The season slipped a little further away from the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday.
Turnovers and penalties prevented the offense from gaining any momentum, and the Denver Broncos took advantage for a 24-10 win Sunday in front a two-thirds capacity crowd at Paul Brown Stadium.
Cincinnati (5-7) trailed just 7-3 at halftime, but the game got away from Jeff Driskel in the second half of his first NFL start and the Bengals dropped their sixth loss in seven games. They’ll head to Los Angeles to play the Chargers on Sunday riding a four-game losing streak.
Here are five takeaways from the game:
1. Penalties disruptive
Driskel was put in some tough situations because of penalties.
The Bengals were penalized 12 times for a total of 100 yards, and nine of those were called on the offense, including six in the first half – mostly holds and false starts. Their average third down position was third-and-19.
“We can’t have them (penalties),” running back Joe Mixon said. “They hurt us. It hurt play-calling. We just can’t have them. Little stuff like that is so big during the game. We beat ourselves today.”
It was particularly bad in the second quarter when two holds and a false start pushed Cincinnati into a third-and-39. Driskel also had an intentional grounding penalty late in the second quarter when the Bengals were in a first-and-7 situation, ultimately leading to a Randy Bullock field goal, rather than a touchdown.
The change in quarterback and some shuffling on the offensive line may have contributed, Driskel said. Clint Boling moved from left guard to left tackle in place of injured Cordy Glenn (back), and Trey Hopkins took Boling’s spot at guard. Everyone on the line had a penalty Sunday.
“You could blame it on lapse of focus, you could blame it on a number of things,” Hopkins said of the penalties. “It doesn’t matter what you attribute it to. The bottom line is we have to get it fixed.”
2. Turnover trouble
Three turnovers played a factor in the second half, and when the Bengals defense got a takeaway, the offense didn’t make anything of it.
Alex Erickson muffed a punt early in the third quarter to give Denver a short field, and two plays later, Case Keenum connected with Courtland Sutton for a 30-yard touchdown to extend Denver’s lead to 14-3.
“I was just coming up to make a play on it and it was cutting back against the wind and it just kind of slipped right through my arms, and unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get back on it and it was a big play in the game for them,” Erickson said.
The next drive, Driskel overthrew backup tight end Jordan Franks, and Broncos safety Justin Simmons picked him off at Denver’s 7-yard line to set up another scoring drive to make it 21-3 with 7:35 left in the third quarter.
Driskel fumbled late in the fourth quarter on a strip sack to seal it, and Denver added a 29-yard field goal.
3. Green back to the sideline
The offense got its biggest weapon back Sunday with A.J. Green returning from a toe injury that sidelined him for three games, but midway through the second quarter, he apparently re-aggravated the injury two steps into his route on the one play he faced single coverage.
Green hobbled off the field without putting pressure on his right foot and immediately headed to the locker room on a cart.
“The guy puts so much effort into it and gets guys going,” cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick said of Green. “He has an effect on the team. He has an effect on everybody from the top to the bottom, and I don’t know his situation right now. Hopefully he can get better, Hope we can figure out a way, but at the end of the day his safety is first. He’s a guy we’re invested in, and I heard what he said the other day (about wanting to play), but man, we need him for the future.”
Driskel ended up taking a sack on the play but was looking for Green when he noticed him down on the ground. Green had one catch for seven yards.
4. Pressuring the quarterback
Denver brings a lot of pressure to the quarterback with linebackers Von Miller and Bradley Chubb quick to attack, and that prevented Driskel from being able to use his feet like he had hoped, but that opened up some lanes for the running backs.
Mixon had 82 yards on 12 carries for an average of 6.8 yards, while Driskel, a quick and capable runner, was limited to three carries for three yards because he couldn’t get out on the perimeter.
Driskel ended up sacked four times (Miller and Chubb combined for 2.5 of them).
5. Defensive improvements not enough
The defense showed major improvement while finally forcing punts on back-to-back drives in the first half, but the Bengals still struggled against the run.
Phillip Lindsay rushed for 157 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries for an average of 8.3 yards per carry. His longest run was a 65-yard touchdown.
The Broncos finished with 361 yards of offense and didn’t get on the board until late in the second quarter. They punted their first three possessions and then missed a field goal before Lindsay easily scored on a 6-yard run with 1:56 left before halftime.
“I thought the defense played well all day,” Driskel said. “They kept getting us the ball back, and we just weren’t able to capitalize (on offense).”