A gritty performance by Andy Dalton and the Bengals (3-1) ended in pure glory as the veteran quarterback found A.J. Green for a 13-yard, go-ahead touchdown strike with seven seconds left on the clock. That spirited, final drive capped a largely marvelous day for Dalton, who threw for 337 yards and three scores while overcoming the loss of Tyler Eifert. This high-scoring tilt shifted emotionally for the Bengals when their oft-banged up, playmaking tight end suffered a gruesome leg injury following a third-quarter catch. Seconds later, Cincy endured a blocked punt before Dalton saw a tipped pass picked off at the end of the third quarter. The Bengals, though, found their groove when it mattered most.
After Tyler Eifert went down with a gruesome leg injury in the second half, the Bengals seemed hellbent on winning this game, and that's exactly what they did, thanks to a dramatic performance from Andy Dalton. With the Bengals trailing 36-31, Dalton led his team on a wild game-winning drive that included two fourth-down conversions (fourth-and-8, fourth-and-6) and a 13-yard touchdown pass to A.J. Green with just seven seconds left to play. With Joe Mixon out, Gio Bernard also came up big, as the Bengals running back scored two touchdowns and averaged 4.6 yards per carry on 15 rushes.
It wasn’t a great day for any cornerback, and William Jackson III can count himself in that number. While it was Dre Kirkpatrick who takes the highlight for badly getting beaten on a double move for a touchdown, Jackson was consistently chasing open Falcons receivers with Mohammed Sanu having a lot of joy against him in the second half.
It was a largely excellent game for Andy Dalton even though he did very nearly ruin it by throwing a ball that should have been intercepted and ended the game. As it is, the record book won’t remember that. Instead, it will focus on a super accurate performance where he largely dissected a poor Falcons secondary.
Much of the praise will rightly go to A.J. Green, but it was Tyler Boyd who came up in the clutch numerous times when the Bengals needed him. His development into a hard-to-cover weapon who can operate anywhere along the line has been a huge bonus for this offense.
The 16-play winning drive was one of the longest in the Marvin Lewis era. In fact, it was the 16th drive of at least 16 plays since he took over in 2003.
There were six possessions that lasted 17 plays, and 10 that covered 16 plays.
The only touchdown drive longer than Sunday’s was a 17-play, 88-yard march in a 24-13 loss to Pittsburgh in 2007.
Only five of the 16 drives, including Sunday’s, ended in touchdowns. Seven finished with field goals, two with missed field-goal attempts, one with a punt and one where the team turned the ball over on downs.
According to Pro Football Reference, it was the first since at least 1999 (which is as far back as the site’s drive stats go) that a team took the lead in the final minute of a game after a touchdown drive of at least 16 plays.
Let’s run through all the obstacles in the way of the Bengals rally on their final drive.
The marathon went 16 plays, 75 yards and lasted 4:08 of game time and about 20 minutes of real time. No play covered more than 11 yards until the final touchdown pass to Green.
The team endured the emotions that brought some of them to tears in the postgame locker room of seeing Tyler Eifert break his ankle in brutal fashion. Giovani Bernard and Mark Walton both were knocked out of the game at points and Bernard couldn't finish. Alex Erickson stepped in to play some running back. John Ross played through an injury, but couldn’t finish. The Falcons crowd roared. Dalton was sacked, an illegal use of hands penalty put them in first-and-20, they faced two separate fourth-and-long plays and, in the end, needed to throw a touchdown pass with only seconds remaining.
Somehow, they did it all.
This team is tough. The Bengals could have let things spiral after Tyler Eifert suffered a gruesome leg injury early in the second half, but they fought through adversity to match the Falcons stride for stride and eventually scored the winning touchdown in the final 10 seconds. Players around the locker room talked about how it was a complete team win, leading to sky-high confidence as they return home to host the Dolphins in Week 5.
There were many indelible images from Atlanta on Sunday – the Bengals’ stirring fourth-quarter comeback, A.J. Green’s game-winning touchdown catch, the Bengals being penalized with comically bad officiating and plenty more that went into the team’s biggest win in three years.
But the most memorable, emotion-jogging pictures involved Tyler Eifert. Not those of his gruesome injury itself, but the ones that showed Eifert banging his fist on the turf, showing a face of exasperation as the medical staff prepared his ride off the field. The images that very briefly showed him starting to cover his face with his hands as he disappeared from the camera’s view.