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PBS: where third downs go to die and playoffs live

Posted Dec 22, 2013

The one thing the Bengals know is their down-home defense gets at least one playoff shot in the cozy, unbeaten confines of Paul Brown Stadium.

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No one knows what the flood of NFL playoff scenarios is going to wash up on the Bengals doorstep next week.

But after securing the AFC North title with a 42-14 rout of the Vikings and help from a Patriotic rout in Baltimore on Sunday, the one thing the Bengals do know is their down-home defense gets at least one playoff shot in the cozy, unbeaten confines of Paul Brown Stadium.

"It's our home; we have to protect our home," said cornerback Adam Jones. "You don't want to get disrespected in your house, do you?"

The Bengals raised their PBS record this season to 7-0 by holding the opposing offense to two touchdowns or less for the fifth time while enjoying a four-turnover game for the third time and their fifth defensive TD of the season at home. For the fourth time at PBS they picked off a quarterback at least twice and after posting what appears to be the first perfect third-down conversion game in Bengals history at 0-for-9, offenses are at a mere 22 percent (20-for-89) trying to convert at PBS.

"It's a mixture of both (the crowd and Zimmer)," defensive lineman Wallace Gilberry said in a salute to the Bengals sixth-year defensive coordinator Mike.

"(Those numbers are) a heck of an accomplishment. I've always said The Jungle is a tough place to play and that's living proof of how hard it is to win here. Our fans get up for it, they get into it."

Savoring its fourth playoff berth in five seasons, the sellout crowd of 61,555 serenaded the fourth straight home blowout consisting of another 40-point effort on offense and a no-nonsense clinic from the defense that shut down another Hall of Famer to give the Bengals an average win at home of 34-17.

Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger could combine for just one touchdown between them earlier this year and on Sunday the great Adrian Peterson could manage just 45 yards when seven of his 11 carries went for three yards or less.

"Zim said last night that we've got to come in here and get it going," Jones said. "A.P. is going to be a Hall of Fame back. But he won't be a Hall of Fame back tomorrow at Paul Brown Stadium. That's what he said. Everybody went in with that attitude."

Of course, no one has been a Hall of Fame anything against the Bengals at PBS. In seven games, QBs, from the elite of Brady and Ben, to the journeymen represented by Matt Cassel on Sunday, have combined for eight TDs and 12 picks.

And then again, this is not the same nickel defense that blunted Brady's touchdown pass streak back on Oct. 6 in a 13-6 victory over the Patriots in which the Pats failed on 11 of 12 third downs. Not on the field Sunday were the team's best pass rusher, two-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Geno Atkins, starting cornerbacks Leon Hall and Terence Newman, and nickel backer Taylor Mays.

The depth the pundits praised in preseason got the Bengals into the postseason Sunday.

“I think that speaks a great deal to it," Lewis said of the response to the injuries. "Players and coaches alike deserve a lot of credit for that. Everyone continues to fight through and play. We played today without James (SAM backer Harrison), and Michael Boley stepped up. That’s what you want to have, some veteran guys with some skins on the wall, and keep coaching the younger guys so they’re ready to go when they’re called on.”

But as dominant as the win was, the defense didn't get lost in the sauce. Left end Carlos Dunlap was all over the yard with five tackles, a half-sack, two hits on Cassel, and a fumble return he lugged 42 yards to the Vikings 4 to set up the first touchdown. He was taking heat from his mates for not scoring.

"I got it because I always give crap to them," Dunlap said after being chased down by running back Toby Gerhart. "I feel it will never happen to me. I let it happen to me. I won't let it happen again."

Dunlap, a fourth-year player, is one of these young guns that now dominates the roster. These guys are used to going to the playoffs. But they've been there, done that, and only winning is going to satisfy the Bengals after back-to-back losses in wild card games.

"Is it official?" Dunlap asked when he was asked about the postseason. "We made it two, three years in a row now. Now we want to make noise this year and get that first-round bye or clinching the division. All that helps."

What helps is that homefield advantage that is now stretching to eight straight victories dating back to last season's finale against the Ravens.

"We've got a heck of a 12th man," Dunlap said. "Our fans were roaring today. It makes it easier for us."

Especially on third down. As defensive tackle Domata Peko said of the natives, "They destruct offenses."

Zimmer pulled the strings early Sunday. He hasn't been able to blitz much the last two weeks because the third downs haven't been long enough. But with two rushers sidlined (Harrison and tackle Devon Still), it was time. And on the third snap of the game Zimmer got the distance he wanted on third-and-6 from the Bengals 45. So Zimmer sent a double-barreled blitz with safety Reggie Nelson and nickel backer Vinny Rey on the left side and when they met at Cassel it produced the fumble recovered by Dunlap.

"Zim puts us in good calls," Nelson said. "With his film study and us doing our film study, it's pretty significant. Zim kind of let us cut loose a little. I like it when he sends us."

But while Zimmer oiled it up on third down, he also backed it off to keep Cassel guessing. On the next third down, a third-and-two from the Vikings 28, the Bengals showed blitz, backed out, and Gilberry tipped it at the line as Cassel pumped.

And when Rey broke the game open on his 25-yard pick-six for a 21-7 lead early in the second quarter, another third-and-two, the Bengals played it straight up. No blitz or fake blitz. Rey dropped into a zone and read Cassel's eyes on the throw to wide receiver Greg Jennings over the middle.

(Kudos to that third-down package against Jennings off his 11-catch game last week. He had just four catches for 27 yards on Sunday.)

"We like to get them to 25 percent on third down," Dunlap said. "That's our number; zero percent … I didn't even know we did that."

When the season began, the faces of the Bengals defense were Atkins and Hall, the defense's two best players. Now it is probably Rey, a career special-teamer before this season and now the ultimate guy who took advantage when the top two nickel backers, Emmanuel Lamur and Mays, went down. Last month Rey became the first Bengal in history to have three sacks and a pick in a game. On Sunday, he was there on third down.  

"Sometimes we get a bead on when they're about to snap it because it's real loud. All of those things add up. I credit the crowd," Rey said of third down. "Based on the formation, I was dropping into my zone, doing my job. Everybody else was doing their job and that allowed me to see him kind of get ready to release the ball and I just did what I'm coached to do and try and catch the ball."

That is as good as any mantra for this Everyman defense.

"I just feel privileged to be playing in this defense," Rey said. "I'm thankful to be able to contribute. The coaches have a great standard for us. Starting with Coach Zimmer, Marvin Lewis, (linebackers coach) Paul Guenther. I believe we win the game during the week with great practices, great effort. The coaches do an awesome job putting us in position to make plays."

Thanks to the defense, the Bengals are in the ultimate position.

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