Losing pays off for Bengals, who clinch No. 1 pick in NFL draft

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- The Cincinnati Bengals officially hit rock bottom at Hard Rock Stadium. And many fans couldn't be more thrilled.

Cincinnati secured the worst record in the NFL this season and the top overall pick in the upcoming draft with a 38-35 overtime loss to the Miami Dolphins on Sunday. The defeat ensures the Bengals will have the top pick for the first time since 2003, regardless of what happens in the final week of the regular season.

While it is the best thing to happen to a rebuilding franchise, Bengals coach Zac Taylor said winning was the top priority in the aftermath of Sunday's game that featured a 23-point comeback to force overtime.

"We fight too hard and we work too hard," Taylor said. "If there's any competitive juices in you whatsoever, you can't go out on the field not trying your best to win the game."

Cincinnati was trending toward the ultimate prize for season-long futility long before its Week 16 trip to Miami. The Bengals lost their first 11 games, their worst start to a season since 1993. The drought ended following a 22-6 victory in Week 13 over the New York Jets, one of the other contenders for the league's worst record.

The Dolphins and Bengals were the last two teams to pick up a victory this season. But after Miami beat the Jets in Week 9 and the Indianapolis Colts in Week 10, Cincinnati took the lead in the race to the bottom.

Entering Week 11, Cincinnati had a 54.6 percent chance of landing the first pick in the 2020 NFL draft, according to ESPN's Football Power Index. Washington had the next-best odds at 19.5 percent.

With their performance Sunday against the Dolphins, the Bengals eliminated the need for any more projections.

Miami scored touchdowns on its first two drives while Cincinnati's offense sputtered. The Bengals failed to pick up a first down on five of their seven drives in the first half. The Bengals couldn't score a touchdown on their only red zone possession of the first half and were 0-for-4 on third downs.

The Dolphins, who entered Sunday ranked 29th in scoring offense at 17.2 points per game, led 21-6 at halftime and 35-12 in the fourth quarter. Despite a late push by the Bengals that forced overtime, Miami's Jason Sanders kicked a 37-yard field goal as time expired in OT to win it.

Cincinnati wide receiver Tyler Boyd said the frenzied comeback was a testament to the team's character.

"It shows how hard you work," Boyd said. "We go through a long season, pain -- physically and mentally. Just to be able to show during a game, it's unbelievable."

Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton was 33-for-56 passing for 396 yards and four touchdowns. Dalton was benched earlier this season and had a 36.2 Total QBR for the season, the lowest of his career. Dalton's six-year, $96 million contract is set to expire after the 2020 season.

In his latest projection, ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. has the Bengals taking LSU quarterback Joe Burrow with the top overall pick in the draft. Burrow, an Ohio native, threw for 4,715 yards and 48 touchdowns and won this year's Heisman Trophy.

The last time the Bengals selected first overall, they selected USC quarterback Carson Palmer after he won the Heisman in 2002. He was the Bengals' starter from 2004 to 2010.

If the Bengals select Burrow and he turns into the franchise's next cornerstone quarterback, Sunday's loss will prove to be one of the most important moments in recent franchise history. But that wasn't top of mind for Cincinnati's players and coaches as the team is one more loss away from sealing the worst season in franchise history.

"Every time a player steps out on the field, they're not thinking about anything else but trying to win the game, trying to give their best effort and win," Dalton said.