Sunday was quite a day for the Bengals' pair of North Carolina State roommates.
Linebacker Germaine Pratt, playing in the first game of his third Bengals season, showed the world why he quietly emerged as one of their more solid defenders during training camp when he made the play that rescued the Bengals' 27-24 overtime victory over the Vikings.
On his 37th and last snap of the day, the first after the two-minute warning of an OT Minnesota was about to swipe with a field goal, a drained Paul Brown Stadium crowd roared to life when Pratt ripped the ball free from Vikings running back Dalvin Cook after free safety Jessie Bates III stood him up.
Before all that, Pratt's old roomie, new Bengals defensive tackle B.J. Hill, acquired in the Billy Price trade swung two weeks before the opener, came up with two sacks in his first 24 Cincinnati snaps. That was after amassing two sacks in 863 snaps the past two seasons with the Giants.
"It was a better feeling that we won," said Hill of his 8.5 and 9.5 career sacks. "That made it a fun day."
Despite playing less than half of the defense's 83 snaps, Pratt had eight tackles and had a hit on Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins to go along with forcing the game's only turnover that decided the game.
"I'm used to seeing that. He did it in college. He did the same thing and had a great game," Hill said Monday. "I love playing with him. He's smart. He studies a lot. He knows what's about to come. He sees what play they're about to run. That helps him out a lot. He loves football."
This is the kind of teammate and captain Bates is. He gave Pratt full credit. But Bates was there to stop Cook and give Pratt a shot at the strip.
"I don't think Dalvin saw me coming. But if you watch the film, you go back and watch throughout the whole game and you look at Germaine Pratt," Bates said. "He was ripping at the ball the whole time. So it's not a surprise that it did come out. And I think me and Vonn (strong safety Bell) did a good job of hitting him, making them feel us. I think that kind of played all parts into it, so props to Germaine Pratt. I mean, he did it throughout the whole game. That was one of our goals is to have 10-plus strip attempts, and the one that came out changed the whole game. "
That's not the first time Bates has praised Pratt this summer. During training camp he made an interception and gave credit to Pratt for undercutting tight end C.J. Uzomah. That's the kind of play that had linebackers coach Al Golden wondering early in camp if Pratt was the room's most improved player. And to Hill's point you have to love football to be grinding on the first play after the two-minute warning and your team left for dead and punching out the ball from one of the league's best backs and having the sense to snatch it off the ground.
"He's super smart. He studies like nobody's business," said Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo Monday afternoon. "He knows all the adjustments. He's calling out plays before they happen. He really puts a lot of work into it and takes pride in his job. He's grown leaps and bounds over the three years he's been here. Just keep looking for him to keep expanding and playing his best ball coming up."
Anarumo made the call on Hill when they made the trade for him. He overlapped with him during his 5.5-sack rookie year for the Giants in 2017 and while Hill has played up and down the line, Anarumo looks like he's going to use him mainly as a three technique. Especially after Hill utterly destroyed Vikings left guard Ezra Cleveland on two snaps, one on a rip-and-tear bull rush and the other one speeding past his outside.
"He's always had that in him. He's always had that suddenness for a big man," Anarumo said. "He did a great job using his hands, but he wasn't the only one. A bunch of the guys were winning their one-on-one battles yesterday."
Especially at tackle, where four players worked at least 24 snaps on a 90-degree playing surface and, according to Pro Football Focus, they were four of their top seven defensive players on Sunday. If you're looking for the difference in this defense from last year, start there. These guys were nowhere around here by the end of last season.
Nose tackle D.J. Reader played 48 snaps on his return from last year's quad injury that robbed him of the last 11 games. PFF ranked him third, right behind Hill. Josh Tupou, who opted last season, was immense with a hit and a hurry of Cousins in 29 snaps. Larry Ogunjobi, the free-agent pickup from Cleveland, led the way with 59 busy snaps and wreaked havoc all day, beating up athletic but small (300 pounds) center Garrett Bradbury. He had his first Bengal sack and added a pressure and three tackles.
"On a day like that where you're playing so many snaps," Anarumo said of the heat, "if you can take 10-15 snaps off of a guy he's going to be that much fresher in the fourth quarter and , oh, by the way, the fifth quarter. There's a reason why they only had 67 yards rushing because those guys did a great job dominating inside."
Those 67 yards were the fourth-fewest the Bengals have allowed in Anarumo's three seasons as defensive coordinator.
"I think it's just the testimony to the upstairs people that brought in these D-line guys and we have depth," Bates said of the run defense. "We can name off the edge guys. I can name BJ Hill, who just got here two weeks ago, and he just fell right into it so it could be a cultural thing. BJ just walking in here and getting two sacks like it's nothing. That's a big deal.
"It's not just D.J. Reader. I can, like I said, name off a bunch of guys. But those guys are very smart guys, and they understand the scheme. And I think (D-line) coach (Marion) Hobby does a really good job as well with setting a tone at practice. You kind of hear coach Hobby always yelling at big Tyler (Shelvin), he gets on him as a rookie, but he's like that with D.J. Reader, you know, Larry, all those guys so I'm excited."
YOUNG MAC: According to Elias Evan McPherson is not only the youngest Bengal to kick a field goal, but at 22 years and 53 days he's the youngest to kick a winning field goal in overtime. He was three months younger than Pete Stoyanovich when he beat Cleveland for the Dolphins on Oct. 8, 1989.
BATES WEIGHS IN: Bates left no doubt that he was in the majority Sunday when head coach Zac Taylor opted to go for it on fourth-and-one from his 30 with a 21-7 lead late in the third quarter. When it blew up and the Vikes scored about two minutes later, Bates admitted Monday he was as hot as the weather.
"Yeah, I was pissed," Bates said. "It was a whole different ball game then when we were up 14, that's a whole completely different ball game. But Coach Taylor did a really good job of bringing us to the sideline after they scored on us and said, 'Hey, this is who we are going to be this year. We're going to be aggressive. We're going to go for it on fourth down. We're going to call cover zeros.' And that kind of gives us as a defense the 'well, it is what it is.' We're going to go out there, whatever the situation is, we're going to play it out. I don't think a lot of people were happy with the fourth down call but it is what it is. That's football."
The Bengals blitzed 31 percent of the time Sunday, the exact same as all of last season. Maybe it just looked like more because they were more effective. That zero blitz, where everybody blitzes but the cornerbacks, was not, resulting in wide receiver Adam Thielen's 24-yard touchdown catch on fourth-and-four.
Bates and Anarumo says the pressure is going to depend on the opponents. But clearly they feel like the coverage skills of their new cornerbacks allow them pressure more.
"It all depends on throughout the weeks, what Coach Lou and the coaching staff comes up with," Bates said. "But that is something we're going to take pride in. Being aggressive. If you look at all of the top defenses in the league, they do that on third down. They blitz and they have really good corners that can cover in Cover Zero. So I'm not going to tell you that we're going to keep doing that all the time but it is a good look for us, I think."
BATES, BELL IN FAMILIAR RING: Bates and Bell solidified their spot among the league's top safety tandems last season. Now that they're both captains, they're asserting themselves even more with the phrase, "Choose violence."
"I think it just means set the tone," Bates said. "Every time we hit somebody, they have to feel us. And after we hit them, we've got to kind of get up and celebrate with our teammates because this league has this new rule where this taunting thing is going to be picked up. So we're going to be careful with that."
APPLE AGAIN: With cornerback Trae Waynes out again in Chicago this Sunday, Anarumo said he's OK with Eli Apple starting again. Apple had a rough ride on the Vikes' first TD drive. His missed tackle allowed them to convert a third-and-24. He held Justin Jefferson in the end zone to negate a Josh Tupou sack and Thielen got away from him for the touchdown catch.
Anarumo thinks he just needs to knock the rust off after he missed the preseason with a hamstring injury.
"I thought Eli, for his first game back, he had that hamstring for a long time, we'll look at everything this week, but I think he did a good job," Anarumo said. "There were no explosives (plays) on him. He covered well. He's got to tackle a little bit better. But overall, I was pleased with the way he played."
BATES FOCUSES: One of the Bengals locker room statesmen, Bates continues to admirably walk the line between captain and top player involved in contract negotiations. The Bengals have never set Opening Day as the unofficial deadline for a contract extension and Bates isn't sure that the talks are dead. Both sides wish a deal had been struck by now, but March and free agency are a long way away.
"I wish it would have gotten done, obviously. I mean they got Sam (Hubbard) done. I was hoping to be the next guy up," Bates said. "But like I said, it is what it is. I'm going to play my part, I'll be a captain of this team. And next year, we'll see what happens.
"My job is to be the best teammate as possible to the people in this building that I spend more time with than with my family, so we all understand that, we're all grown men and we understand that we spend time with each other more than we do with our families. And there's a lot of sacrifices that go into this. I guess, my job is to continue to be a good teammate and continue to get the fans loud when we play at home. Next year we'll see what happens, continue to play my part, prove my value in this league, and see where it goes."
Asked if he believes he should be the NFL's highest paid safety, he said, "No comment."