CINCINNATI - Few things are certain about the Bengals, although the hands of A.J. Green are about as close to a sure thing as the erratic team offers. So even Green couldn't believe it when the Pro Bowl receiver dropped a pass yesterday that appeared destined to be a touchdown against the Dallas Cowboys.
CINCINNATI - Few things are certain about the Bengals, although the hands of A.J. Green are about as close to a sure thing as the erratic team offers.
So even Green couldn't believe it when the Pro Bowl receiver dropped a pass yesterday that appeared destined to be a touchdown against the Dallas Cowboys.
"I just took my eyes off it," Green said. "I rarely drop passes that wide open. It happens. I've got to make those plays in critical situations. It starts with me. As I go, the team goes."
The drop, causing the Bengals to settle for a field goal, was one of two Green suffered in the third quarter, and served as a metaphor for why Cincinnati's four-game winning streak ended when Cowboys kicker Dan Bailey made a 40-yard field goal as time expired.
The Bengals, true to their hot-and-cold nature, provided plenty of fodder for the criticism cannon during an exasperating 20-19 loss to Dallas in which the crowd of 63,590 at Paul Brown Stadium saw the Cowboys erase a nine-point lead in the final seven minutes.
"Coming out of a game like this, there is a lot of 'What could we have done better?' " Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton said.
A dartboard of reasons suggests why the Bengals - facing a game on Thursday at Philadelphia - remained tied with Pittsburgh at 7-6 for the AFC's second wildcard spot and two games behind Baltimore in the AFC North with three games left even though those divisional rivals lost yesterday.
The Bengals limited the Cowboys to 138 total yards in the first three quarters, but then allowed quarterback Tony Romo to complete 11 of 15 passes for 128 yards and one TD - a 27-yard strike to Dez Bryant with 6:35 left - in the fourth.
Cincinnati still led 19-17 when it took possession at its 20-yard line after Bryant's TD catch, but inexplicably called five consecutive passing plays despite having averaged 7.3 yards per rush, leading to a punt.
The Cowboys then held the ball for the final 3:44 to set up Bailey's kick with a 13-play, 50-yard drive because the Bengals had used their final timeout just 31 seconds into the fourth quarter.
The victory was an emotional one for the Cowboys, who were playing one day after defensive tackle Josh Brent was charged with intoxication manslaughter after an early-morning accident in Irving, Texas, that killed passenger Jerry Brown, a linebacker on the team's practice squad.
Despite the fresh off-field tragedy, the Cowboys (7-6) looked sharp when they took the game's opening kickoff and drove 61 yards in 12 plays, leading to Bailey's 37-yard field goal.
The Bengals, however, controlled most of the game after going ahead 7-3 midway through the first quarter when Andrew Hawkins took a shovel pass from Dalton and scooted around the right end for an 8-yard TD.
Led by a fearsome front four, the Bengals defense yielded only a 1-yard TD run by DeMarco Murray early in the second quarter that tied the score at 10. The score came four plays after Brandon Carr's interception of Dalton set up the Cowboys at the Bengals 27.
Still, the Cowboys hung around all day because the Bengals settled for four field goals, three of them after entering the red zone.
Josh Brown, signed three days earlier to fill in for injured kicker Mike Nugent, made field goals of 25, 33, 25 and 52 yards, the final two coming after Green's crucial third-quarter drops.
The Bengals were looking to add to their 13-10 halftime when they faced thirdand-7 from the Cowboys 7. Lined up to the left, Green broke inside for a quick slant and Dalton fired a bullet.
"I thought it was a walk-in (touchdown)," Green said. "I eased up."
The ball bounced off his hands incomplete.
"I didn't look the ball in like I usually do," said Green, who entered yesterday tied for the NFL lead with 10 TD receptions.
On their next possession, the Bengals again had third-and-7, this time at the Cowboys 34. Green dropped another Dalton pass.
"It hit off my shoulder pad," Green said. "I make that catch all the time. There's nothing hard about it. It was a drop. If I would have made those two plays, we would have had the momentum."
Instead, the uncharacteristic plays loomed large during a fourth-quarter Cowboys charge that ended with Bailey's dramatic kick.