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TAMPA, Fla. – Andy Dalton didn't offer any excuses. The Cincinnati quarterback felt lousy, and at times his teammates didn't play well, either.
What mattered most, though, is the first-place Bengals won again.
"Anytime you get a win it's big," Dalton said after a 14-13 victory Sunday over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. "Obviously you want to play better, you want to do a lot of things better. A win is a win regardless of how you get it. The goal is to win by one, so we'll take the win any way we can get it."
Dalton shrugged off flu-like symptoms to score on a 5-yard run and throw 13 yards to A.J. Green for another touchdown. Along the way, Cincinnati (8-3-1) overcame three interceptions, 10 penalties and an ill-advised onside kick that helped Tampa Bay stay in the game to win on the road for the third consecutive week.
That's a franchise first that seemed improbable following a lopsided home loss to Cleveland a month ago.
"I'm pleased that we basically overcame ourselves and won the football game," coach Marvin Lewis said.
But as poorly as the Bengals played, Tampa Bay (2-10) committed the biggest blunder of the day — a penalty in the closing seconds for having too many men on the field.
The infraction — the last of 13 penalties against the Bucs — overturned a 21-yard pass completion that would have moved them into position for a possible game-winning field goal.
"That's how 2-10 football teams play. They find a way to lose it in the end," Tampa Bay coach Lovie Smith said. "When you make dumb, stupid penalties like that throughout the game, it will bite you at the end, which it did."
The Bengals extended their lead in AFC North to 1½ games over each of their division rivals. Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Cleveland all lost on Sunday.
It looked as if Cincinnati might fall, as well, when Josh McCown's throw to Louis Murphy appeared to give the Bucs a first down at the Bengals 20 with 12 seconds remaining.
As Tampa Bay scrambled to line up and spike the ball, an animated Lewis came off the sideline and threw the red flag to challenge the previous play.
Officials initially announced the Bengals couldn't challenge, because coaches aren't allowed to request any in the final two minutes. The replay official, however, had already decided to look at the play, and found the Bucs indeed lined up with 12 players.
"The guys upstairs were saying it right from the start, before they snapped the ball. ... We were trying to match up the personnel, and there was one too many," Lewis said.
McCown said the Bucs had an extra tackle on the field. The quarterback didn't notice, and neither did Smith.
"We were in a bit of a muddle-huddle there, and guys were on and off. ... We've just got to handle it better," McCown said.
"Blame the head coach. Bad move on my part, (I) didn't see it," Smith said. "We had 12 guys on the field. Can't happen."
Some reasons why the Bengals extended their lead in the AFC North and the Bucs fell to 0-6 at home:
TIMELY DEFENSE: The Bengals limited the Bucs to 263 yards of total offense and were at their best after poor plays put the defense is bad positions. Tampa Bay settled for a field goal after Johnthan Banks intercepted Dalton's first pass of the day and returned it 32 yards to the Cincinnati 9. And, the Bucs only managed a field goal after the onside kick was returned to the Bengals 31 and an unnecessary roughness penalty on the next play moved the ball to the 16.
ROAD KINGS: Cincinnati's November road swing through New Orleans, Houston and Tampa Bay totaled 5,078 miles and has bolstered the team's confidence. It's the ninth time in team history, the Bengals have played three straight on the road. It's the first time they've won all three.
WHERE'S THE GROUND GAME?: Tampa Bay was held to 75 yards rushing, with Doug Martin gaining 58 on 18 carries. A month ago, the Bengals ranked 31st in run defense. Over the past three games, they've allowed just 71 yards per game on the ground.
MCCOWN FACTOR: McCown was 15 of 29 passing for 190 yards and one interception. While he was only sacked once, the Bengals got enough pressure on him to force numerous bad throws.
RESILIENT DALTON: Dalton finished 19 of 27 for 176 yards. He completed four passes to Green for 57 yards and helped the Bengals take valuable time off the clock with a nice 30-yard completion to James Wright on third and 11, extending a drive late in the fourth quarter.
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