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Bengals vs. Buccaneers final score: 3 things we learned from Cincinnati's 14-13 win

The Bengals scraped out a win by the slimmest of margins.

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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers gave a valiant effort by their standards, but it wasn't enough to top a second AFC North opponent this season. Andy Dalton overcame a disastrous first half for the Cincinnati Bengals, who improved to 8-3-1 with a 14-13 win.

The Buccaneers appeared to set themselves up in position to kick a game-winning field goal when Josh McCown hit Louis Murphy to put Tampa Bay near Cincinnati's 20-yard line within the final 30 seconds of regulation. Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis threw his challenge flag, however. Though coaches are not allowed to challenge plays within the two-minute warning, he apparently inspired the officials to go to the replay booth.

When the referees reviewed the play, they found that the Buccaneers had too many men on the field, pushing Tampa Bay back to the 46-yard line. McCown couldn't make magic happen again. The game ended when the Bucs couldn't convert on fourth-and-20, giving the ball back to the Bengals for a kneel-down.

The play in question:

12

And the penalty:

12

Dalton threw three interceptions in the first half for his seventh career game with three or more picks. The Bengals couldn't get on the board until late in the first half, when Dalton capped a 64-yard drive with a 5-yard touchdown scramble. The score allowed a slow-starting Bengals squad to go into halftime down just three points, 10-7.

The Buccaneers left any offensive momentum in the locker room. They gained 150 total yards in the first half, but opened up the second half with consecutive three-and-outs and ultimately finished with just 263 yards for the game. McCown was unable to involve his considerable weapons. Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson combined for just 73 yards on six catches.

Three things:

1) Welcome back Doug Martin

The former Rookie of the Year candidate hasn't done much since 2012. Injuries have rerouted what began as a promising NFL career. Early on Sunday, Martin looked like his former self.

Martin had more than 50 yards rushing at halftime. His production slowed way down in the second half and he had just 58 yards rushing for the game on 18 carries. Still, it was encouraging to see him run free for just a little while. Heading into the weekend, Martin had appeared in just six games this season, and rushed for 193 yards on 69 carries.

Martin doesn't look like his old self just yet, but he may still be a quality contributor to a Buccaneers squad that is (kinda, sorta) starting to look like a functional football team.

2) The Bucs are not the worst team in the NFC South right now

In the Man's-Man world of the NFL, we aren't supposed to appreciate moral victories, but in the grand scheme of this season, Sunday was a good day for Tampa Bay. The Bucs hung around with a much better team, and got contributions from non-obvious names like, say, Charles Sims in the passing game.

Yeah, they still lost, but at least the Buccaneers aren't the Carolina Panthers, who lost 31-13 to the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday. Tampa Bay should be salivating about a Dec. 14 bout on the road against their division rival.

3) Seriously, what's your deal Andy Dalton

After throwing three interceptions in the first half, Dalton bounced back for a good second half, going 12-for-16 for 114 yards, one score and several big third-down throws. The game was a microcosm of why Dalton is perhaps the most maddening starting quarterback in the NFL.

It has been said before, but this feels likes a Bengals team that will only go as far as Dalton allows it. The defense and offensive skill players did their part. It was only when Dalton stopped making mistakes that the Bengals were able to pull ahead.

★★★

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