CINCINNATI – Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady have nothing on the Bengals’ defense.
The Bengals have handled the two Super Bowl champions and former NFL MVPs in their last two home games, forcing Rodgers and Brady to do things they normally don’t do and leading the Bengals to wins because of their ability to do so.
The Bengals sacked Brady four times, hit him on a total of eight occasions, broke up five passes and generally made life miserable for him all day Sunday in a 13-6 win. Even on his worst days, Brady has been able to find someone to throw the ball to in the end zone. He had done it for 52 consecutive games, but he couldn’t do it Sunday. He came close twice; safety Chris Crocker made a touchdown-saving tackle at the 1-yard line one time and cornerback Pacman Jones got just enough of the ball another time to knock it free from Julian Edelman on a fade pattern.
Only Drew Brees with a streak of 54 games that was stopped last season has thrown touchdown passes in more consecutive games than Brady.
“That’s an astronomical number. That’s astronomical,” said defensive end Wallace Gilberry, who had two sacks, four tackles, one tackle for loss and a forced fumble starting in place of injured Michael Johnson. “But once Geno (Atkins) had that first sack and I had a tackle, everything settled down and guys starting making plays and having fun. It showed.”
Rodgers came into Paul Brown Stadium two weeks ago with a streak of 41 straight games since last being intercepted more than once. He left being picked off twice and managing just one touchdown pass as the Bengals rallied for a 34-30 win.
The Bengals have now won five straight games against teams with starting quarterbacks who owned Super Bowl rings coming into the game. Twice, including this year’s home opener, have come at the expense of Ben Roethlisberger. The streak started last season against Eli Manning and the New York Giants.
Tom Brady doesn’t have the receiving corps he’s had in the past but he’s still Tom Brady. The fact that the Patriots came into the game 4-0 without a stellar offensive group is greater testament to his quarterbacking skills.
“It shows that we can play with anybody,” said defensive tackle Domata Peko. “It doesn’t matter who comes into town or who we play. We have a hell of a defense here. There’s plenty of room to improve – don’t get me wrong – but it just shows what kind of competitors we have. We step up to the challenge. We knew what we had coming into town.”
Brady had never lost to the Bengals in four previous games. The Patriots hadn’t failed to score less than 34 points in any of those games.
Sunday, the Bengals limited Brady to 197 yards on 18-of-38 passing. New England was just 1-of-12 on third down conversions and managed just 82 yards rushing after coming into the game averaging 125 yards on the ground. Still, Brady got the ball back three times after BenJarvus Green-Ellis’ 1-yard touchdown run with 9:21 remaining put the Bengals up by 10 points, 13-3. The Patriots got as close as a first-and-goal at the 1 but the defense held on the next three plays and forced a field goal.
It was fitting that the defense sealed the win on Pacman Jones’ interception at the 3 with 16 seconds left. It also sealed the win against Green Bay by stopping the Packers on downs late in the game.
“You’re playing against a Hall of Fame quarterback. That (streak) didn’t even matter. He’s a Hall of Fame quarterback. The guy can get the ball to everybody,” said Crocker. “Your level of play, you have to step it up. That was our mindset.”
Marvin Lewis gave the game ball to defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer and his assistants. The Bengals were without one of their best linemen – Johnson was out due to a concussion – and one of their best cornerbacks – Leon Hall missed his second game in a row due to a hamstring injury – but they had others like Gilberry and Crocker step up.
The Bengals are now 3-2 and remain tied for first in the AFC North with Baltimore and Cleveland. Four of their next five games are on the road, where they are 0-2 so far this season. The old adage is that great defenses travel well. The Bengals have one of those defenses and will need it to travel, no matter the opposing quarterback.