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Rookie safety Jessie Bates returned Winston’s fourth interception 21 yards for a touchdown late in the third quarter to give Cincinnati a 34-16 advantage and help bail out an offense that fell flat in the second half with four straight three-and-outs. The Bengals didn’t get a second-half first down until 4:22 left.
Bates’ big play sent Winston to the bench, and Ryan Fitzpatrick replaced him to lead the comeback, which was fueled by a 72-yard touchdown pass to Mike Evans to make it an eight-point game before O.J. Howard’s 18-yard grab and a two-point conversion tied it up with 1:05 left.
Cincinnati was a much different team in the first half, as the Bengals jumped out to a 21-0 lead and took a 27-9 cushion into halftime with an aggressive offense clicking and the defense making key stops.
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Shawn Williams intercepted a pass in the end zone to prevent the Bucs from going up first in the opening quarter, and after Cincinnati took a 7-0 lead with 3:04 left in the period, Preston Brown was gifted an interception to set up the second scoring drive. The Bengals drove 58 yards on 12 plays to extend the cushion to 14-0 with 10:04 left in the second quarter on Tyler Boyd’s 9-yard touchdown catch.
Cincinnati went three-and-out after the first interception but then forced one on defense the next series to flip field position and needed just four plays to get on the board. Rookie tight end Jordan Franks, who was signed off the practice squad Tuesday, caught a 32-yard pass for his first NFL catch to open the drive and Boyd added a 28-yard reception to set up Joe Mixon’s 1-yard touchdown run.
Mixon also added an 8-yard touchdown run late in the second quarter to make it a 21-0 lead before Tampa Bay answered with a 60-yard scoring pass to DeSean Jackson to close the gap with 4:36 left in the half.
However, the Bengals responded with another score of their own on a 17-yard pass to Green to make it 27-6 with 2:34 remaining, and the defense held the Bucs to a field goal for the final points of the half.
Mixon had 114 yards and two touchdowns on 14 carries in the first half after rushing 13 times for 50 yards against the Chiefs, and Boyd went into intermission with six catches for 112 yards and one touchdown. Both were almost non-factors in the second half, though, as the offense disappeared almost all together.
Tampa Bay took advantage of a tiring Cincinnati defense down the stretch and chipped away at the deficit, despite two third-quarter interceptions by Winston, including one by Jordan Evans. It wasn’t until the Bucs made it a one-score game that the Bengals responded offensively to actually get a first down but even that drive ended in a punt and Tampa Bay drove back down the field for the tying score.
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