“It’s a weird feeling. You didn’t win, but you didn’t lose either.” —Andy Dalton on the Bengals tie with the Panthers
That’s the sort of high-level insight that only a truly elite quarterback tends to provide in these situations. Look, I’m with you: you can’t trust a team that’s from a place that actually doesn’t exist (pick a damn Carolina, Panthers; that’s the sort of indecision that leads to revolutions), so some sneaky plays were to be expected. That said, at some point you’d hope that the Bengals defense would have caught on. Hard to tell if Cam Newton is going to run or pass on a particular play? He probably ran. Looks like he’s going to pass? Probably ran. Looks like he’s going to run? Yeah, you get it. The only thing that made his endless strolls deep into Bengals territory more vexing was the sight of Bengals defensive lineman proudly tackling almost anyone except Newton on every single zone-read. Newton’s endless runs, not to mention a touchdown by running back Fozzy Whittaker (who, unless I’m very much mistaken, was Michael Caine’s old boss in A Muppets Christmas Carol) put the Bengals vaunted defense to shame for the second week running. What the hell did they do during bye week? Seriously, I know I keep asking, but what happened to Geno Atkins??? This needs to get fixed, and now.
Fortunately, despite the offense missing its top three receivers in AJ Green, Marvin Jones, and Tyler Eifert, the offense was on hand to keep things interesting throughout a back and forth game. Gio Bernard exploded for an 89-yard touchdown, Dalton threw a peach of a touchdown to the heroic Sanu and—absent a ridiculous holding call on Andre Smith—they would have won the game in regulation. Still, as overtime ticked away, Dalton lead an immaculate two-minute drill to give Mike Nugent a chance to put orange and black credits on this Neverending Story.
It wasn’t meant to be.
“Pathetic. The worst kick of my life,” Nugent said after the game, and it was hard to disagree. Bengals fans everywhere—having sat for what seemed like days through a game the team should have finished off multiple times—looked on dumbstruck and yet not entirely surprised as Nugent’s kick sailed wide. A couple of Panthers celebrated for a moment (Newton among them) before everyone awkwardly shrugged and shuffled off home, unsatisfied and embarrassed, like people in a club still dancing to Livin’ On A Prayer when the music cuts out and the light come up.
Ugh, you Americans and your sports with games that don’t end with a winner…
Bengals 37, Panthers 37
Man Of The Match: Two interceptions aside, Andy Dalton was superb. (I know, I know, that’s a little like saying “aside from the triple homicide, he seemed like a lovely guy!”) Mo Sanu was a stud in a game when he, for once, wasn’t passing the ball. Gio ripped off the second-longest TD run in Bengals history, Reggie Nelson had a key interception, and Jeremy Hill showed off some great dance moves. But it was Adam Jones who saved the day. It looked as if once again, the Bengals would come up small in a big moment (playoffs, primetime, close games, etc.), and then Pacman ripped off an ankle-breaking 97-yard return to swing the momentum with just a few minutes left, and not long after swatting away what looked like a sure Panthers touchdown in the end zone.
Did I really just give Man of the Match to a guy on defense? I guess so. The next two weeks, the team takes on Andrew Luck and Joe “looked a lot like Andrew Luck against the Bucs” Flacco. Ouch.