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NFL Preview - Cincinnati (6-2) at Miami (3-4)
By John McMullen, NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - A lot of people love heading south this time of year but for the Miami Dolphins, a trip due south in the AFC East standings has been anything but fun.
A 3-0 start for the Dolphins is now all but forgotten as Joe Philbin's team returns home in an attempt to halt an ugly four-game skid against the AFC North-leading Cincinnati Bengals on Halloween Night.
Miami hasn't tasted victory since Sept. 22 just as the Bengals have gotten red-hot, winning four straight to take a 2 1/2-game lead over Baltimore in their division.
The Dolphins thought they had solved their problems early on in Foxborough last Sunday but the game turned out to be a tale of two halves, as New England rebounded to completely dominate things after intermission en route to a 27-17 victory over Miami at Gillette Stadium.
The Patriots managed a meager 59 yards in the first 30 minutes and trailed by 14, then scored 24 unanswered points -- highlighted by a pair of touchdowns in a span of less than two minutes that tied the game.
"We dug a big hole for ourselves at halftime. We really haven't played good in the third quarter all year but we did today," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. "We got it from all three phases of the game. We had contributions from everyone in the second half."
Tom Brady struggled through his worst first half in 10 years and finished with just 116 yards and a touchdown on 13-of-22 passing but New England overcame that to beat Miami for the seventh straight time.
Ryan Tannehill threw for 192 yards with a pair of touchdowns and a pair of interceptions for the Dolphins, who are now 2 1/2 games in back of the Pats in the AFC East.
A trio of turnovers and two missed Caleb Sturgis field goals -- one that hit an upright and another that was blocked -- in the second half led to disaster for Miami.
"They clearly deserved to win the game, they played better than we did," said Philbin. "We didn't play well in the second half. We didn't make stops, we turned the ball over."
The Bengals, on the other hand, kept rolling on Sunday thanks to a breakout performance from second-year receiver Marvin Jones.
Jones caught a franchise record four touchdown passes in Cincinnati's 49-9 rout of the New York Jets at Paul Brown Stadium.
"He's had the potential since he's been here," QB Andy Dalton said when talking about Jones. "I think he's just comfortable with everything that we're doing and everything that we're asking him to do."
Dalton threw for 325 yards and five scores on 19-of-30 throws in just three quarters. He found Jones eight times for 122 yards, while A.J. Green added 115 yards on just three catches.
"We knew we were going to have to take some shots," said Bengals coach Marvin Lewis.
The Bengals' defense also took back two Geno Smith interceptions for touchdowns.
"That was ugly, to say the least," said Jets coach Rex Ryan. "We're fortunate it only counts for one loss because you get your butt kicked like that, you're fortunate that's all it is."
Miami leads its overall series with the Bengals by a significant 15-5 margin, with the Dolphins winning the last two contests. The most recent meeting was a 17-13 Miami victory on Oct. 7, 2012 in Paul Brown Stadium.
The Dolphins are also a perfect 5-0 when playing on Halloween.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Dalton and the Bengals have been firing on all cylinders recently, piling up 103 points in their last three games. Over that span, the third-year signal caller has thrown for at least 325 yards in each contest and tossed 11 TD passes, becoming the first Bengal ever to throw that many in a three-game stretch.
"This is where I want to be," said Dalton. "This is how I want to be playing."
It's not all about offense with Cincinnati, though. In fact the Bengals' defense remains the strength of the team led by All-Pro interior lineman Geno Atkins. Cincy's D is currently ranked eighth in the NFL, allowing 322.5 yards per game and its even better in scoring defense, coming in at No. 5 by giving up only 18 points per contest.
That shapes up as trouble for Miami's young quarterback Tannehill, who has plenty of talent but remains a very inconsistent player from down to down never mind game to game.
Tannehill can wow you with the big play (he's thrown five TD passes over the prior two games) but also make the game-changing mistake (seven of his nine interceptions have come during the Dolphins' current skid). He has been particularly ineffective in the guts of a game, amassing an awful 60.9 fourth- quarter passer rating, something that has contributed mightily to the fact that Miami has been outscored 67-24 in the second half of their losing streak.
Apologists for Tannehill point to his shaky offensive line, which has allowed the Texas A&M product to be sacked a league-high 32 times. The Dolphins tried to address that issue by trading for veteran left tackle Bryant McKinnie before the New England game and the former Vikings and Ravens starter did prove to be a significant upgrade on short notice.
Miami will also get a bit of a break with the absence of Bengals middle linebacker Rey Maualuga, who will not play in Thursday's game after spraining his left knee against the Jets. The fifth-year pro is expected to miss multiple weeks.
Cincinnati will also be without a few other defensive contributors. Cornerback Leon Hall (torn Achilles) and safety Taylor Mays (shoulder) were each placed on injured reserve in the last couple of days, while backup tackle Devon Still has also been ruled out due to an elbow injury.
Miami's offense will also be hampered by the season-ending knee injury receiver Brandon Gibson suffered against the Patriots and the fact that former left tackle Jonathan Martin reportedly went AWOL this week, something the Dolphins have labeled as an undisclosed illness.
Despite all of Miami's problems, however, Lewis is still worried on a short week.
"We've got to be the best team Thursday night, plain and simple," the Cincinnati coach said. "It's us and the Dolphins and, we've got to be the best team. There's no other challenge. We knew the schedule. That's the way it is. There's no ifs, ands or buts about it. You come, be ready to go."
Philbin, meanwhile, is staying positive in an effort to get his team back in the win column.
"I have a lot of faith in our guys," he said. "I believe in them. I think we'll get this thing right and fixed. We have to do it quickly; this is a good team coming in here on Thursday night."
The Dolphins' current four-game hiccup is their worst since a seven-game slide to open the 2011 season while Cincinnati is coming off its most lopsided victory in Lewis' 11-year tenure.
"Obviously we aren't at an all-time high right now," Tannehill said. "But we've got to get back on track. That's the only option we have with a short week."
It's also an unlikely option. These are teams heading in polar opposite directions and expect that to continue on "Thursday Night Football."
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Bengals 27, Dolphins 20
10/31 09:42:57 ET