On a day when it gave up a 546 yards, including more than 450 yards passing and an even 100 yards rushing, the Bengals defense still managed to stand tall in just enough critical moments of Sunday's 27-27 tie with Washington to stave off a hurtful loss heading into the bye week.
Still, the overall performance of the defense didn't sit well with Marvin Lewis after the game.
"Defensively, we've got to do a better job of understanding and getting our jobs done," Lewis told reporters after the game, "particularly on the perimeter, in coverage. Linebackers, secondary, everybody fitting together, making sure everything fits together the right way all the time."
The defensive stat sheet certainly wasn't pretty.
Washington QB Kirk Cousins torched the Bengals for 458 yards passing on the day, the highest passing yardage total allowed by the Bengals since Drew Brees hung 510 on them on Nov. 19, 2006, his first year as a Saint. Cousins passed 56 times Sunday, completing 38 (67.9 percent), but was sacked just once. He averaged 12.1 yards per completion.
Two Redskins players — WR Jamison Crowder and TE Jordan Reed — caught nine passes, and each had a touchdown. Reed and fellow tight end Vernon Davis combined for 14 catches for 192 yards on the day, nine times converting either a third down or touchdown.
On the ground, Redskins rookie RB Robert Kelley, who filled in for injured starter Matt Jones, bruised his way to 87 yards on 21 carries (4.1 average) and an opening-drive touchdown.
"The best lesson learned today for our football team is you've just got to keep playing," Lewis said. "Regardless, literally, of the situation, football game, where we are, what's going on -- just keep playing. Go to the next down and keep playing.
No doubt, it wasn't the brightest of days for the Bengals D. But in the game's critical moments, Lewis' defense managed to come up with critical stops.
The first instance came in the first quarter, on Washington's second possession, with the score 7-7. Dre Kirkpatrick stormed into the backfield on a Redskins fourth-and-one from the Bengals' 18, stopping Kelley for no gain and giving the ball back to the Bengals' offense.
On the Redskins' next drive, as they faced third-and-goal from the five, LB Karlos Dansby stopped Washington RB Chris Thompson at the two, forcing a Washington field goal.
"We had a couple opportunities today where we actually defended the goal line pretty well, which are positives for the defense today," Lewis said.
Dansby showed up again on the following possession. After Vontaze Burfict diagnosed a Thompson run wide to the left and burst into the backfield, Dansby cleaned up the mess, slinging the 5-8, 194-pound Thompson to the ground for a four-yard loss. On the next play, facing third-and-14 late in the half, the Redskins ditched their methodical approach and heaved a pass 41 yards downfield, where George Iloka was waiting to record his first interception of the season (sixth of his career).
And then there was Josh Shaw's shoe-string tackle of Reed in the waning moments of the first half, which held the star tight end to a six-yard gain on third and seven. That forced the Redskins to run the clock to :04, rather than take a few more shots at getting closer, and attempt a 55-yard field goal as time expired. Redskins kicker Dustin Hopkins missed — the miss you won't see replayed on TV — and the Bengals escaped into the locker room down only 10-7.
The key defensive plays continued in the second half. After the Bengals seized momentum to open the half with an 11-play, 75-yard touchdown drive, Geno Atkins bull-rushed into the backfield for a 12-yard sack of Cousins on Washington's opening possession. That forced a third-and-22, on which the Bengals' defense held, forcing a punt and, consequently, solid starting field position at their own 36. Andy Dalton furthered the orange and black's momentum, promptly leading a 10-play, 64 yard drive, capped by his own one-yard touchdown on a bootleg.
Late in the second half, with the Redskins down three and driving well into Bengals territory, Carlos Dunlap batted down a Cousins pass at the line of scrimmage, nearly resulting in an interception by Will Clarke. On the next play, with Washington facing third-and-10 at the Cincinnati 22, the defense dug deep yet again to force an incompletion. The Redskins then settled for a 40-yard field goal, which tied the game for good.
On the first possession of overtime, the Redskins' offense needed just four plays to move into Bengals territory after starting at their own 25. After a three-yard gain by Kelley to the Cincinnati 45, the Bengals' defense stood tall, forcing two incompletions before a Washington punt.
And on the final possession of overtime, after a momentum-shifting fumble gave Washington the ball on the Cincinnati 47 with 1:02 to play, the defense stood tall again. Adam Jones drew an offensive pass interference penalty on Washington's first play, forcing the Redskins into a first-and-20 from their own 43. From there, the defense allowed inconsequential receptions of one and eight yards with time winding down, forcing a last-ditch Hail Mary attempt on fourth down. As time expired, Geno Atkins chased Cousins to his left, not allowing him time to set his feet for a 50-plus yard throw into the end-zone.
And finally, on a day when much harm was done to a proud Bengals defensive unit, Cousins' pass floated harmlessly out of bounds. Even on perhaps its darkest day of the season, the Bengals' defense managed to tie together just enough big plays for, fittingly, a tie.
"There's some positives to coach from," Lewis said. "We've just got to correct some of the negatives and continue to press forward."