Under duress all day, Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton came close to matching Peyton Manning pass for pass.
The last thing any team, the Bengals included, want to do against a Manning-led team is be dragged into a shootout, but that's just what happened on Sunday. With the run not coming easily, yet again, for Cincinnati (and not producing much for Denver as well), it was up to quarterback Andy Dalton to keep pace with his Broncos counterpart, and the more-experienced Manning proved to be too much to handle.
Cincinnati found themselves with a 20-17 lead in the fourth quarter after a two-yard touchdown run by BenJarvus Green-Ellis, but they couldn't hold it. Manning had two touchdown passes in the quarter, while all the Bengals could muster after that point was a field goal.
All told, Dalton surpassed Manning in yardage, 299 to 291, but could not best him in scores or completion percentage. With Manning nearly impervious to pressure, the key to defeating him was to keep his receivers under wraps. The Bengals had mixed returns in this effort.
They held Denver to just 4-of-8 on third down; however, their receivers came up with more receptions than they had incompletions or drops. Manning had just a mere seven missed passes, with two of them being picks.
Eric Decker was Denver's most productive receiver with 99 yards and two scores on eight catches. Demaryius Thomas had six grabs and 77 yards on eight targets, and tight end Joel Dreessen caught all four passes thrown his way for 38 yards and a touchdown.
Dalton's receivers were nearly as productive, though not in the end zone. Tight end Jermaine Gresham caught six of the eight passes thrown his way for 108 yards, while wideout A.J. Green registered seven catches on nine throws for 99 yards and a touchdown. Both contributed heavily to the Bengals' 15 passing first downs and put up a legitimate fight throughout much of the game.
The outcome of this game came down to two things—clutch quarterback play and pressure. The Bengals had very little pressure on Manning while the Broncos notched five sacks of Dalton. While Dalton clearly proved he has the ability to hold his own and put up points in a high-pressure shootout, Manning's fourth quarter experience ultimately got the best of the Bengals.
That this loss wasn't as bad as it could of been speaks well for this young Bengals team; however, falling to Denver doesn't help their chances of making a second consecutive playoff appearance. At 3-5, Cincinnati is simply struggling to keep their heads above water.