Updated: 8/21/09, 12:15 a.m.
FOXBORO, Mass. - The Bengals defense preserved Cincinnati's first victory of the preseason, 7-6, when rookie defensive back Tom Nelson jarred the ball loose from Patriots running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis and safety Marvin White recovered at the Bengals 12 with 3:49 remaining. The Bengals spoiled a New England drive that had begun from the Pats 5.
Following the turnover the Bengals offense ran the clock to the two-minute warning and forced New England to use all of its timeouts on defense. A 48-yard punt by rookie Kevin Huber pinned the Patriots on their own 22 and from there the Bengals defense took over. Defensive end Chris Harrington and linebacker Dan Skuta shared a sack of New England quarterback Kevin O'Connell with 42 seconds remaining, and the Pats, unable to stop the clock, ran out of time at the Bengals 43.
"The big thing at the end of the game was making the first down, making them use all three timeouts and punting the ball to win," Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis said. "That's the thing that Kevin Huber is going to have to do for us this year. He responded, we covered and the defense stopped them."
The win also preserved wide receiver Chad Ochocinco's role as the difference-maker. Forced into kicking duties due to a groin injury to kicker Shayne Graham, who was held out of the game for precautionary reasons with a sore groin, Ochocinco booted an extra point and handled the kickoff to start the second half, which he booted to the New England 9-yard line.
"I'm the kicker now. I'm thinking of challenging Carson for the starting job (at quarterback)," Ochocinco joked.
The Bengals took their first lead of the preseason with 1:56 left in the first half on quarterback J.T. O'Sullivan's 24-yard pass to wide receiver Chris Henry as the duo reprised last week's connection in New Orleans. The play came on a long 4th-and-17 situation where the Bengals were forced to go for it rather than try a field goal due to Graham's injury.
Asked if the touchdown toss was similar to last week's connection with Henry, O'Sullivan said, "Fairly similar. With Chris you can just throw it up there and let him go get it. That's one of the great things about him."
And it led to a really, really extra point when Ochocinco was called on to kick it. A big-time fan of English soccer, The Ocho delivered with a soccer-styled high chopper through the posts.
"The Ocho strikes again. He responded. He hit it good and his kickoff wasn't bad," Lewis said.
It turned out to be the margin of the halftime lead when the Pats' Stephen Gostkowski kicked a 41-yard field goal with 27 seconds left in the half. And it turned out to be the margin at the end of the game after a scoreless second half. The Bengals couldn't punch it in from the 6 following running back DeDe Dorsey's 45-yard run when quarterback Jordan Palmer rolled out and couldn't hit Henry in the middle throwing across his body.
It was a fourth down play with Lewis opting not to have The Ocho try the field goal. But Ochocinco already had had a busy night. He led the way with three catches for 69 yards in the first half and he had another spin-and-run-away catch, this one for 35 yards in running away from cornerback Terrence Wheatley.
" 'Esteban' Ochocinco is back. The most interesting footballer in the world," Ochocinco said. "Everyone has to remember, I've always said that soccer is my No. 1 sport. I think Ronaldinho would be proud of me right now."
The Bengals defense played even stouter than last week in allowing Patriots quarterback Tom Brady in his two series to complete just four of eight passes for 57 yards, 32 coming on a swing pass to wide receiver Wes Welker aided by a missed tackle. WILL linebacker Keith Rivers checked in with five tackles in the half and a third-down pass batdown while left end Robert Geathers had the club's one sack of Brady.
Defensive tackle Pat Sims came off the bench to register seven tackles, a sack, two tackles for loss and two quarteback hits.
"I thought we got the challenge early with the no-huddle with Tom Brady in there at quarterback," Lewis said. "That was a good thing for the first group to see defensively; to see that right away."
Special teams combined with defense to set up the Bengals score. Huber placed a 43-yard punt on the New England 4 that was downed by linebacker Jim Maxwell. On his first snap, rookie SAM linebacker Rey Maualuga combined with safety Corey Lynch to stop running back Fred Taylor for no gain and Rivers set up the punt to the Pats 47 when he batted away quarterback Kevin O'Connell's pass to wide receiver David Thomas.
Cornerback Johnathan Joseph's one-on-one breakup of a third-down pass to Patriots receiver Randy Moss steadied some shaky play for the Bengals on the opening drive as New England took a 3-0 lead with 8:56 left in the first quarter.
At the end of the first quarter Lewis eschewed a 44-yard field without Graham and unsuccessfully went for a fourth down when O'Sullivan got sacked. Ochocinco was then seen kicking balls into the net.
"Shayne has been nursing a tender groin, and it was determined in pregame warmups that it just wasn't good enough to have him go in a preseason game," Lewis said.
Joseph's play forced Gostkowski's 32-yard field goal after Brady kept them off balance with a quicksilver 10-play drive of just 2:51. Safety Chris Crocker, off a big game the week before, was called for illegal contact and he missed a tackle on Welker's 32-yard run following the swing pass. Cornerback Leon Hall also had a missed tackle in the drive.
"The last two weeks we've played against two great offenses and really held them down," defensive tackle Domata Peko said. "When we stopped them for a field that was big for our defense. It gives us motivation knowing that we're doing things the right way."
Nelson also shined while playing a new position, nickel corner. He came up with two big plays from his new spot, including a sack and the fourth-quarter forced fumble.
The Bengals went into the second quarter with just one touchdown in the preseason and turnovers and penalties continued to plague them. On the first play of the fourth series, O'Sullivan pulled off a play-action fake to rookie running back Bernard Scott and hit tight end Dan Coats for a 27-yard completion, but safety Bernard McGowan came from the side to force his fumble the Pats recovered inside their own 40.
With 2:21 left in the second quarter, wide receiver Jerome Simpson made a circus one-handed catch for a touchdown, but he was called for interfering with McGowan. Two plays later O'Sullivan found Henry six days after he hit for a 14-yard touchdown in New Orleans.
The Bengals offensive line struggled mightily on its first series as unblocked linebacker Jerod Mayo sacked Sullivan and defensive tackle Vince Wilfork busted up the middle to drop running back Cedric Benson for a one-yard loss.
Right tackle Anthony Collins also picked up a holding call for the second straight week on a run play and that opening series seemed to set the stage for what was, at times, a tough night for that first unit. The Bengals first line allowed four sacks in the first half and could average just 2.9 yards per its 17 runs. Benson finished with just 28 yards on 10 carries and one of them went for 11 yards.
The second series was a bit typical. After Benson ripped off a seven-yard run up the middle, he gained one yard on his next two carries to force a punt when he found no room up the middle. He recovered his own fumble on the first one and tackle Ty Warren stoned the second one during a drive that ended in another punt.
Geathers spoiled the second Pats series when he wheeled unmolested past right tackle Nick Kaczur on first down and dumped Brady for a sack.
The Bengals had their best drive on the third series, which ended in the fourth-down sack by linebacker Adalius Thomas, but it was a grind job all the way. They had to take two timeouts and right guard Bobbie Williams committed a false start. Ochocinco had the big play, a 21-yard catch on a slant.
And the line was able to give O'Sullivan time to operate. After he lit the Saints for a 134.8 rating, he actually went a little better against the Pats in the first half with 137 on 10-of-13 passing for 141 yards and the touchdown.
"On offense it was pretty much the same story as last week," Lewis said. "We moved the ball some, but you've got to take care of the football and not hurt yourself with penalties. Obviously, that keeps you from scoring points.
"There have been some years where New England didn't win in the preseason and they went to the Super Bowl, so you can't put any stock in that. But last week we played a finesse team. Today we played a big, powerful team. That's what I told our guys (before the game). Obviously we're going to go play a team that's big and physical. They had a lot of skins on the wall. I think we had a good response. We've got a new group up front on offense and a remade defense."
The Bengals came out of the game with only one known injury other than Graham's. Defensive end Antwan Odom has a sore Achilles but he was walking around in street clothes on the sideline and didn't appear too bothered by it.