In the end, the GOAT got them.
Even though for the first 30 minutes or so on Sunday it looked like Tom Brady was going to be the goat. And then as he patiently chiseled another one of his NFL records with a 62nd December victory, Paul Brown Stadium took on the air of a retirement tour during the fourth quarter of the Patriots' 34-13 victory over the Bengals.
No doubt the throng of New England fans that had made the pilgrimage composed the bulk of the "Brady, Brady" chorus. But Cincinnati fans know and love their football and maybe some of them thought this could be the last time they see Brady.
"I was going to ask for his jersey," mused Bengals left end Carlos Dunlap, but then he recalled a scene the other week on TV with players in line waiting to get Lamar Jackson's No. 8. "I didn't want a Lamar moment. I'm going to let him live."
Sunday's moment came with 11:17 left in the third quarter and it was so Brady. The Bengals would follow the script for much of the day. Their four-man rush was getting there. But not here on the first drive of the third quarter.
The Bengals had their moment in the second quarter. Fourth-and-one from the Patriots 30 and leading, 10-7. They missed it. Running back Joe Mixon was stopped for the first time all day. Brady hadn't hit anything all day, but he doesn't miss moments.
"Every team you watch beat the Patriots gets Tom Brady off the spot. Affecting him. We did a good job in the first half doing it," said Sam Hubbard, Dunlap's bookend. "We were winning our one-on-one matchups. Carlos had some great rushes."
Even the snap before, on Dunlap's 56th career tipped pass, he very nearly changed the game when he batted Brady's quick bid for a perimeter screen to old friend Mohamed Sanu. At that point Brady was 12 of 25 for 115 yards and looking all of his 42 years. Maybe the Patriots would give Brady a Jeter-like retirement party in that Foxboro finale.
But then on the next play, a third-and-goal from the Bengals 7 that each team desperately needed to go their way with the Patriots holding a 13-10 lead, Brady was Brady. So Brady. That New England line that had been so porous suddenly was a wall for that four-man rush.
Dunlap couldn't get around left tackle Isaiah Wynn to even get up a hand. Hubbard tried bulling right tackle Marcus Cannon, but couldn't get there. Center Ted Karras got a quick chip from right guard Shaq Mason and then had no problem with tackle Geno Atkins. Left guard Joe Thuney tackled the other tackle, Andrew Billings. The CBS clock had Brady patting the ball in the pocket for more than five seconds.
"That was just one of those situations we're trying to mush rush the pocket and get to him and we have to win our one-on-ones," Hubbard said. "That's one play all four of us would like to have back. We just gave him so much time.
"I just think he's been there and done it, you can't make him fluster," Hubbard said. "He's calm, cool, collected and leads his team to wins."
After being wild all day (he overthrew the wide-open Sanu badly in the end zone at the end of the half and they had to settle for three), Brady suddenly rifled a fast ball right down Mehring Wayand straight out of '05 as N'Keal Harry took the time to beat cornerback B.W. Webb along the back of the end zone.
Pats, 20-10. There were more than 26 minutes left. But there really weren't.
"It was very frustrating. They wait on you. They're very disciplined," Dunlap said. "They're true to their stuff until somebody breaks and they make a play. If you make a mistake, they make you pay.
"If we had that back it would be a different story, I tell you that. It was a perfect storm for them in that moment."
Dunlap got his own sack Sunday, the 79th of his career. He also helped Hubbard get his 12th. Both were their first sack of Brady and it meant a lot to both.
"It was kind of sweet to get him before …," said Dunlap, not knowing if that would be his last shot at him.
"Carlos gets the assist," said Hubbard of his sack. "I was inside and we looped on a twist and he picked the guard and I came free.
"I had dreamed about it all week and then to have it come true is amazing," Hubbard said. "I would have liked to have had the win."
They didn't get the win because Brady made good on his moment and the Bengals didn't make it on theirs. (Go back to those 62 December wins. Boomer Esiason had 62 wins as a Bengal.)
Fourth-and-one from the 30. No question when Mixon didn't get it, the game turned, although Mixon didn't agree. Bengals head coach Zac Taylor took some more heat on Sunday for running it out of the shotgun. Just like he did back on Oct. 6 in a key part of the loss to Arizona when Andy Dalton failed on a fourth-and-one zone read that he kept.
Back then it was, "Tom Brady never does that. They always sneak it from under center." But things are weird this year. The Patriots are 0-for-3 on fourth-and-one when they go for it and Brady hasn't tried a sneak. He does have an incompletion and there were two failed runs to the backs.
The Bengals, on the other hand, are 4-for-6 on fourth-and-one and Mixon had converted all three of his until Sunday. After the game quarterback Andy Dalton reiterated the advantage of shotgun there: "Because you can either run or pass."
Mixon blamed himself, but clearly he had nowhere to go. The Pats simply won that moment.
Then Brady won his.
"When you count him out, that's when he's holding the trophy," Dunlap said.
Now Hubbard has lived it.
"It's probably the one play I'd love to have back the most," Hubbard said. "It's why they call him the greatest ever."