Wake sacked Dalton inside the goal line on the Bengals' second overtime drive, giving the Miami Dolphins a 22-20 victory on just the third game in NFL history to end on a safety.
With both teams trading punts in an ugly overtime affair, the Bengals took over at their own 8-yard line. Dalton dropped back and threw two straight incomplete passes to A.J. Green, setting up the 3rd-and-10 play that would snap Cincinnati's four-game winning streak. Dropping back and sensing the oncoming pressure, Dalton brought the ball into his body and past the plane of the goal to give Miami a safety on the sack.
It was Wake's third takedown of Dalton on the night and the second time he caused a major mistake from the Bengals quarterback. One of four Dalton turnovers came on a first-quarter strip, sack and recovery from the 31-year-old former All-Pro, who had struggled for much of the season.
Instead, Thursday night saw Wake revert to his elite form. Dalton also performed as badly as he ever has as a pro.
Sensational for much of Cincinnati's winning streak, Dalton almost single-handedly kept Miami in the contest. He threw three interceptions and fumbled once to go along with the safety. All told, he was directly responsible for 12 Dolphins points.
Dimitri Patterson's second-quarter pick of the third-year quarterback led to a field goal and gave Miami a 10-3 lead at halftime. Brent Grimes then picked Dalton off on the opening drive of the second half, returning the ball 94 yards for a touchdown.
That interception was especially damaging, as it came five plays after a Jermaine Gresham holding penalty wiped a Bengals score off the board and put them deep inside Dolphins territory. Miami was up two touchdowns with 7:52 remaining in the third-quarter clock at that point.
Though he finished with 338 yards passing—his fourth straight 300-yard game—Dalton would need help to pull the game out. That help came in the form of running back Giovani Bernard.
The rookie rushed for 79 yards and helped ignite the Bengals' comeback effort. He scored from three yards out with 2:14 remaining in the third to bring Cincinnati within a touchdown and tied the game up at 17-17 on the Bengals' very next drive.
But like everything on Thursday night, the good came with an equal dose of bad. Bernard left in the fourth quarter with a rib injury and did not return. With BenJarvus Green-Ellis struggling to make headway on the ground, the Dolphins were able to key in on Dalton and ramp up the pass rush.
Cincinnati's pass rush also took a critical blow. All-Pro defensive tackle Geno Atkins was carted off the field in the second quarter, and early reports of his status were not promising.
Without Atkins, the Dolphins were able to make slow and steady headway up the field. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill, though not at his best, finished with 208 yards and rushed for a touchdown from one yard out in the second quarter. Tannehill also made the throws when they mattered, leading Miami 50 yards in nine plays to force overtime.
Caleb Sturgis hit a 44-yard field goal with 11 seconds remaining. The Bengals had previously pulled ahead on a 54-yarder by Mike Nugent.
Cincinnati has to feel like it let this game slip away. The Bengals out-gained the Dolphins by more than 100 yards, held the ball for 12 more minutes and converted half of their third-down attempts.
But Dalton's mistakes leave Cincinnati again playing catch-up in the race for a first-round bye in the AFC playoffs. At 6-3, the Bengals still have a solid grasp on the AFC North but are now a game behind the Indianapolis Colts and New England Patriots in the loss column.
Miami, meanwhile, ends a four-game skid. After starting the season 3-0, the Dolphins looked like they were going to be the latest team to start hot and quickly flame out of contention. Now, they're right back in the wild-card race.
Andy Dalton (QB, Cincinnati Bengals): D
Andy Dalton giveth, Andy Dalton taketh away. Much of the bluster prior to Thursday night focused on the Bengals' young quarterback and his ascent over the past few weeks. And rightfully so. In three games, Dalton had seemingly assuaged all worries about whether he was good enough to lead these Bengals beyond a series of first-round exits.
The Dolphins secondary gave folks a glimpse of why those worries existed in the first place. In the first half, Dalton looked unsure in the pocket, checked down on a number of throws and missed reads that would have resulted in big plays.
The final 30 minutes were a lot better in terms of counting stats, but not so much in terms of decisions. Brent Grimes baited Dalton to throw the out route that resulted in a pick-six. It also didn't help that the throw was to his receiver's back shoulder, either.
Four turnovers in all, a winning streak snapped and one massive reminder of why the debate about whether or not Dalton is a franchise quarterback will continue.
Cameron Wake (DE, Miami Dolphins): A
Of course, at least one of Dalton's turnovers was a direct result of Wake's sterling night. The Dolphins defensive end's strip, sack and recovery on Dalton didn't lead to any Miami points because Caleb Sturgis missed a short field goal, but it set the tone for the first half.
Wake finished with five tackles and three sacks, with a majority of his production coming in the first 30 minutes. The Bengals made a concerted effort to keep him out of the fray after halftime, and it took nearly every schematic trick in Jay Gruden's playbook to do so.
Cue every Dolphins fan breathing an exasperated sigh of relief. Wake has been hobbled by a knee injury for much of the season, sapping him of his explosiveness. A year after recording 15 sacks, he now only has 5.5 in 2013.
But for one night, the old Cameron Wake was back.
Giovani Bernard (RB, Cincinnati Bengals): A
This just in: When Bernard touches the ball, good things happen. It's become a common refrain for most Bengals fans. Although his rushing numbers coming into Week 9 weren't all that inspiring—his 282 yards over 72 carries average out to just under four per attempt—his versatility and explosiveness is only eclipsed by A.J. Green within the offense.
So it came as little surprise that once Bernard essentially took over primary duties in the backfield, the Cincinnati offense began humming. His 35-yard touchdown run in the fourth tied the game and left mouths agape, but his presence alone helped open up the offense.
Unlike Green-Ellis, Bernard is a threat to catch the ball out of the backfield. That forces opposing defenses to account for another player on passing options, and Bernard is quick enough to torch most linebackers. Marvin Lewis seems committed to keeping this a timeshare at best, but it's becoming increasingly obvious that Bernard is the better fit in this offense. That is, if he stays healthy.
Ryan Tannehill (QB, Miami Dolphins): C
I'd say it's safe to begin ruling out a breakout season for Tannehill at this point. After starting the season with three straight solid outings, he's still figuring himself out as Miami tries to keep the ship afloat.
Many of the reasons for said regression aren't Tannehill's fault. Miami's offensive line has been dreadful this season, to the point where the game plan Thursday actively called for keeping the ball out of his hands. The Dolphins fed Cincinnati a healthy dose of Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas and had some success holding possession in the first half.
But when it came time for Tannehill to make the throws necessary to win the game, he came through His completion percentage and yards per attempt tell the story of someone who had a solid outing, but it was more game-manager stuff than anything.
The Dolphins will get an extra-long rest, as they won't play again until next Monday night against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Cincinnati's rest is one day shorter, with the Bengals staying on the road for an AFC North clash versus the Baltimore Ravens.
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