The win means the Cincinnati Bengals are still in the hunt for a playoff berth.
The way they went about it might suggest otherwise.
The Bengals had their hands full with a reeling Indianapolis Colts team Sunday night afternoon and appeared headed toward a long week of uncomfortable conversations before defensive end Carlos Dunlap rescued them.
Dunlap’s 16-yard interception return for a touchdown with 6:58 remaining was the difference in a 24-23 victory at Paul Brown Stadium.
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Here are five things to know about the win:
Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell took notice of Bengals rookie Joe Mixon’s comments last week, and of his first-half performance Sunday.
Shortly after Mixon went into halftime with just six carries for 16 yards, Bell took to Twitter, writing “for someone who feels they can do ‘way more’ than I can, sure seems like u wanna be me! tryin to mimic my run style, my 1st down celebration”.
It was in response to Mixon’s comments following the loss to Steelers in which he said ““I feel like I could do way more than (Bell) did. I only got seven carries. I can’t showcase nothing if I don’t get the ball. There ain’t nothing else I can say.”
Mixon said after Sunday’s win that he was unaware of Bell’s tweets, and unconcerned.
“I’m not worried about him,” Mixon said. “It’s unfortunate he felt that way, but I’m not worried about what he’s talking about. I’m going to keep my head down and keep grinding and it’s going to happen.”
Mixon finished with 18 yards on 11 carries and three receptions for 91 yards, including a career-long 67-yarder that set up the team’s first touchdown.
The entire offense struggled to run the ball, as the Bengals finished with 58 yards on 21 carries. The three running backs – Jeremy Hill, Giovani Bernard and Mixon – combined for 34 yards on 17 carries.
First-round pick John Ross returned to action but played just five snaps and finishing with no catches on one target.
“John got to dress today because I chose to suit him up, and Cody (Core) couldn’t go,” Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis said. “He’ll continue to practice and get an opportunity as it goes. But he was not part of the plan going into the game.”
Fellow rookie Josh Malone was. The fourth-rounder recorded his first-career reception in the first quarter and topped that with his first career touchdown in the third to put the Bengals in front 17-13.
The score came when Malone reacted to a badly underthrown ball that was the result of quarterback Andy Dalton being hit as he released it.
“I saw the ball and the way it was dropping and I was like, ‘Wow, I’ve got to get up under this,’” Malone said. “It was a post, and I just flattened it and got under it. I just thanked Andy for giving me the opportunity to make a play.”
The Bengals offensive line has been from from stellar this year, and Sunday may have been the worst performance yet as they allowed an Colts team that came into the game ranked 31st in total defense to push them around and repeatedly win at the point of attack.
In addition to blowing up seemingly every running play — the longest run of the day was a 14-yard end around by wide receiver Alex Erickson — the Colts sacked Dalton three times and hit him on three other occasions.
“We had some issues there today,” is all Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis would say afterward.
On the first play of the final offensive drive for the Colts, who only needed a field goal to win, quarterback Jacoby Brissett hit tight end Jack Doyle for a 19-yard gain at the Indianapolis 43.
The Colts rushed to the line to try to run another play, but the officials blew it dead as Brissett was dropping back to pass, ruling that Lewis threw the challenge flag just before the snap.
Replays showed that the ball hit the ground, and the call was overturned, moving Indianapolis back to the 24 for a second-and-10 play. The drive eventually stalled at the Cincinnati 48, enabling the Bengals to squeak out the win.
“Our scoreboard was slow today,” Lewis said. “I just got it (the red flag) out there at the last second. The last millisecond.”
It was Lewis’ third successful replay challenge in two games after winning two last week at Pittsburgh. It’s the third time in his career he’s won at least three consecutive challenges. Lewis won three in a row in 2015, and he won six straight 2013.
On to Jacksonville
The Bengals have a chance to get their record to .500 for the first time since Week 2 of last year when they travel to Jacksonville.
That thought was not lost on Bengals defensive end Chris Smith, whom the Bengals acquired in a trade with the Jaguars this spring.
“Where do we go next week,” he asked with a laugh. “I’m looking forward to it. Make sure you put that in there.”