DENVER (AP) — Khalid Kareem snatched the ball from backup quarterback Drew Lock on second-and-goal early in the fourth quarter and the Cincinnati Bengals stayed in the thick of the logjammed AFC playoff race with a 15-10 win over the Denver Broncos on Sunday.
The Bengals (8-6) won despite star rookie receiver Ja’Marr Chase being held to a single catch for 3 yards and Tee Higgins managing only 23 yards on two catches.
The Broncos (7-7) saw their postseason hopes whittled with their fourth home loss of the season.
Lock was in for Teddy Bridgewater, who was taken to the hospital in the third quarter for further evaluation of a head injury after he was carted off the field following a scary collision that also sent Bengals linebacker Joe Bachie from the game with a leg injury.
Bridgewater had movement in his extremities and coach Vic Fangio said he’d be held overnight for observation but was expected to be OK.
With the Bengals’ dynamic duo of Chase and Higgins bottled up, Tyler Boyd caught five passes for 96 yards, including a 56-yard touchdown throw from Joe Burrow moments after Denver had taken a 10-9 lead late in the third quarter.
Boyd also caught a critical 19-yard pass to set up a last-second field goal just before halftime and he hauled in a 15-yard pass on third-and-10 from the Cincinnati 22 with about three minutes left that allowed the Bengals to chew up another two minutes before punting the ball back to the Broncos at the Denver 15 with 64 seconds left.
Lock couldn’t get them out of the shadow of their own end zone as the Bengals ended their two-game skid.
Kareem almost went from hero to goal on his strip of Lock, who faked a handoff to Javonte Williams but ran smack into Kareem, who wrestled the ball away from the quarterback and tumbled to the ground, bounced up and rumbled down the Broncos sideline.
Left tackle Garett Bolles, who was whistled for a pair of costly holding penalties that stymied the Broncos’ comeback attempt, hammered the ball out of Kareem’s grasp and smothered it at the Denver 40-yard line.
The Broncos thought they had caught a big break but upon review, it was ruled that Kareem was down at his 15-yard line, so his give-back was wiped away with 10:34 remaining.
Denver trailed 9-3 with 5:34 left in the third quarter when Bridgewater scrambled to his right on second-and-5 from his 30-yard line. Bengals linebacker Joe Bachie came up and squatted as he was about to make contact.
They collided and Bridgewater went airborne, landing a yard past the first down marker, but falling on his face just as he was hit again by defensive tackle B.J. Hill.
Bridgewater lay motionless as Bachie rolled onto his back on his own several yards away as concerned players from both teams gathered on the field.
While Bachie was helped off with a leg injury and ruled out, the cart came out to take Bridgewater off the field.
Lock came in and threw a 25-yard touchdown pass to Tim Patrick with 1:15 left in the third quarter, giving Denver a 10-9 lead.
Patrick’s taunting penalty after the score came back to haunt the Broncos when Trent Taylor returned the kickoff 23 yards to the Cincinnati 32. After Joe Mixon’s 12-yard run to the 33, Burrow hooked up with Boyd for the game-winning 56-yard score that made it 15-10 with 30 seconds left in the third quarter.
The Bengals took a 6-3 lead into the locker room on a big turn of events in the final 9 seconds of the first half.
Brandon McManus was wide right on a 51-yard field-goal attempt and Cincinnati took over at its 41. A 19-yard pass over the middle to Boyd brought Evan McPherson trotting onto the field to attempt a franchise-record 58-yarder.
It cleared the crossbar just as the first half expired, sending teammates onto the field to celebrate the rookie’s record, which surpassed Randy Bullock’s 57-yard field goal on Dec. 22, 2019, at Miami.
Aside from Bachie’s injury, the Bengals played without starting LB Logan Wilson (shoulder) and CB Chidobe Awuzie (COVID-19) and his backup, Vernon Hargreaves III (non-COVID illness).
The Broncos were without starters ILB Kenny Young (concussion) and DE Dre’Mont Jones (foot) and CB Ronald Darby came out for a concussion evaluation.