The Cincinnati Bengals lost their best defensive back. They lost repeatedly on third down. And they lost a double-digit lead in the second half for the second week in a row.
Yet they won the game.
Mike Nugent’s 54-yard field goal as time expired sent the Bengals to an adversity-hurdling 27-24 victory against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field on Sunday.
“It’s a huge win up here against a really good football team,” Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said. “Hell of a game.”
The victory was the third in a row for the Bengals (5-2) and second straight on the road on the final play of the game, moving them two games in front of Baltimore and Cleveland in the AFC North Division.
And it came on a day when the team lost cornerback Leon Hall with a likely season-ending Achilles injury and allowed the Lions (4-3) to convert 13 of their first 18 third downs.
But after punter Kevin Huber pinned Detroit at its own 6-yard line, the Cincinnati defense finally made a stop with 34 seconds left.
Then just when overtime seemed imminent, Lions punter Sam Martin shanked a 28-yarder out of bounds, giving the Bengals the ball at midfield. And Andy Dalton threw two quick passes to top off his career-best game and get Nugent in range for the second-longest field goal of his career.
“I knew I didn’t exactly bomb it, but I knew it was a good solid kick,” said Nugent, who missed a 48-yarder earlier in the game. “I kept my eye on it to make sure it went through. I didn’t want to start cheering if it went the other way.”
Nugent also drilled a 43-yard game-winner in overtime the week before at Buffalo.
“Two consecutive weeks it’s been a great punt, a defensive stop, a solid play by the offense of getting in field-goal range and the kicker making the kick,” Bengals tackle Andrew Whitworth said. “You can’t get more team than that. That’s really all three phases leading to two consecutive wins, so we’re proud of the way the guys are making each one of those phases important and we hope to continue it.”
A good illustration of how evenly matched the two teams were was at one point late in the fourth quarter Dalton and Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford both had thrown for 344 yards, while Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green and the Lions’ Calvin Johnson each had 155 receiving yards.
Dalton finished 24-of-34 for 372 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions for a career-high passer rating of 135.9.
“We’re making plays,” he said. “It’s great to see. A.J. had a big day today, but a bunch of guys were making big catches that are getting us conversions.”
Green caught six passes for his 155 yards, including a 82-yard touchdown on the team’s first offensive series, the second longest of his career. Marvin Jones (four catches, 57 yards) caught a TD for the second game in a row, and rookie tight end Tyler Eifert (three catches, 45 yards) hauled in a 32-yard scoring strike, the first of his career, to give the Bengals a 21-10 lead in the third quarter.
But Stafford (28-of-51 for 357 yards and three touchdowns) rallied the Lions with scoring tosses of 27 and 50 yards to Johnson (nine catches for his 155 yards). The first came on a third-and-10 play, the second on third-and-18 to tie the game at 24-24 with 11:59 remaining.
“We played pretty good on first and second down for the most part,” Lewis said. “We have to play better at third-down defense. We knew it was going to be a hard-fought 60 minutes, and it came down to the end.”