Just when you think you know the Cincinnati Bengals and Andy Dalton, they play like they did last night.
Losing 22-20 in overtime on a safety has to be pretty deflating for a team which some were saying had finally “arrived” and could possibly contend for the Super Bowl.
It’s the opposite for the Miami Dolphins who, on top of the Jonathan Martin bullying flap, were seen as a team in turmoil, spiraling out of control after a promising start to the season.
A lot of people walked into this game assuming a Bengals win. Not many thought that the chaotic Dolphins would really give the Bengals a game.
It certainly didn’t turn out to be anything like what we expected.
It was, in many ways, the tale of two quarterbacks.
Dalton, coming off three straight 300-yard plus games, was being talked about as having finally reached his potential. The questions of his vertical accuracy and his arm strength were being put aside and with the myriad weapons around him, he looked hard to stop.
Last night was a complete regression for him. The offensive line had some issues protecting him—he was sacked five times, including the game-ending safety—and under the intense pressure Dalton seemed to wilt. He made some awful decisions which resulted in four turnovers (three picks and a fumble), held the ball too long and generally looked completely out of sync with his receivers.
The Miami Dolphin’s Ryan Tannehill wasn’t spectacular but played a much smarter brand of football and took care of the ball. That may seem like damnation by faint praise, but given he turned the ball over four times in the last two games, it’s a big step.
He still looks like he and receiver Mike Wallace are not on the same page and he actually looked like he missed injured receiver Brandon Gibson, but he didn’t make mistakes.
That lack of mistakes made a big difference.
We also saw two of the most underutilized running backs in the NFL today. At least in terms of Miami’s Lamar Miller, the team seemed more willing to lean on him.
They still have an unhealthy fascination with Daniel Thomas (who is just painful to watch run the ball) but Miller continues to show everyone how good he is, despite a poor fumble on a big run.
Miller needs to work on his vision as that play in particular showed he had a lot of wide open space which he didn’t see and should have.
The Bengals still won’t use Giovani Bernard to run the ball frequently enough.
They have him on the field more than BenJarvus Green-Ellis (48% of the plays vs. 42%) and a ton on third downs (which accounts for the consistent targets) but they don’t run him nearly as much as Green-Ellis.
It seems insane that Bernard has carried the ball just 81 times to Green-Ellis’ 131 carries when Green-Ellis’ yards-per-carry is 3.2 on the year and Bernard’s is 4.5. Or given that he ran the ball in for two scores during Thursday’s game.
Bernard left the game with a rib injury, which may have led to a head-scratching decision late in the game to throw a bomb on 3rd and 4 instead of just running the ball.
Running the ball kills the clock and possibly gets you a first down and a closer field goal. At worst, you end up in the same spot.
You can appreciate the desire to go for the kill, but the Bengals left too much clock on the board considering how easily the Dolphins were moving the ball.
That left Tannehill time to get the team close enough for the tying field goal and send the game into overtime.
Which eventually put the ball back in Dalton’s hands on the one, where he held onto it too long one last time.
Andrew Garda is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association. He is also a member of the fantasy football staff at FootballGuys.com, the NFL writer at CheeseheadTV.com and an NFL Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report. You can follow him at @andrew_garda on Twitter.