The Cincinnati Bengals fought their way back into the win column on Sunday, as they defeated the Denver Broncos, 15-10. This snapped a two-game losing streak for Cincy, which improved to 8-6 to keep pace in the jumbled playoff picture. As for the Broncos, this loss dropped them to 7-7, and put them a bit more behind the eight ball in the competition for picking up a wild-card spot.
This was a defensive matchup through the first two quarters, as the two clubs recorded nine total points and nine punts in the first half. Things opened up in the third quarter, as the offenses scored 16 of the 25 total points. Teddy Bridgewater completed 12 of 22 passes for 98 yards, but was carted off the field after taking a scary hit in the third quarter. The Broncos announced that Bridgewater has movement in all extremities and was taken via ambulance to a local hospital as a precaution. Drew Lock replaced him under center, and while he threw a touchdown to grab the lead briefly in the third quarter, he also had a costly fumble in the red zone.
Joe Burrow had a very quiet day, as he completed 15 of 22 passes for 157 yards and one touchdown. Joe Mixon was on and off the field in the final quarter due to injury, but he was bottled up all game. He rushed 17 times for 58 yards. That's an average of 3.4 yards per carry. Lock had a chance to orchestrate a game-winning drive late in the fourth quarter, but Cincy's defense stood tall to secure the win.
Let's take a deeper look at what happened in Denver on Sunday.
Why the Bengals won
The Bengals offense did not look explosive Sunday. Burrow threw just one touchdown, Mixon struggled to pick up yards and Ja'Marr Chase caught just one pass for three yards. If Tyler Boyd didn't catch a 56-yard touchdown in the third quarter, we could be talking about a very different outcome, but the Bengals won this week because of their defense.
This unit forced a turnover in the red zone and then didn't allow Lock to orchestrate a game-winning drive. Statistically speaking, this defense is very middle of the pack, but it ruled the day by swarming ball carriers, putting pressure on Bridgewater and Lock, and the players holding their assignments downfield. Shoutout to Germaine Pratt, who registered 15 total tackles and half a sack.
Why the Broncos lost
It's curious as to why the Broncos offense struggles despite it having names like Melvin Gordon, Javonte Williams, Noah Fant, Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy and others. The quarterbacks and their inabilities hamper this team, but how this unit operates in general is bad at certain points.
For example, in the first half the Broncos got possession back with 3:30 left in the second quarter. Denver started to slowly move the ball in the right direction, but allowed the clock to tick away. They had just 35 seconds left before the end of the quarter by the time Bridgewater and Co. got to the 50-yard line! Denver waited until it was almost too late to start using its timeouts and then settled for a 51-yard field goal attempt -- which Brandon McManus couldn't hit. To compare these two offenses, the Bengals then took over possession at their own 41-yard line and needed just one play to get into field goal range. Evan McPherson hit a 58-yard field goal to take the lead just before halftime as Broncos fans booed.
The Broncos struggle to put up points. They came into this game 20th in scoring offense with an average of 21.2 points scored per game, but managed just 10 against a team that allowed the Los Angeles Chargers to drop 41 on them just a couple of weeks ago.
This game came down to the wire, but with how the Bengals defense was playing and with how Lock was looking, I'm not sure how many people were expecting the backup to lead a game-winning drive. Probably his worst possession of the entire game was that final series. He completed just one pass and was sacked for a loss of nine yards. Cincy was the better team Sunday, and it showed up to seal the deal.
Play of the game
This series of events was wild. Lock coughed up the football in the red zone, but then appeared to jar the ball loose from the defender after a long return. However, after further review it was decided Khalid Kareem was down by contact before he got back to his feet and continued his return.
(Evan McPherson kicked the longest field goal (58 yards) in Bengals history against the Broncos.)
What did Zac Taylor's son ask for, for Christmas? An Evan McPherson jersey.— Marisa Contipelli (@BengalsMarisa) December 20, 2021
"That's a pretty good indicator we like our kicker." - Taylor
The Bengals return to Cincinnati next week for a big divisional showdown, as they will host the Baltimore Ravens. The Broncos have a divisional game next week as well, as they hit the road to play the Las Vegas Raiders.