Posted: 7:50 p.m.
Safety Chris Crocker, one of the defensive leaders, knows his Bengals teammates are watching guys like him respond. And no one was madder about Sunday's 87-yard Impossible Reception.
Unless it was defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer hearing the pundits blame his secondary for what happened.
"Some of the things I'm hearing are ridiculous," Zimmer said Monday. "Like, 'you've got to keep a guy back in case he tips it.' That's just stupid. Every safety is taught since he was in sixth grade to go after the receiver in a Cover 2. We could have gone prevent, but their kicker had hit it from 50 and 48. So we went with what had worked pretty damn well for 50 plays. If they're going to blame somebody, blame me, don't blame the players. They played their butts off."
Like Crocker. During the previous 59:49, Crocker had helped hold Broncos wide receiver Brandon Stokley to precisely 0.0 catches while moving to nickel cornerback in place of injured cornerback David Jones. With Crocker lined up in the slot for what he estimated was 90 percent of the snaps, he had shots at Stokley and Brandon Marshall and Marshall didn't exactly tear it up, either, with four receptions for 27 yards.
But there was Stokley, minding his own business when cornerback Leon Hall's tip off Denver quarterback Kyle Orton's desperate chuck to Marshall on the sidelines ended up in his hands all the way out at the numbers to start and end the wild finish.
"All day he makes one catch. He caught the big one, but what can you do?" Crocker said Monday. "It's obvious it was just luck. There's nothing they did to out-scheme us or out-hustle us or anything. The guy just stood right there and it fell right to him."
With 28 seconds left from the Denver 13, the Bengals were in their nickel package with five defensive backs. Crocker, Hall, cornerback Johnathan Joseph and safeties Roy Williams and Chinedum Ndukwe on a day the Bengals hadn't let Denver get past the Cincinnati 30.
"We could have rushed three guys; we could have gone prevent," Zimmer said. "But we went with what had been kicking their butt all day. We had them playing a little deeper. We had the corners sinking a little bit. When I hear people say they should have had everybody back, give me a break. Two passes and they're close to a field goal."
Crocker remembers the Cover 2 call. A deep zone. It was the same nickel package that had dominated Denver all day, not allowing a third-down conversion until 26 seconds left in the first half, and giving the Broncos just three out of 12 in the game.
"Let them catch anything that's short and keep it inbounds," Crocker said of his mindset. "Keep them inbounds and keep the clock moving. They might have had one timeout left. That's what I was thinking. Make them catch it in front of you and if not and they go deep, get your hand on the ball."
After Hall leaped and tapped the ball away from Marshall, both Crocker and Williams converged on Marshall.
"The ball just took a bad bounce. The ball just popped up the air," Crocker said. "Leon was trying to make a play on it. He made sure the receiver didn't catch it. Nothing he did was wrong."
And head coach Marvin Lewis said nothing Crocker and Williams did was wrong.
"I thought the guys at the point did exactly what they want to do on that play. Leon goes up to try and intercept the ball, and unfortunately it bounces off his hands," Lewis said. "Guys come over to take the receiver out just like they are supposed to do, and the other guys have to do a better job of finishing it. There were some things that can be done differently, but it's a play that happened. I don't know what you call it, but it's a good play by them, and a not-so-good play by us."
Crocker said they weren't focused on Marshall on that play, but the call.
"We were focused on the call," Crocker said. "Once the ball went to him, that's where we were focused on as the ball is in the air. It's obvious it was just luck."
It looks like Crocker is going to get another shot in nickel this week with Lewis making it sound Monday like Jones is still in rehab.
"It's no big deal. I've been doing it throughout my career,' said Crocker of playing corner as well as safety. "I know what my element is, what kind of person I am and what I bring to this team. It doesn't matter where I line up."
In the last 24 hours, Crocker is showing his value to this team with his versatility and demeanor. So upset after the game Sunday, he waved away a reporter but was in front of his locker Monday praising Zimmer and the pluck of his teammates.
"We've got to come back and play hard next week," he said. "You're a professional. You don't worry about what happened last week. Zim has us running around loose, telling us to make plays and not be worried about mistakes. Zim was sick to his stomach. Just like us. Everybody was in disbelief. Just a tough loss. We feel bad for each other. I feel bad for Zimmer. He called a great game. What do you do?"
Go to Green Bay and play an offense that is 10 times more dangerous than Denver's.
"I know what we're about," he said. "I'm not worried about it."
He may have been getting ready for the Packers, but he was still mad.
"I can't give them any credit," Crocker said. "I can't say they deserved it more than we did. They didn't play any harder than we did. It's just a miracle."