Adam Jones again played solid on the corner while doing double duty on returns.
NEW ORLEANS - Bengals defensive coordinator Paul Guenther drew up a masterpiece against the NFL's second best offense on the road and his beleaguered unit carefully followed each X and O to deliver another big-time hit on a big-name quarterback that was symbolized by the second-quarter goal-line stand.
Nearly two years to the day since the Bengals took down Eli Manning at Paul Brown Stadium to start the hunt, they added another Super Bowl winning quarterback to their bag of big-game trophies. The Saints' Drew Brees joins Manning, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger, and Joe Flacco on the mantle that also includes some pretty fair country passers such as Andrew Luck, Philip Rivers, and Matt Ryan.
Brees came into Sunday's game with 18 touchdown passes and 7.5 yards per pass attempt. But he left being asked why the Saints got so conservative. With the Bengals' front seven beating up the Saints' run game, the secondary with a big lift from young cornerbacks Dre Kirkpatrick and Darqueze Dennard did what it usually does and took away the deep ball and check-mated Brees when he had to go to the check down. He averaged just 6.2 yards per his 41 attempts even though he completed 33 of them.
And his leading receiver, Pro Bowl tight end Jimmy Graham had just three catches for 29 yards against a defense that had been a welcome mat against any tight end of note this season. But the longest ball Brees completed was for 17 yards and that was to wide receiver Marques Colston when he was down 17 points.
Graham has 75 targets, third most among tight ends, but Brees went to him just three times.
"We were physical with him. You have to be physical with any good tight end," said George Iloka, who split the coverage duties with fellow safety Reggie Nelson and the linebackers. "We just told him we're going to make him work for everything he gets."
WILL backer Vincent Rey, making the start for Vontaze Burfict, held him to a 13-yard catch. Nelson gave him a 12-yarder, and SAM backer Emmanuel Lamur allowed a four-yarder. And that was it, according to profootballfocus.com.
The Bengals were draped all over Graham on the goal line, not letting him get a free release on first-and-three and fourth-and-one when Brees tried to jam it in there. It was from about that spot where last week Graham posted a cornerback for a late go-ahead touchdown.
But on first down the 6-2 Kirkpatrick was one-on-one with the 6-4 Colston in the right corner and knocked it out of there.
"They're big receivers. We just stayed poised with the technique," Kirkpatrick said. "We knew they like to attack the ball deep. The front seven answered the bell and played physically and we made sure we kept them in front of us."
The front, led by a Herculean effort from nose tackle Domata Peko with five stops according to PFF, swarmed running back Mark Ingram on the next two snaps with Peko getting help from Wallace Gilberry for no gain on third down. On fourth down from the 1, Brees could only find fullback Erik Lorig in the right flat and he got blown up for a one-yard loss by middle linebacker Rey Maualuga and goal-line safety Shawn Williams.
"You are trying to give them the illusion
that you are trying to hurry up and run one up the gut, get everyone committed there, (and) then throw (the ball) to the outside," Brees said. "I think maybe us hurrying up worked to our disadvantage because the guy is late making his way to the edge. He feels the flow coming out the backfield, so he's able to run. Both guys were really covered we were throwing it to. You're trying to get it (to) the fullback and maybe he sneaks in."
The sideline exploded as the offense and defense passed each other in high fives and chest bumps
"It was a huge stop. It dictated the game,' said Bengals left tackle Andrew Whitworth. "That was a huge moment for (the defense), a great moment for the team. No question. After that first drive and you get the lead and then doing something like that, that gave us the opportunity, 'Hey, we're all in this thing today.' Kind of the exact opposite the way we felt last week. Where we didn't do anything to help each other on either side of the ball."
Talk about a team effort on defense. The NFL's next-to-worst rush defense stoned Ingram's 4.8 yards per carry on 2.9 with PFF crediting Lamur (six stops), Rey (five), and Peko (five) leading the way. Then when cornerback Leon Hall went down with a sore Achilles early in the fourth quarter, first-round pick Darqueze Dennard played the last 10 snaps in the slot and got his hand on a third-and-12 ball ticketed to Colston over the middle. On the previous play, it also looked like he got his hand on another pass to Colston over the middle on a ball Kirkpatrick almost picked.
Down the stretch, Kirkpatrick and Dennard, playing for the two starters, Hall and Terence Newman, were often on the same side and Brees couldn't exploit them even though he didn't get sacked.
"That's the beauty of this team," Kirkpatrick said. "There's somebody who is always ready to step in and has the talent."
Vinny Rey chalked up the performance to a better, harder week of practice. The Bengals weren't tackling, he said, but they were in pads and going full speed.
"We have to get physical. You get sore after practice sometimes. But it's what necessary for us. That's how we have to play," Rey said. "We had some injuries and it's hard to practice hard. But this week, guys were just like, even though we have injuries, just go as hard as we can. Stay in the training room an extra couple of hours. I think that's what we'll do this week…We practiced like it was a game."