The Cincinnati Bengals fell apart in the fourth quarter Sunday, and it cost them a chance at their first win once again.
Andy Dalton threw three interceptions over the final nine minutes, including a pick-six, and the Bengals fell 27-17 to the Jacksonville Jaguars in front of 42,784 fans at Paul Brown Stadium.
Cincinnati (0-7) had a 7-6 halftime lead and was up 10-9 going into the fourth quarter before the game slipped away. Here are five takeaways from the loss:
1. Turnovers prove costly
After Jacksonville (3-4) took a 17-10 lead on Gardner Minshew’s 2-yard pass to Keelan Cole with 12:45 left, Dalton led the Bengals into the red zone only to give the ball away on an underthrown pass intended for Tyler Boyd, which Myles Jack picked off.
The Bengals got the ball back without any damage done, but Yannick Ngakoue stepped in front of Giovani Bernard on a screen pass while Dalton was facing pressure and it turned into a 23-yard interception return for a touchdown, making it a 14-point gap with 4:25 remaining.
Dalton’s third interception came on the next play from scrimmage and Jacksonville took it down for a field goal before the Bengals added one last score on a Dalton keeper in the final minute. Before Dalton’s interceptions, Tyler Boyd also had a fumble at the end of a catch in the third quarter, which allowed Jacksonville to drive down for a third field goal.
“At that point, you’re trying to make a play, so it is what it is,” Alex Erickson said of the interceptions. “Obviously, the turnover margin kills us but it’s a team stat. It’s everybody doing their job — defense getting turnovers, offense protecting the ball and receivers protecting the quarterback.”
Dalton knows he “has to be better,” but said he didn’t think about the possibility of rookie Ryan Finlay replacing him after his third pick. The Bengals stuck with Dalton for the final drive, and he scored on a 1-yard keeper.
Head coach Zac Taylor said he wasn’t going to talk about the possibility of Finley playing, as the plan now is to “keep it steady” with Dalton.
2. One-dimensionality hurts again
The Bengals had just 11 yards of offense in the first quarter, 110 yards by halftime and finished with 291, but just 33 of those were on the ground, matching Dalton’s rushing total. The team basically relied on him for everything, and Dalton clearly was getting frustrated by the amount of pressure that comes with that.
Joe Mixon had two yards on 10 carries, and Erickson ended up with negative yardage on two end-around plays. Dalton attempted 43 passes and completed 22 of them.
“When you’re one-dimensional, it makes it easy for the other side to know what’s going on,” Dalton said. “… We tried to run the ball early, and it didn’t gain us yards. It makes it tough. (So then) you have to be very efficient in the passing game, and we didn’t have that today.”
The predictability played into Ngakoue’s interception. He told reporters in the Jaguars’ locker room that he noticed the Bengals were only using Bernard on screens and Mixon on runs, so when Bernard came in, he knew what to expect.
3. Early success on defense
The Bengals limited the Jaguars to three field goals through the first three quarters and even got a stop on fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line in the opening period.
They still allowed 309 yards in the first half and 460 for the game, including 216 on the ground with strong running performances by Minshew and running back Leonard Fournette, but Cincinnati was doing enough on third down to keep the game close until the fourth quarter. Jacksonville was 4-for-16 on third down and 1-for-2 on fourth down.
Cincinnati was without both starting cornerbacks and defensive end Carlos Dunlap. Darqueze Dennard and B.W. Webb played the outside corner spots, while Tony McRae started in the nickel corner position.
4. Field position changed
Punter Kevin Huber was a big part of why the Bengals were even still in the game at halftime, much less leading. He had three punts inside the 20-yard line, including two inside the 3, to help the Bengals flip field position. Cincinnati started two drives near midfield in the first quarter and couldn’t make anything of it.
The field position wasn’t in the Bengals’ favor in the second half, which made a difference.
“We didn’t win the field position in the second half,” safety Jessie Bates said. “They were running the ball a little bit better. We let the quarterback out a couple times. We’ve got to figure it out.”
5. Just not good enough
At 0-7, the Bengals remain alone with the Dolphins as the only winless teams in the league, and it’s looking more and more like they will match the 2008 team that started 0-8. Cincinnati heads to London next weekend to play the Los Angeles Rams before the bye.
“It’s been the same story every week,” Erickson said. “We’re just not good enough to overcome our mistakes. I look at myself right at the beginning of the second half. I have a chance to make a play to really get us going and I didn’t make it. We’re just not good enough right now to overcome those mistakes, so we really have to look at ourselves to find the balance of really just trying to make every play but also not pressing, too, finding that fine line, which is tough. We’ve got to be better top to bottom.”
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