CINCINNATI — The game came down to one drive.
The Bengals, down five points, got the ball with 6:56 left and 75 yards to go. Score a TD and they likely win. Punt, turn it over or settle for field goal and they likely lose.
The Bengals did not even manage a first down. A.J. Green, in fact, flat out dropped what would have been a first down on third-and-3. Basically, the 29-17 loss was sealed with that.
And the Bengals are officially off to a bad start. They are 1-2. For the second straight week, they lost a winnable game.
“They made a couple of big plays they were able to score off of and we weren’t able to do that,” quarterback Andy Dalton said. “We’ve got to play better than that in the second half.”
Green took the blame.
“I’ll think about it all year,” Green said. “I pride myself on not dropping balls. I know it can happen, but I can’t drop the ball like that in a crucial moment like that.
“When I’m making plays, the offense falls into place. Today, I didn’t make plays. I let my team down.”
After the Bengals punted, Denver marched down the field for the second straight possession and scored a TD to put the game out of reach. It got further out of reach when Dalton threw an interception two plays after the second TD.
Bengals took a 17-16 lead with a 15-play drive. But they did not end the drive that with a touchdown. The Bengals settled for Mike Nugent’s 34-yard field goal.
Things went bad — very bad — for the Bengals from there.
Dalton came in leading the NFL in the passing yardage. There was no evidence in Sunday’s game. Dalton was 21 of 31 for 206 yards and one interception That’s not going to win in the NFL.
The Bengals don’t have time to dwell on the 1-2 start. They play Miami Thursday night.
“I’ve been 2-5 and made the playoffs,” left tackle Andrew Whitworth said. “I’m not concerned about that. I’m concerned that we haven’t made enough plays to win these games. That’s going to be so crucial the rest of the season.
“It’s going to be important to work our butts off this week and make those plays to win games.”
Here are 9 Takeaways from the loss:
BIG BLOCK: Margus Hunt’s block on Brandon McManus’s extra-point made all the difference in the game going into the fourth quarter.
It was a second blocked kick of the year for the 6-foot, 8-inch Hunt.
That forced the Broncos to go for two after taking the 22-17 lead with 6:56 to go. That gave the Bengals a chance, if they just could do anything with it.
MISTAKES: The Bengals played sloppily all day. They had nine penalties for 69 yards -- and Denver capitalized on those penalties, extending drives five times. A fumble led to a Denver touchdown, and two interceptions were dropped.
“We killed ourselves today with penalties, and we can’t do that,” coach Marvin Lewis said. “We can’t let that happen as coaches. We got penalties that allowed their drives to continue today, which made a big difference. I think every scoring drive that they had there was a third down converted by penalty.”
PEYTON WHO? New Denver quarterback Trevor Siemian looked extraordinarily poised. He was 23-for-35 for 312 yards and four touchdowns.
He was particularly good on third down. The Broncos converted three of four third downs in the second quarter.
BIG BREAK? NOT: The Bengals’ first drive of the second half went nowhere. But just as it looked like the game was getting away from them, Adam Jones forced a Demaryius Thomas fumble and Carlos Dansby recovered.
But sacks on back-to-back plays by Shane Ray put the Bengals off schedule. Then a penalty put them in a 3rd-and-28 situation.
“It was a big opportunity,” Lewis said. “If you get one first down, you have a legitimate shot at a field goal. But we took a big sack on the first down and then we got pressured on the second down, and third down we’ve got nowhere to go with it.”
MAN ON THE RUN: The Bengals made running the ball a point of emphasis this week. It showed in their first drive. Jeremy Hill accounted for 65 of the 74 yards on the touchdown drive.
The key play was a 50-yard run through a huge hole on the left side.
The 65 yards of rushing surpassed the game total in the first two games of the year.
Hill ended up with 97 yards on 17 carries. Dalton ran it six times for 40 yards.
3-AND-OUT: The Bengals forced a 3-and-out on Denver’s first possession. Carlos Dunlap tipped Siemian’s pass up on the 3rd-and-1.
It seemed to be a sign of a good day for the defense. It wasn’t.
TURNOVER, BURNED: Jones had a very bad 63 seconds toward the end of the first quarter.
He was hit and fumbled on a punt return. Three plays later, he was burned for 41 yards and a TD by Emmanuel Sanders.
“I have to keep running (on the TD pass),” Jones said. “I slowed down, slowed down. He got me on that one. I played a horrible first half. The second half I played like I normally play. First half, I couldn’t get into a rhythm. You live and you learn.”
EIFERT OUT: There was a chance tight end Tyler Eifert was going to play Sunday. He practiced all week, but the Bengals answered the question early. Eifert was among the inactive players.
MILLER MISSING: Von Miller, the consensus’ best defensive player in the NFL, had one tackle at half and didn’t get near Dalton.
Miller came in with two sacks in each of the Broncos first two games. He didn’t get to Dalton until less than minute was left.
Right tackle Cedric Ogbuehi was on Miller all day.
“My job is nab my guy and not let him touch Andy,” Ughuehi said. “I didn’t do that.”