In the midst of the fourth quarter, with the Miami Dolphins holding onto a one-score lead over the Cincinnati Bengals that felt anything but secure, quarterback Ryan Tannehill felt the pressure coming into the pocket and rolled to his right.
With three Cincinnati Bengals defensive linemen engulfing him, Tannehill attempted to lob the ball to Durham Smythe.
Instead, the ball bounced off Smythe’s helmet, Cincinnati defensive end grabbed the ball off the deflection and ran untouched for a 21-yard game-tying touchdown.
“I think we were all kind of stunned with what happened there,” offensive lineman Jesse Davis said.
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The play signaled the beginning of the end.
A go-ahead field goal eight minutes later gave the Bengals their first lead of the game. A second Tannehill turnover returned for a touchdown immediately afterward sealed Miami’s fate.
Final score from Paul Brown Stadium: Bengals 27, Dolphins 17.
Cincinnati put the dagger in the game when Carlos Dunlap strip sacked Tannehill and Sam Hubbard recovered the ball for a 19-yard touchdown for 27 unanswered points.
And just like that, Miami’s two-game lead in the AFC East has vanished. The Dolphins (3-2) are tied with the New England Patriots but are effectively in second since the Patriots own the head-to-head tiebreaker following last week’s 38-7 beatdown.
“This one hurt,” wide receiver Jakeem Grant said. “We had the game won.”
Especially when you consider that the Dolphins led 14-0 at the half and had a 17-0 shutout in the works with 20 minutes.
The Dolphins opened scoring in the second quarter when Tannehill led a methodical 11-play, 95-yard drive capped by a 22-yard pass to Kenyan Drake in which Miami picked up six first downs, converted a pair of third downs and overcame an offensive pass interference.
Grant gave Miami the two-touchdown edge with 52 seconds left in the first half on a 70-yard punt return touchdown. A 42-yard field goal from Jason Sanders in the third quarter gave Miami the 17-0 lead.
The defense bent but didn’t break for the better part of three quarters, with Miami holding the Bengals to just 3 points in 45 minutes and defensive coordinator Matt Burke getting creative on his blitz packages to offset the lack of defensive end depth.
Kiko Alosno helped set the tone early, intercepting an Andy Dalton pass in the red zone tipped by Reshad Jones on their first possession of the game. Jones, playing in his first game since Week 2 due to a shoulder injury, had a team-best eight tackles.
Vincent Taylor blocked a field goal two drives later to keep the shutout intact.
Rookie Jerome Baker, an Ohio native, recorded the first two sacks of his career — both coming on key third downs. The first set the stage for Jakeem Grant’s 71-yard punt return touchdown with less than a minute remaining in the first half. The second came as Cincinnati was surging down the field and forced the Bengals to settle for a 51-yard field goal in the third quarter.
“I thought we were all right early,” coach Adam Gase said. “It seemed like everything was working pretty smooth.”
And then the Bengals’ onslaught began.
▪ Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton orchestrated an eight-play, 71-yard drive that ended with an 18-yard touchdown pass to Joe Mixon as he was hit on the first play of the fourth quarter. Miami’s lead slimmed to 17-10. “I felt like if I could just get it out htere, he could come down with it,” said Dalton, who finished with 248 yards on 20-of-30 passing. “As soon as I let go, I got hit, and I wanted to make sure it got there. Fortunately it did.”
▪ On the very next drive, Tannehill’s pressured pick-six happens. The game is tied 17-17 with 11:41 left to play.
▪ The Bengals (4-1) marched 62 yards to the Miami 2 and convert a 19-yard field goal. The Bengals lead 20-17 with 3:30 left to play.
▪ Tannehill is strip sacked and the Bengals get their second defensive touchdown of the fourth quarter. 27-17 Bengals with 2:37 left to play.
▪ Tannehill’s deep pass with 1:35 left to play is intercepted by safety Jessie Bates to seal the game.
“It sucks,” safety T.J. McDonald said. “We don’t want to lose.”
The Dolphins are now back in a place that has become all too familiar. After feeling the highs that come with a 3-0 start, losses on the road to playoff-caliber teams in the Patriots and Bengals in completely different fashions — a blowout from the start last week, a collapse this week — are possibly providing a better picture of what this Miami team really is.
The question remains: Can they bounce back and turn back into the team that won its first three games to open the season?
They have two home games against the Bears and Lions upcoming to attempt to reset the course.
“We’ve been in those experiences before. We’ve seen things go south. We’ve seen things escalate,” right tackle Ja’Wuan James said. “The guys in the locker room aren’t going to let that happen. Each week is an individual week and I feel like, shoot, at this point, we’ve got today and tomorrow and then have to get ready for next week.”