DENVER (AP) — The snap slipped right through the hands of AJ McCarron and along with it, any chance Cincinnati had at earning the AFC's top playoff seed.
"It was my fault. I told the team that," said McCarron. "I looked up to see the coverage and the snap caught me by surprise."
McCarron sprained his left wrist trying to recover his fumble on the last play of a 20-17 overtime loss to the Denver Broncos on a frigid Monday night. The young quarterback couldn't pounce on the ball as DeMarcus Ware ended up with it to finish off the game.
The Bengals (11-4) still have a shot at the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye, but only if Denver (11-4) loses at home to last-place San Diego (4-11) next weekend.
For a half, this game was all Cincinnati, which dominated in yards (204-89), time of possession (21:14 to 8:46) and on the scoreboard (14-3). But Denver adjusted in the second half, limiting McCarron and the offense to 90 yards, while cranking up the offense under Brock Osweiler, who was making his sixth straight start in place of Peyton Manning.
"This one definitely hurts, when you feel like you have a lot of momentum and doing some good things out there and kind of spit out the bit in the second half," running back Jeremy Hill said. "There were a lot of things we wish we could've had back."
Still, the Bengals found themselves in overtime after Denver kicker Brandon McManus shanked a 45-yard field goal attempt at the end of regulation.
The Broncos won the coin toss and elected to receive. They quickly went about their business of driving the ball down the field, even converting a third-and-10 at their 20 when Osweiler found tight end Owen Daniels for a 12-yard gain.
Soon after, Cincinnati linebacker Vontaze Burfict drew an unnecessary roughness penalty when he shoved Virgil Green near the sideline. It was a costly penalty.
"That call didn't make us lose the football game," Dunlap said. "We shouldn't let them get in that position anyway."
A few plays later and McManus atoned by hitting a 37-yarder.
Then, it was Cincinnati's turn. McCarron was nearly sacked by Von Miller on the first play, ruled an incomplete pass rather than a fumble.
The next, McCarron took his eye off the snap from Russell Bodine and it was by him. Ware jumped on the ball. Game over.
"I was looking just to see how they were adjusting to A.J. (Green) coming in motion, and it just kind of slipped through my hands and hit my rib protector and bounced off," said McCarron, who finished 22 of 35 for 200 yards in his second start in place of Dalton. "It was my fault, simple as that."
Denver took its first lead on a 39-yard touchdown run by C.J. Anderson early in the fourth quarter, when he stepped through a couple of tackles and sprinted to the end zone. Mike Nugent later tied it with a 52-yard field goal.
McCarron efficiently led the Bengals in the first half as they built a 14-point lead. He found Green for a 5-yard TD pass in the first quarter. In the second, Mohamed Sanu took a direct snap and ran one in from 6 yards out. Cincinnati had a chance to extend the lead, but Nugent missed a 45-yard field goal attempt.
"Obviously, it's disappointing to lose a football game like that in overtime," coach Marvin Lewis said. "Let the Broncos back into the football game."
NOTES: Cincinnati halfback/tight end Ryan Hewitt hurt his knee on the opening drive and didn't return. ... CB Leon Hall was checked for a possible concussion in the third quarter and cleared to return.