, his second of the season. Green finished wiith eight catches for 77 yards, but averaged only 9.6 yards per catch while Dalton averaged only 6.6 yards per throw.
The Bengals had done a nice job holding Super Bowl MVP Von Miller and his band of QB wreckers in the first half. (Miller didn't get a sack until the last minute and the game basically over.)
But the protection betrayed them in early in the third quarter when a fumble forced by cornerback Adam Jones and recovered by linebacker Karlos Dansby gave them a first down at the Denver 37.
But linebacker Shane Ray came off the edge to beat extra tackle Jake Fisher for a jarring eight-yard sack on first-and-10. Then Ray did it again on the next snap when Dalton dropped back into the pocket, didn't find anyone open, and when Dalton tucked it Ray slid off left tackle Andrew Whitworth for the coverage sack and it was a huge three-and-out.
The Bengals simply did what you can't do against the Super Bowl champs. No matter who the quarterback is and that's how Siemian threw two touchdown passes to stake the Broncos to a 16-14 half-time lead.
Denver took the lead with 28 seconds left in the half on a drive kept alive by two dropped interceptions from linebackers Vincent Rey and Karlos Dansby and a third-down sack by defensive tackle Pat Sims that was wiped out on a hold by Iloka.
Denver parlayed two third-down penalties into Brandon McManus' 20-yard field goal that cut the lead to 7-3. And Adam Jones' fumbled punt at the Bengals 46 set up Denver's first touchdown.
With one starting tackle inactive and the other banged up, Siemian stood in the pocket on that final drive of the half to deliver some third-down magic. He converted a third-and-nine to wide receiver Cody Latimer over the middle at the Bengals 18 for 10 yards. Then he hit a roll-out pass to Sanders working on Kirkpatrick to convert a third-and-one and followed that up with a seven-yard touchdown pass on an out route to Sanders despite decent coverage by safety Derron Smith.
Defensive lineman Margus Hunt, working in concert with Dunlap, then blocked the extra point to book-end his blocked field goal in New York two weeks ago in the opener.
Siemian came into a building where the Bengals have allowed a combined passer rating of 68.8 and calmly doubled it by putting up a 132.1 completing 23 of 35 for 312 yards and no picks That wasn't expected, especially after holding running back C.J. Anderson to 37 yards on 14 carries.
Using extra linemen and tight ends to help blank Miller in the first half, Dalton had time to convert a third-and-nine to tight end C.J. Uzomah for 22 yards down the seam to put the Bengals at the Denver 15 midway through the second quarter.
A quick behind-the-line shot to Green picked up 11 more and that set up Hill's second touchdown of the half when he put his hand on the back of left guard Clint Boling on an inside play and then pushed to daylight on the edge for a four-yard touchdown that gave the Bengals a 14-10 lead with 4:57 left in the half.
The Bengals came in needing to run the ball and they did make a few lineup changes on their first snap, opting to start fullback Ryan Hewitt and Tyler Kroft in place of Uzomah at tight end.
And Hill responded right away in his attempt to erase the PBS nightmare the last time he ran it here in a game that counted. He ended the half with 85 yards on 11 carries after the Bengals came in with 103 yards rushing on 37 carries on the season.
With offensive coordinator Ken Zampese using a heavy use of the heavy packages with Fisher, they ran Hill four times on the first five plays for 65 yards.
On the fourth play Fisher blocked down and right guard Kevin Zeitler and right tackle Cedric Ogbuehi pulled to open the gates for the Bengals' longest run of the year. Hill kicked it to the outside and jetted 50 yards down the left sideline before getting tripped up at the Denver 3.
Following a timeout granted to Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis, they lined up in the "I" with Hewitt in front of Hill and Hill hammered in up the middle to give the Bengals a 7-0 lead less than four minutes into the game. Hewitt, who took just 16 snaps in the first two games, was all over the place. On Hill's eight-yard run (following the only pass of the drive on a quick nine-yard flip to Green), Hewitt went in motion and cleared the way.
As could be expected, the Bengals crowded the line of scrimmage with eight and nine men and dared Siemian to beat them throwing. But after the drive they took the lead, they beat themselves with three defensive penalties called by the crew of John Parry, the referee whom worked the two Brawls in the Paul against the Steelers last year.
The Broncos turned the penalties into a 14-play drive that yielded McManus' 20-yard field goal with four minutes left in the first quarter. The big call was a curious unecessary roughness penalty right after the Broncos were called for illegal motion on third down as Derron Smith and Dansby hit Siemian and Dansby was flagged for the 15-yarder.
Kirkpatrick was called for illegal contact on third down later in the drive and Adam Jones early in the drive got called for a hold.
Then Jones suffered his first loss fumbled punt in his seven seasons and 85 returns as a Bengal on a ball that was punched out just before his knee hit the ground, the refs said, on a replay that didn't get overturned, and set Denver up at the Bengals 46. Then on third-and-five, another rarity. Sanders ran past Jones and Siemian, moving around in the pocket to get a better view, put it right there for his first NFL completion on a ball thrown longer than 20 yards.
Dalton went five of eight in the half for 63 yards.
Bengals kicker Mike Nugent saved a touchdown on Latimer's 46-yard return after the Bengals went up, 14-10. He suffered a shoulder injury but remained in the game. INACTIVE LIST: Pro Bowl tight end Tyler Eifert's return is still on hold.
Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis put Eifert on the inactive list again 90 minutes before they lined up to play the Super Bowl champion Broncos in Sunday's Paul Brown Stadium opener.
But slot cornerback Darqueze Dennard (hamstring) and backup right tackle Eric Winston (back) were active after either not working or being limited last week in practice.
Other than that, no surprises. Joining Eifert as 3-for-3 on the inactive list were wide receiver Cody Core, defensive tackle DeShawn Williams, guard Christian Westerman,and quarterback Jeff Driskel.
With the Bengals expected to challenge Denver quarterback Trevor Siemian to throw in his first NFL road start, they sat down two cornerbacks for the second straight week, Chykie Brown and newcomer KeiVarae Russell.
Lewis made it clear on Friday he wasn't going to play Eifert (ankle) until he knew for sure Eifert could get through a game playing a partial amount of snaps. He could make a brief appearance in the next game, Thursday night (8:20-NFL Network) at PBS against Miami and then have ten days off before they go to Dallas, or they could just wait and suit him up for the Cowboys on Oct. 9.
RUN STATS: Although people love to say the NFL is a passing league, the Bengals have excelled in the Green-Dalton Era with a pass game that has at least been complemented by the run and it's one of the several reasons why many feel Cincy is going to try and pound it against the Broncos.
When the Bengals opened this season with a combined 37 rushes in the first two games, it marked the first time since A.J. Green and Andy Dalton arrived in 2011 that the Bengals had fewer than 20 rushes in back-to-back games when they had 57 yards on 19 carries in New York and 46 yards on 18 tries last week in Pittsburgh.
It had happened only six times before this season and the Bengals were 2-4 when it happened in games where Dalton threw three TDs with four interceptions. But the 103 yards aren't the fewest rushing in back-to-back games. That happened in the last two games of 2012 in, naturally, AFC North games when they went for 63 yards on the same 37 carries in Pittsburgh and at home against Baltimore in what turned out to be two wins that put them in the postseason.
Cincinnati Bengals take on the Denver Broncos at Paul Brown Stadium in week 3 of the regular season 9/25/2016