CINCINNATI — Cam Newton re-emerged as dual-threat danger. Andy Dalton missed on only one pass in overtime — a sack-saving throwaway, no less. Back and forth they went, rallying their teams through a pulsating finish.
Mike Nugent’s miss left it tied, unsatisfying and confusing. And perfectly appropriate.
Nugent missed a 36-yard field goal attempt on the final play of overtime Sunday, leaving the Bengals and Panthers in a 37-37 tie — the NFL’s first this season. A game full of big plays and big comebacks was basically a wash.
“It’s a weird feeling,” Dalton said. “I’ve never been part of a tie. You didn’t lose, but you didn’t win. We had our chances and when you don’t win, it’s tough.”
It doesn’t happen very often — at least, not outside of Cincinnati.
The Bengals and Eagles played to a 13-13 tie at Paul Brown Stadium in 2008, when Cincinnati’s Shayne Graham missed a 47-yard try with 7 seconds left in overtime.
Four years later, San Francisco and St. Louis played to a 24-all tie.
The NFL changed the overtime rules to avoid having games end on a field goal by the receiving team. Minnesota and Green Bay finished 26-all last season under the new format.
The crowd of 57,053 at Paul Brown Stadium was standing and ready to celebrate when Nugent set up for the final kick with only 2 seconds left on the clock. It was a good snap and hold. Nugent rushed his approach and sliced it wide right.
“That was the worst ball I’ve ever hit in my career,” Nugent said. “My plant foot was way too far forward. I think there was a little excitement. I was a little too quick.”
The crowd stood stunned. The players walked onto the field to shake hands, trying to figure out what it all meant.
“I’m treating it as if it was loss,” said Panthers running back Fozzy Whittaker, who had a 4-yard touchdown run. “We had many opportunities to win it. But it doesn’t hurt as bad (as a loss), I guess.”
A matchup of division leaders and impressive quarterbacks came down to the kickers.
Nugent made a 42-yard field goal that put Cincinnati (3-1-1) up after the opening drive of overtime. Carolina (3-2-1) tied it on Graham Gano’s 36-yarder with 2:19 left.
That was enough time for Dalton to maneuver the Bengals into position to win it. He was 8 for 9 for 87 yards with one throwaway in overtime. A roughing-the-passer penalty on Panthers end Charles Johnson helped the Bengals get in position for Nugent’s final kick.
“On that last drive, I thought we’d go down there and put ourselves in a position to win it,” said Dalton, who was 33 of 43 overall for 323 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. “We did that. We were close.”
The game marked Newton’s return as a running threat. He had been mostly limited to throwing the ball because of offseason ankle surgery and cracked ribs from the preseason.
With their backfield depleted by injuries, the Panthers turned Newton loose on Sunday. He ran a team-high 17 times for 107 yards, including an 11-yard touchdown in the second half. He also completed 29 of 46 for 284 yards and two touchdowns, including a 13-yarder that put Carolina up 31-24 with 4:50 left.
The drama was just starting.
Adam “Pacman” Jones ran the kickoff back 97 yards to set up a tying touchdown, and the kickers traded field goals in the closing minutes. Gano’s 44-yarder sent it to overtime.
There were other big plays, too. Giovani Bernard had an 89-yard touchdown run — the second-longest in Bengals history — to help Cincinnati to a 17-10 halftime lead. Bernard carried 18 times for a career-high 137 yards, missing part of the second half with an injured right shoulder.
All of that aside, it came down to a kicker missing one that’s usually routine.
“You want to come away with a victory there,” Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said. “That’s a shame.”