NASHVILLE - Facing a third-and-seven for a touchdown and the Bengals trying to hold the Titans to a game-tying field goal, Titans running back DeMarco Murray caught a check-down pass from quarterback Marcus Mariota on the 2 and he powered past cornerback Darqueze Dennard, safety Clayton Fejedelem, and got the ball underneath linebacker Vincent Rey for a touchdown with 36 seconds left that gave Tennessee a 24-20 victory.
Bengals defensive back Josh Shaw suffered his third third-down penalty when he was called for holding wide receiver Eric Decker with 1:48 left to give the Titans a first down at the Bengals 20.
The Titans' now-or-never TD drive produced their first points of the second half and spoiled a yeoman effort by the Bengals defense missing cornerbacks William Jackson (toe) and Adam Jones (concussion) in that last quarter.
With the Bengals offense hovering around 200 yards and trailing the Titans, 17-13, quarterback Andy Dalton and wide receiver A.J. Green hooked up with 5:03 left in the game when Green beat cornerback Logan Ryan on a slant, made him miss, and he outran safety Kevin Byard and everybody else for a 70-yard touchdown that gave the Bengals a 20-17 lead and Green five catches for 115 yards.
That gave Green his 31th 100-yard game, tying Chad Johnson's club record.
A week after the Bengals' best offensive player got ejected at the end of the first half, the Bengals saw their best defensive player tossed on Sunday when middle linebacker Vontaze Burfict was thrown out for contacting an official in the final five nightmarish minutes of the first half. Burfict got ejected after Mariota ran eight yards to the Bengals 1 and Tennessee preparing to go up 14-6. He appeared to brush the official's hand away.
The Bengals defense gave the offense plenty of chances in a scrum of a second half. Early in the fourth quarter cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick pulled off a great hustle play when he continued to chase down Titans rookie wide receiver Corey Davis after he caught a route over the middle and just before Davis went in for the touchdown Kirkpatrick punched it out of his hands for a touchback with 13:19 left in the game.
But the offense could only respond with a three-and-out with less than 12 minutes left in the game, making them 1-for-8 on third down on the way to 1-for-10 on Sunday , just like they were 1-for-8 last week in Jacksonville. With Green held to four catches in the game's first 55 minutes, Dalton was looking for wide receiver Brandon LaFell and they missed on a pass over the middle.
With about seven minutes left in game on first down (after a third down sack by Bengals defensive lineman Chris Smith), Dalton went for it all and Green had the secondary beat but Dalton couldn't get it there and it was broken up when Green had to come back for it.
The Bengals defense began the second half with two three-and-outs, the second one courtesy of good coverage by Kirkpatrick on Davis on a go ball and Chris Smith stoning quarterback Mariota on a zone read.
But the Bengals offense matched it with their third-down woes mounting. Dalton tried to hit LaFell on a slant in traffic on third-and-four, the count went to 1-for-6 when cornerback Brice McCain tipped it.
The Bengals blew a great chance on the first series of the half when Adam Jones returned a punt for the first time in weeks. The pumped-up Jones, returning to the place where he was drafted 12 years ago with the sixth pick, ripped off a 23-yarder scooting up his left side to put the ball at the Titans 46.
But right guard Trey Hopkins was called for clipping to blow up the drive. Jones took a shot at the end of the return and was later ruled out because of a concussion.
The Bengals forced their third straight punt of the half when Jackson and defensive end Carl Lawson sacked Mariota on back-to-back snaps.
But again, it wasn't happening. They went to 1-for-7 on third down when Dalton didn't lead Green far enough into the sideline on third-and-11 (wide receiver Alex Erickson lost a yard on a sweep) and Ryan was able to knock it down. It was the first time in five targets Green didn't come up with a completion.
More déjà vu? For the fourth straight game the Bengals gave up a field-goal at the half-time gun, this one from 44 yards out by the Titans' Ryan Succop when Mariota outfoxed the Bengals and the clock. With five seconds left he ran a play from the Bengals 36 and Decker was wide open down the middle for nine yards and the Titans got the timeout with two seconds left.
Mariota bedeviled the Bengals all half with 15 of 21 passing for 147 yards and added two runs for 36 yards. He finished 22 of 45 for 264 yards and 51 rushing. He began the half's final drive from his 20 with 1:37 left and pecked away hitting six of eight passes.
The Bengals cut the lead to 14-13 when Dennard made a stretching interception over the middle at the Titans 23 and ran it back 20 yards and rookie running back Joe Mixon cut back a run to the right for a three-yard touchdown with 1:46 left in the half. Mixon ended up carrying just nine times for 37 yards and the Bengals rushed for just 53 of their total 308 yards. Dalton offered a triple-digit rating on the road with 100.3 on 20 of 35 for 265 yards.
Dennard saved the day because one snap before Dalton and center Russell Bodine couldn't get a handle on the snap and they lost the fumble at the Titans 13.
It was Dalton's second fumble of the half, but he was 11 of 15 passing for 132 yards even though they could manage just 35 rushing yards on nine carries.
The Bengals defense offered absolutely no resistance on the Titans' first drive even though left tackle Taylor Lewan took an unnecessary roughness call on first down to make it second and 24. But Mariota found rookie wide receiver Taywan Taylor wide open across the field for 20 yards and tight end Delanie Walker beat Shaw for a six-yard completion to the sideline. Murray did the rest with a nine-yard sweep left and then on second down ran through nose tackle Andrew Billings' tackle in the backfield for a two-yard touchdown run with 7:56 left in the first quarter.
Billings, the red-shirt rookie, drew his first NFL start. Also in on that goal-line play was undrafted rookie nose tackle Josh Tupou making his NFL debut just off the practice squad.
Mariota spiced the 5:30 drive with his 28-yard keeper off the option skating down the left side when the Bengals overplayed the pitch that never came.
The Bengals got on the board on their second series and Dalton's main man was LaFell with Titans defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau choosing to give a lot of attention too wide receiver A.J. Green. On third-and-10 from his own 25 Dalton zipped an 11-yard crosser to LaFell and Green kept the drive open when he drew a 10-yard pass interference penalty on cornerback Logan Ryan. LaFell was then wide open running between the hash marks for a 37-yard touchdown with 4:38 left in the first quarter. But Randy Bullock, who missed last week's game with a back issue, hooked the extra point to the left and the Titans still had a 7-6 lead.
LaFell had five catches for 87 yards at the half and Green three for 32. LaFell ended up with six catches for 95 yards and Dalton's two TD passes came against a defense that has allowed the fewest passes of at least 20 yards in the NFL this season.
The Bengals couldn't duplicate the feat on the next series when Mixon got dumped for a three-yard loss on a draw into a blitz and when Dalton went deep to rookie wide receiver John Ross down the right sideline, Ross appeared to stop his route before going after it again but it was incomplete.
The Bengals got some good fortune on the next series that began when rookie safety Brandon Wilson dove to keep Kevin Huber's punt from going out of bounds to set up the Titans on their own 1. But the Bengals couldn't get off the field on third-and-six when Davis made a nice juggling catch on Kirkpatrick on a 15-yard throw that Mariota whistled to the sideline before Davis turned around.
Mariota then had a touchdown dropped what would have been a 29-yarder when wide receiver Rishard Matthews dropped a ball when he was wide open down the middle. But Murray was called for roughing and Ryan Succop missed a 48-yard field goal that was his first miss from under 50 yards in 6 tries.
But the Bengals just couldn't take advantage. Left tackle Cedric Ogbuehi got smoked by linebacker Brian Orapko and Dalton had no chance as Orapko stripped the ball and linebacker Derrick Morgan fell on it at the Bengals 27.
That's when the Titans took a 14-6 lead with 5:08 left in the half on Murray's one-yard touchdown, but the biggest play of the half came right before that when Burfict was ejected for contacting an official after the play. Two plays before that Burfiuct was called for hitting Mariota late out of bounds at the end of an eight-yard keeper. Burfict appeared to try and hold up but his upper body made contact.
Cincinnati Bengals take on the Tennessee Titans in week 10 of the regular season.