Carlos Dunlap: play of the day.
A.J. Green, who watched the 6-6 Carlos Dunlap return kicks for Fort Dorchester High School against his team from Summerville before they switched seasons and played hoops in the battle for South Carolina, continues to admire Dunlap's gifts as a Bengals teammate but not his old team.
"Oh yeah, he did it all but they didn't beat us in anything, Green said after Dunlap tipped Sunday's game to the Bengals when he batted a Jacoby Brissett pass in the air to change the direction of the Bengals' season.
"A freak," Green allowed.
A stunned crowd of 57,901 were wondering if the Bengals would ever beat anybody again until Dunlap chose to leap over right tackle Joe Haeg instead of rush him with seven minutes left in a game the Bengals had tried to Federal Express to the Colts. Dunlap, as he's prone to do, deflected the ball. Then, not what defensive linemen are prone to do, he caught it. Then he did what no Bengals running back did all day and ran 16 yards, smoothly transitioning to tight end for the winning score as he left Haeg in his wake. The only resistance came when it seemed the entire defense jumped him in the end zone led by linebacker Vontaze Burfict.
"It felt like 1,500 pounds," Dunlap said. "The whole team was on top of me. They saved me. I haven't exactly worked a touchdown celebration. I've worked a sack celebration. I had one in mind but I haven't cleaned it up yet."
No, it was Dunlap that saved them and the defense and they were carrying the entire team on his back. The Bengals were staring at one of their more curious losses in head coach Marvin Lewis' 15 seasons when the 10-point underdog Colts came into Paul Brown Stadium ranked 28th in offense and 31st in defense and dominated both trenches to take a 23-17 lead with 11:21 left.
But then came Dunlap. And a furious final seven plays for the Colts they staved off the great Adam Vinatieri and the winning field goal. How many times has a team won a game getting a field goal blocked, losing the turnover battle, and watching their rookie running back lead them in receiving with 18 yards rushing?
It's why Bengaldom is exhaling this morning about their defense. Don't forget slot cornerback Darqueze Dennard's game-high 10 tackles with the physicality that got the best of Colts weapon T.Y. Hilton as Dennard and the rest of the Bengals cornerbacks held him to two catches on seven targets.
"They saved our butt again today," said Green, who had just three catches for the second straight week but one for a touchdown.
According to profootballfocus.com, no edge rusher in a decade had the 15 pass deflections that Dunlap had last season. He had only one coming into Sunday's game but like he'll tell you, he works first on getting to the quarterback.
"Huge, huge," said Burfict after keeping the defense together at the end in the wake of allowing the Colts to convert half of their 16 third downs. "Before that series we were telling each other we have to score, we have to get the ball for the offense in good field position. We always tell Carlos to stop jumping, stop jumping. Go get the quarterback. And now we'll tell him to keep jumping I guess."
The Colts were first-and-10 from their 20 with 7:40 left and the Bengals looked like they had no shot at scoring. Quarterback Andy Dalton had been hit all day, including on his lone touchdown pass, and they had just allowed their first two sacks of the day on three snaps, the last when Andre Smith had moved to left tackle and saw rookie Tarell Basham shoot by him for his first NFL sack.
"There's a fine line on that," said Dunlap of rushing or tipping. "We want to rush first. The next best thing is get your hand up and get a hand on the ball. It's not something you work on. It's the next best thing. I work on sacking the quarterback. That's what I work on. I just happen to feel the opportunity to get a hand on the ball."
Dunlap didn't see a tendency or anything like that. Instinct.
"The longest time was watching the ball come down. The 16 yards happened pretty quick," Dunlap said. "We're not DBs. We don't want pass deflections. That's not something we work on. If you can't get there in the rush and they're getting the ball off quick to eliminate great pass rushers like we have on our D-line, then you want to get your hand up in the way of the ball or on the ball so the DBs and linebackers can get a tip. That's most likely. This time I happened to tip it to myself.
"I just felt it. I wanted to get to the quarterback. The guy (Haeg) had a great set on me. I just kind of felt something."
That D-line put on a great charge in the final series when rookie pass rusher Carl Lawson got one of those rushes, a superb effort on second down with the Colts sniffing Vinatieri at the gun at midfield with 1:30 left. Lawson beat the Colts' best lineman, left tackle Anthony Castonzo, on a great play with hands that got him on the edge, where he also pushed through slight running back Marlon Mack and denied his chip block on a sack that set up Chris Smith's fourth-down hit on Brissett forcing an incompletion that ended it with 1:18 left.
"We knew as a defense we wanted to take over the game because we've got the players that can take over a game," Dunlap said. "It happened to be my moment and I happened to capitalize on it. But as you saw, Chris capitalized on his moment at the end of the game as well. We've got a whole bunch of closers on our defense and we've got great players. You never know who's going to be there."
Smith, a defensive end whose career has been revived moving inside on passing downs, had just had trouble a few snaps earlier dropping into coverage as an end. But, like right end Michael Johnson, he's been terrific inside. Smith said Johnson has been helping him, but Johnson went to the bench at halftime with a back injury and Smith got his snaps as well as his own.
"He's our captain. I had to step up for my brother," Smith said. "I've got a new role this year inside and I'm excited about it. We've got a lot of depth here on the line. A lot of guys."
If Dunlap was working on instinct, so was Smith on fourth-and-four and all-or-nothing. He saw his fellow defensive tackle Geno Atkins execute what ended up being a pick of center Ryan Kelly, a Cincy product and the Colts' second best lineman.
"I saw Geno cross my face," Smith said. "He went in my gap and I went in his."
Burfict wasn't surprised the Colts were using a familiar deep pattern on that play. Tight end Jack Doyle had scored on it on a 13-yard touchdown pass in the first half.
"We were in man obviously. I was the middle reader reading the quarterback," Burfict said. "He looked backside, then he came back front side. He wanted to throw to the deep receiver running a seven (route), but he overthrew him. Good coverage. Good call by Paulie (defensive coordinator Guenther).
"Towards the end of the game we need closers. Carl, Chris. Dunlap. Mike J. We need closers. We need guys that get to the quarterback."
Just in the nick of time. The Bengals ended the game the way they started, with two sacks/hits of Brissett. They didn't get him much in between because they didn't have the lead, they let running back Frank Gore get established with 82 yards on 16 carries, and they allowed half of those third downs, one a 24-yard screen pass on third-and-13 to Mack for a touchdown where nobody was close to him.
"Good play call. We were in some type of coverage where one guy only has the back.," Burfict said. "They got two blockers on one of (our) blocker."
But they had plenty left.
"We've got so many leaders that put our heads down and just getting three-and-out," Burfict said. "We kept telling each other this is the time we need to pull the game out. The offense is struggling today so we figured we just needed to get the ball or get a score."
Doyle had a career-high 12 catches for 121 yards, but as long as Hilton didn't beat them deep, that was fine with them.
"(Doyle) wasn't going to beat us," Burfict said. "We just needed to stop 13. That's the guy we had to stop."
And Dunlap from celebrating as they jumped on him in the end zone.
"I know what he wanted to celebrate. I knew what he wanted to do. He wanted to use the field goal post," Burfict said. "I told him, 'You're not getting up, you're not getting up.' He said, 'Let me go, let me go, I'm trying to go celebrate.'"
He never got to the post.
But neither did Vinatieri.
Cincinnati Bengals host Indianapolis Colts at Paul Brown Stadium in week 8 of the regular season.