The Cincinnati Bengals looked like they were on their way to a dramatic road win against a first-place team, and then they weren’t.
A.J. Green’s 70-yard touchdown reception with 5:03 remaining gave the Bengals their first lead of the game, but Tennessee rallied with a 12-play, 73-yard march that ended with DeMarco Murray lifting the Titans to a 24-20 win at Nissan Stadium with a 7-yard touchdown catch on third and goal with 36 seconds remaining.
Murray’s third touchdown of the game doomed the Bengals to a second consecutive loss and third in the last four games as they slipped to 3-6 and all but ended their hopes of rallying for a run to the postseason.
Here are five things to know about the game:
In the aftermath of last week’s 23-7 loss at Jacksonville, Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green stood in front of his teammates and apologized for getting ejected before standing in front of reporters and continuing to apologize while answering every question.
When asked if Burfict apologized to the team, two veteran leaders – one on offense and one on defense – both said “no comment.”
JOIN THE CONVERSATION: Like our Cincinnati Bengals News Now
Burfict was ejected after drawing two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties in a span of three plays in the first half. The first penalty came when Burfict hit Titans running back DeMarco Murray well out of bounds. Two plays later, Burfict was flagged for making contact with an official, mandating the ejection.
Neither the late hit on Murray, which essentially was a chest bump, or the contact with the official, a simple arm re-directing an arm, were forcible in an way.
Linebacker Vinny Rey started to defend his teammate when asked if thinks Burfict is being unfairly targeted because of his reputation. But Rey ultimately elected to stay silent as well.
“I don’t want to say it’s unfair, but I would say that, um…,” he said before a long pause. “I would say that, that they uh, …. Maybe I won’t say anything.”
Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis, however, did not stay quiet.
“He has to understand,” Lewis said. “I’ve pointed it out. In those situations, everybody’s over there and you just can’t push back. Sometimes that’s what happens, you push back and it’s the official. You can’t do that.
“He knows better,” Lewis said. “We pay a price. We pay a price because he hurts us when it’s on the field that way, and then he’s not on the field. Both ways.”
Burfict will be facing a fine and another possible suspension with his repeat offender status. The NFL fine schedule for a first offense of contact with an official stipulates a minimum fine of $30,387. The minimum fine for a first offense of a late hit is $9,115.
Pile of penalties
The two penalties that led to Burfict’s ejection were part of a bigger problem as the Bengals were flagged a season-high 12 times for a season-high 84 yards.
It marked the most penalties the Bengals have had since committing 13 in a 37-37 tie against Carolina on Oct. 12, 2014, and the most in a non-overtime game since committing 13 in a 31-24 win at Green Bay on Sept. 20, 2009.
“We can’t have the penalties,” Lewis said. “We just can’t do that.”
Six of the 12 penalties resulted in first downs for the Titans, including three defensive holding calls on third down in the fourth quarter. All three of them were on Josh Shaw, who was forced into a bigger role when cornerbacks Adam Jones (concussion) and William Jackson (toe) left the game with injuries.
The third Shaw defensive holding call came on a third-and-5 incompletion on the final drive, five plays before DeMarco Murray’s game-winning touchdown with 36 seconds remaining.
“We got every call on us today,” Lewis said. “So we’ve got to do a better job.”
The Titans’ game-winning touchdown came with 36 seconds remaining when the Bengals defense, which had held the Titans scoreless in the second half to that point, allowed Murray to score on a checkdown pass on third and goal.
“It shouldn’t be a score,” Lewis said. “We’ve got to get him on the ground.”
Murray muscled through a tackle attempt by cornerback Darqueze Dennard at the 2 and juked safety Clayton Fejedelem before reaching the ball over the goal line.
“I’m kind of beating myself up right now,” Dennard said. “I was there and felt like I good hit on him. It just wasn’t enough.”
Telling third downs
The troubles continued for the Bengals on third down as they converted just 1 of 10, with the lone success coming on an 11-yard pass from Andy Dalton to Brandon LaFell on third and 10 with 6:47 left in the first quarter.
Last week in Jacksonville, the Bengals were 1 of 8 on third down.
Third downs were an issue on defense as well, with the Titans converting 7 of 15, leading to a dominating 40:09 to 19:51 edge in time of possession.
“Third down is the difference in the football game,” Lewis said. “We don’t make enough on offense and convert there, and obviously on defense we failed to get off the field and they drive the football.”
Cincinnati kicker Randy Bullock, who sat out last week’s game with a back injury, missed his first extra point in 10 games with the Bengals, going wide left after the Bengals’ first touchdown Sunday.
Bullock’s second extra point hit off the upright but went through.
Tennessee kicker Ryan Succop had a rare miss as well when he was wide right on a 48-yard attempt in the second quarter. Succop came into the game with an NFL-record 56 consecutive made field goals inside of 50 yards.