Bengals self destruct in Dalton’s return to Cincinnati

CINCINNATI – Andy Dalton didn’t have to do much to beat his former team.

In Dalton’s first game at Paul Brown Stadium as a visitor, the Cincinnati Bengals’ offense self-destructed to help him and the Dallas Cowboys to an early lead with three first-half turnovers, including two in the red zone and one of which the Cowboys returned for a touchdown.

Dallas (4-9) hardly needed any offense to build a 17-point lead in the second quarter, and the Cowboys left with a 30-7 win Sunday. Dalton threw for 185 yards and two touchdowns, including one on a short drive just after the two-minute warning to seal his second win in six starts in place of injured Dak Prescott.

“Stunned,” Bengals coach Zac Taylor said of the three fumbles. “Irate. I mean, you give the team 10 points right out the gate without them even really having to take the field is a disappointing start to the game. We couldn’t feel better going into this game, and to give them 10 points before they even have to do anything is a disappointing way to start.”

The Bengals have struggled in the second half of games this season, and that continued Sunday, but the damage already was done in the first half. The turnovers came on each of the first three drives.

Giovani Bernard lost the ball on his first carry of the day, ending an NFL-leading streak of 829 carries without a fumble, and the Cowboys recovered at the home team’s 32-yard line but ended up settling for a field goal after a Margus Hunt sack on third down.

Cincinnati running back Trayveon Williams replaced Bernard on the next drive, and the Bengals (2-10-1) moved 53 yards to get into the red zone before Williams fumbled running into left tackle Hakeem Adeniji’s backside, and Aldon Smith scooped it up for a 78-yard touchdown return. Adeniji was replaced by Fred Johnson the next series, and Samaje Perine came in at running back.

Brandon Allen put together another good drive to get back into the red zone, but on the first play of the second quarter, Alex Erickson lost the ball at the end of a jet sweep that would have been good enough for a first down on fourth-and-1. Dallas responded with a 15-play scoring drive of 93 yards to extend the lead to 17-0 on Dalton’s 11-yard touchdown pass to Amari Cooper with 6:42 left in the half.

“I don’t think I’ve been a part of three (fumbles like that),” wide receiver A.J. Green said. “But I’ve seen some crazy things happen. That’s the type of year we’re having. Like, nothing is going our way. Gio don’t fumble, let alone we have two more guys come behind Gio and cough the ball up. You’ve been in this league as long as I have, you’ve seen it all. But we’ve just got to ride the wave. We’ve got to continue to get better.”

The Bengals finally got on the board the next drive with Allen finding Green open on a 5-yard touchdown pass with eight seconds left. Green moved into second on the Bengals’ all-time touchdown receptions list with his score, sitting one behind Chad Johnson with 65. He is third on the franchise’s career touchdown list, which Pete Johnson leads with 70 touchdowns.

Dallas had a chance to put the game away early in the third quarter after Tony Pollard returned the opening kickoff 60 yards before Jessie Bates made a touchdown-saving stop. The Cowboys got to the 2-yard line and Dalton’s third-down pass fell incomplete, setting Greg Zuerlein up for a 20-yard field goal and a 20-7 lead. They added another field goal, a 52-yarder with 5:12 left, and it seemed like that would be the last of the scoring.

Just before that, Cincinnati, which hasn’t scored a third-quarter touchdown since Week 4, had a chance to cut the deficit, but Williams’ 13-yard touchdown run was negated by a Quinton Spain hold. Then, Allen’s fourth-down pass sailed out of the back of the end zone – a play he didn’t even try to blame on his injured right knee that got knocked on a scramble earlier in the drive and continued tightening. Ryan Finley replaced him for the Bengals’ final two drives and took a sack his first snap and then another one before throwing an incomplete pass on fourth-and-19 from the Cincinnati 16-yard line.

“It’s hard to watch, hard to take it in,” Taylor said of the third-quarter struggles, as the Bengals have scored just six third-quarter points since Week 5.

Allen, who called his knee injury a bone bruise, completed 27 of 36 passes for 217 yards and one touchdown, and Williams led the running backs with 49 yards on 12 carries while Perine finished with 32 yards on 10 carries.

Dalton took advantage of the short field to deliver one last punch to his old team, throwing a 7-yard touchdown pass to Pollard on fourth-and-1 to finish the game. He is 3-1 in his last four games at Paul Brown Stadium, this one being his first not with the Bengals, who released him before drafting Joe Burrow.

“Everybody obviously wanted to win today, but everybody really wanted to win this game for Andy,” Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy said after the game.

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