Cincinnati started strong in this contest, but could not seem to click in the second half as the Cowboys rallied for a huge road win.
The Bengals had a great shot at claiming the final AFC wild-card spot with the Steelers falling to San Diego today. As it turns out, the Week 16 meeting between these two AFC North rivals could potentially seal one of these teams' fates.
Grades for players and positional units are based upon the criteria listed below.
An "A" grade is granted to a player that far surpasses the expectations set out for him during the game. This player will absolutely be a key factor to the success of his team.
A "B" grade will be given to a player that plays at an above-average level and that contributes throughout the game with very few mistakes.
A "C" grade is handed to a player that has an average game. He may not put up gaudy numbers or be a major contributor, but he will not be the main cause for certain team failures.
A "D" grade will be granted to a player that plays below his ability level. This player would have seen better days on the field and would most likely want a do-over for his performance.
An "F" grade will stick to a player that fails at all levels during a game. He may even be one key factor to a team's struggles or even their loss.
Cowboys - 20
Bengals - 19
Dalton struggled mightily today against the Cowboys even with good pass protection for most of the game.
Overall Game Grade - C-
Andy Dalton started the game with some nice poise today and completed some high-percentage passes as he drove the Bengals down the field for early scores.
Dalton and the offense looked to be in form early on when Dalton hit Andrew Hawkins over the middle on a tricky flip pass for an eight-yard touchdown on their first drive. Unfortunately, that would turn out to be the Bengals only touchdown of the game.
As the game progressed, Dalton did not seem to be on the same page as his receivers, as they missed some of their patented short-yardage West Coast offense passes.
Dalton's receivers did not help much, as they dropped multiple balls, including a crucial one by A.J. Green in the red zone that would have turned into a touchdown.
Dalton finished the game 20-of-33 for 206 yards, one touchdown and one interception for a passer rating of 76.1.
The Bengals will need better play from their quarterback if they are to continue toward a playoff berth.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis started very strong today, but the Bengals abandoned the running game late in the contest.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis - Overall Game Grade - A
BenJarvus Green-Ellis was once again the workhorse of the Bengals offense today. He started off very strong while breaking a 19-yard run early in the Bengals first drive.
"The Law Firm" continued his dominance, even though he was given very limited carries. He ended the game with 12 carries for 89 yards for a 7.4 yard-per-carry average.
It is quite baffling as to why the Bengals abandoned the running game late in the contest today. With a running back that was gaining so much ground as Green-Ellis was, it seems only appropriate to keep feeding him the football while maintaining the lead.
Green-Ellis has been a pleasant surprise over the past five weeks and should be a constant focus of the Bengals offense going forward.
Andrew Hawkins celebrates as he scores the first touchdown of the game for Cincinnati in the first quarter.
A.J. Green - Overall Game Grade - C-
A.J. Green was as inconsistent today as he has been all season long, hauling in just three catches for 44 yards.
One glaring weakness for Green and the rest of the receiving corps was the amount of drops that they had in this contest.
A crucial drop came from Green when he was wide open inside the Cowboys 5-yard line on a slant and could have walked in for an easy touchdown. Instead, Green let the ball slip right through his hands and the Bengals had to settle for a field goal.
Marvin Jones - Overall Game Grade - B
Marvin Jones was one of the bright spots on the Bengals offense today. He seemed to grasp the offense very well and could be a viable complement to Green going forward.
After starting out strong by taking an end-around for a 37-yard gain on the Bengals first possession, Jones had three receptions for 45 yards and was the Bengals leading receiver today.
He almost hauled in a touchdown pass early in the game as well, but it was called back because he was forced out of bounds before the reception.
Andrew Hawkins - Overall Game Grade - B
Andrew Hawkins was used in short-yardage plays that allowed him to flash his elusiveness in space. This worked several times for Cincinnati as Hawkins had a nice run after the catch for an eight-yard touchdown early in the game.
Hawkins did have one crucial drop on third down later in the contest that stalled a Bengals drive and forced a punt. He had the most receptions today out of any Bengals wide receiver as he finished with six catches for 44 yards and one touchdown.
Gresham had a solid game as a reciever and run blocker, but could not haul in a tough touchdown pass mid-game.
Jermaine Gresham - Overall Game Grade - B-
Jermaine Gresham did exactly what he is supposed to do in Jay Gruden's offense. He provided a great underneath target for Dalton when needed and was a great threat up the seam.
Gresham is a huge mismatch for defenses because of his size, great hands and speed. He showed that today while hauling in four receptions for 43 yards.
He almost had a tough touchdown grab as well, but was hit as he attempted to reel in a high ball in the back of the end zone. If Gresham could have brought that pass down, he could have easily been given one of the highest grades of the Cincinnati offense.
Andre Smith had a great game in all phases today and even drew a personal foul penalty from the foul-mouthed Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan.
Offensive Line - Overall Game Grade - A
The offensive line may have been the best unit on the Bengals offense today. It did not allow much pressure on Dalton from a dangerous Cowboys pass rush. Aside from that, it was opening gaping holes for Bengals running backs while the offense was still running the ball early in the game.
This group absolutely frustrated Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan as he charged the field to get into the face of right tackle Andre Smith. Ryan was given a personal foul for his antics.
Even though this offensive line has been jumbled around for a good part of this season, it continues to work very well as a unit and has become one of the most reliable personnel groups in the Bengals organization.
Geno Atkins was a terror today for Tony Romo and DeMarco Murray as he found himself making plays in the backfield often.
Defensive Line - Overall Game Grade - B
The defensive line played well as a unit today, even after a slow start. In the opening series, the line could not seem to get pressure on Tony Romo. However, as the game went on, the line started to wear down the Cowboys pass protection and ended up with a few sacks.
Geno Atkins was the most disruptive, totaling a sack and two huge tackles for loss on DeMarco Murray. Atkins seemed to be making plays on the line for the duration of the game and kept his motor running throughout.
One glaring hiccup of the line was by Dunlap, though. Atkins had Romo dead-to-rights for a big sack and Dunlap came flying in grabbing Romo's facemask. Instead of a sack, the Cowboys were granted a first down off of a personal foul penalty.
Aside from that one major mistake, the line played a very solid game throughout the contest.
Vontaze Burfict and Rey Maualuga had up and down performances today for the Bengals.
Vontaze Burfict - Overall Game Grade - B+
Vontaze Burfict did what he has been doing all season: making plays in space and getting to the ball-carrier quickly.
He led the Bengals in tackles today with a total of 10. More importantly, he is proving to be possibly the best steal of this past draft after being signed as an undrafted free agent.
Burfict continues to impress and has been one of the brightest parts of the Bengals defense this season.
Rey Maualuga - Overall Game Grade - B-
Rey Maualuga has turned his season around since he lost weight during the Bengals bye week. He tried to trim himself down to his rookie weight to be able to make more plays in space and get to ball-carriers faster.
Maualuga had nine total tackles today, which was good for second on the team. He needs to improve his open-field tackling a bit, but has made a case for himself in recent weeks to remain a starter at middle linebacker in the NFL.
Reggie Nelson celebrates after an interception of Tony Romo at the end of the first half.
Reggie Nelson - Overall Game Grade - A
Possibly the most dynamic player in the Bengals secondary, Reggie Nelson provided a spectacular game today.
He did not allow the Cowboys deep-threat receivers to get past him and did not give up any big plays on the day.
He was solid in coverage, great in run support and even got pressure on the quarterback.
Nelson had one interception, one sack and five tackles for the day. He continues to be one of the most versatile players on the Bengals defense.
Adam Jones - Overall Game Grade - B
Jones wanted revenge very badly against his former team, and even though he did not get it in the form of a win, he got it by having a great game against them.
Jones totalled seven tackles and was very tight in coverage against Dez Bryant and Miles Austin. He did not allow much separation and was a sure tackler for the most part while not allowing many yards after the catch.
Easily the best cornerback on the Bengals roster today, Jones had some extra motivation going into this game against Dallas.
Josh Brown was easily the Bengals MVP today as he connected on four field goals while filling in for the injured Mike Nugent
Josh Brown - Overall Game Grade - A
Josh Brown was the MVP for the Bengals today as he was plucked from free agency earlier in the week to fill in for the injured Mike Nugent.
Brown did not seem to miss a beat. He connected from 25 yards twice, 33 yards and 52 yards for a total of four field goals on the afternoon.
Brown was also excellent on kickoffs as he forced Dallas returners to down the ball in their own end zone multiple times. His hang-time on kickoffs was great as well and allowed kick coverage units to get to returners quickly when they decided to run out of their own end zone.
Kevin Huber - Overall Game Grade - A
Kevin Huber also had a great kicking day. His punts were solid with good hang-time, and his normal inconsistency did not show. Instead, his punts hit the mark on every occasion.
Huber's best kick of the day came in the fourth quarter when he put some nice backspin on the ball and landed it just shy of the goal line, giving the Cowboys the ball at their own 2-yard line.
Huber was a constant in the Bengals ability to control field position for the duration of the game.
Marvin Lewis and company started the day off strong, but were unable to make appropriate adjustments throughout the game.
Coaching Staff - Overall Game Grade - D
The coaching staff seemed to have their team clicking on all cylinders early on in the game as Dallas did not seem to have an answer for the Bengals offense. On defense, Romo and company had a very difficult time moving the ball against Cincinnati.
Unfortunately for the coaches, they could not seem to make the right adjustments at halftime and the Cowboys came out very strong against their team in the second half.
Offensive coordinator Jay Gruden struggled with his offense, which could not seem to get anything going in the second half. The offense was stagnant and had difficulties moving the ball against a Dallas defense that gave up plenty of yards earlier in the game.
Head coach Marvin Lewis also had some questionable calls during the contest.
With the Bengals running game so dominant early on, he decided to go away from it and run the offense through the air. This happened even with a nine-point lead over the Cowboys.
Another big hiccup was an inexcusable timeout that was called when the coaching staff failed to get the field-goal unit on the field in the third quarter in a timely manner.
This was one of the worst-coached games by the Bengals staff since before the bye week. They have been doing a great job of late, but certainly took a step back today.