It was the only way it could end, right?
Bengals defensive end Michael Johnson, all 6-7 of him, deflected Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers's fourth-and-five pass from the Bengals 20 with 1:25 left to seal a wild 34-30 victory before an amazed and crazed sellout crowd of 64,633.
On the previous play his bookend, left end Carlos Dunlap, batted down another one to typify one of the greatest rebound wins in Bengals history. It was the first time since Opening Day 1999 that an NFL team won a game despite giving up 30 straight points, which Dallas did on the way to beating Washington in overtime.
After winning a challenge that turned a Packers first down into a fourth-and-one with the clock and game ticking away to four minutes, Johnson forced rookie running back Jonathan Franklin to fumble and when safety Reggie Nelson picked it up and also fumbled after a few yards, cornerback Terence Newman got a hand on it and ran 58 yards for a touchdown that gave the Bengals the lead at 34-30 with 3:47 left.
What more could the defense do? Newman and cornerback Leon Hall picked off Rodgers on consecutive series in the second half and the Bengals rung him up for four sacks in the game. The fourth one by tackle Domata Peko took the Packers out of field-goal range and set up the fourth-and-one for Newman.
But when the Bengals faced the NFL's best offense with 3:47 left, the defense was gassed. Hall wasn't on the field with a hamstring injury and safety Taylor Mays had been promoted to cornerback to cover the marvelous Randall Cobb in the slot and Rodgers used short, quick passes to drive down the field until he couldn't get his passes over Johnson and Dunlap.
Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton's 20-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver A.J. Green cut the lead to 30-21 late in third quarter and his 11-yarder to wide receiver Marvin Jones made it 30-27 with 10:55 left in the game on a touchdown set up by rookie running back Giovani Benard's 31-yard scamper in the flat that gave life to a 95-yard drive. Mike Nugent had his extra point blocked and why not in such a crazy game?
Dalton ended up beating Rodgers at his own game. Rodgers, who has had 10 100-yard passer ratings in 10 road games the last three years, suffered to a 65.5 while Dalton had a 105.5 with his two touchdown passes and interception. He did it even though he didn't hook up with Green until the second half and wide receiver Mohamed Sanu was his leading receiver with four catches for 68 yards and Bernard was his leading rusher with 50 yards on 10 carries. The big deficit might have done Dalton a favor because the Packers began blitzing and leaving receivers one-on-one.
After being staked to a 16-14 halftime lead even though the Packers didn't have a TD, Rodgers heated up to lead two touchdown drives the first two times he had the ball in the second half.
He had a little help. On his only third down of the opening drive, Nelson blitzed and appeared to hit Rodgers in the chest as he forced an incompletion. But Nelson was called for roughing to give the Packers life at the Bengals 27 and it resulted in Franklin's two-yard touchdown run that made it 23-14.
Enter Franklin to the list of Bengals killers. With rookie Eddie Lacy already on the sideline with a concussion and starter James Starks sidelined in the first half, Franklin gave the Bengals fits with his stops and starts on the way to a 100-yard day with 103 yards on 13 carries. He appeared to be hemmed in on the next series, but he reversed field to the center, juked in the middle, and went off for a 51-yarder that set up James Jones's seven-yard TD catch. Bengals SAM backer James Harrison couldn't get off the field on time on the pass as Jones was working on cornerback Adam Jones in the corner and the Packers declined the penalty.
But not much else went right for the Packers. Early in the game they lost two of their best players in tight end Jermichael Finley (concussion) and outside linebacker Clay Matthews (hamstring) and then Franklin, their last healthy back, exited after the fumble with a leg injury.
The Bengals responded in textbook fashion Sunday when they took a 14-0 lead by the time Rodgers took his first snap with Green Bay's NFL-leading offense just 5:52 into the game.
But the Bengals couldn't take advantage of an impeccable defensive effort in the first half because of an appalling four consecutive turnovers that handed the Packers a 16-14 halftime lead even though Green Bay didn't score an offensive touchdown.
It was hard to say what was more unbelievable. The four turnovers that gave the Packers the ball at the Bengals 26, 37, 27 and a touchdown when safety M.D. Jennings scooped up a fumble by running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis for a 24-yard return.
Or the fact the Packers got 16 points without getting 80 yards of offense and Rodgers missing six of his first eight passes for just 25 yards on his way to a 244-yard day on 26 of 43 passes with the two picks. It extended the NFL's-best streak to 17 straight game the Bengals haven't allowed a 300-yard passer. It also marked the first time in 37 games that Rodgers threw more interceptions than touchdowns.
Rodgers finished the half just 7-of-14 for 64 yards. But with the help of a personal foul call on Bengals WILL linebacker Vontaze Burfict's alleged helmet-to-helmet hit after his 13-yard completion to wide receiver James Jones, the Packers finally got into the red zone without the help of a turnover in the last two minutes of the half.
Enter the relentless Bengals pass rush that made life miserable for the Packers young tackles, rookie left tackle David Bakhitiari working agains Johnson and second-year right tackle Don Barclay going against Dunlap.
Dunlap got off a one-handed sack of Rodgers on second down to prevent a touchdown, Cincinnati's third of the half, and it set up Mason Crosby's 26-yard field goal with no time left for the 16-14 lead.
The Bengals offense was miserable after it scored on its opening possession. Green had no catches in the first half and one of his two targets got picked off by cornerback Sam Shields on the sidelines at the Bengals 26 on what looked to be a terrible read by Dalton for the first of the turnovers. After completing his first three passes, Dalton finished the half just 7-of-12 for 67 yards.
Dalton also turned it over with a fumble when he lost it on his own 21. He avoided a sack by blitzing cornerback Davon House, but he couldn't protect it when he tried to run and outside linebacker Clay Matthews forced his second fumble of the day and hurt his hamstring. Matthews never returned.
The Bengals got another great stand. A few plays later on third-and-three from the Bengals 3, Rodgers had a two-way go after he faked a handoff but Dunlap and Nelson chased him down while Hall came off his receiver at just the right time and they stuffed him at the 1 to force Crosby's field goal with 6:32 left in the half cut the Bengals lead to 14-13.
Even the usually-reliable Green-Ellis faltered. It will be recalled he had two fumbles early last season, ending his streak of 589 straight carries without a fumble, the longest to start a career since 1945.
But Matthews was all over him on a third-and-one from the Bengals 24. Bernard had taken the first two snaps of the series, but BJGE and defensive tackle Domata Peko as the fullback lined up in short yardage. The play ran the opposite way of Matthews, but Matthews barreled in from the back side and stripped Green-Ellis from behind and Jennings picked it up for the touchdown to cut the lead to 14-10 with 11:22 left in the half.
It was such a turn of events.
The Bengals took the opening kickoff and reeled off an 80-yard touchdown drive behind Dalton's 3-for-3 passing and Bernard's three-yard touchdown run a sweep aided by a block from a fellow rookie, tight end Tyler Eifert. Sanu made cornerback Tramon Williams miss on the sideline after a quick out and it turned into a 32-yard play. Then on third-and-five from the Packers 20, Sanu beat cornerback Micah Hyde over the middle for the first down at the Packers 5 to set up Bernard's third touchdown of the season.
The Bengals were making hay out of their two tight-end sets with Eifert blocking and tight end Jermaine Gresham picking up a first down with some major yards after a catch when middle linebacker Brad Jones couldn't get him down the first time. And with the Packers wary of the pass, the Bengals found success running against their pass defenses with Green-Ellis picking up 16 yards on three carries on that opening drive.
Then on the ensuing kickoff Nugent kicked it short, but when Packers returner Jeremy Ross ran up to catch it he dropped it and the Bengals swarmed it as the ball slid backward before Mays fell on it at the 2.
Then the other half of the Bennie-and-the-Jet backfield went to work. On the first play, and working against the mammoth Packers front of 340-pound B.J. Raji, 340-pound Ryan Pickett and 330-pound Johnny Jolly, Green-Ellis blew them back with the help of right guard Kevin Zeitler and center Kyle Cook for a two-yard touchdown that made it 14-0.
PREGAME NOTES: Adam Jones (abdomen) is going to try and play Sunday as the depleted Bengals cornerback corps needed all the help it could get at Paul Stadium against Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers's NFL-leading offense.
Jones, the third corner, was limited Thursday and Friday during practice. But he was in better shape than the two cornerbacks behind him that didn't practice at all. Brandon Ghee (concussion) was ruled out Friday and Dre Kirkpatrick (hamstring) joined Ghee on the inactive list.
In an effort to back up Jones and starters Leon Hall and Terence Newman, the Bengals promoted Chris Lewis-Harris from the practice squad Saturday and picked up former Eagle Curtis Marsh on Wednesday. Between the two of them they played 83 snaps last season.
With Jones not expected to return punts, the Bengals may have been looking to back up wide receiver Brandon Tate at return when they activated wide receiver Dane Sanzenbacher for the first time this season. In his place they deactivated wide receiver Ryan Whalen.
The Bengals also sat rookie left end Margus Hunt despite the season-ending elbow injury to Robert Geathers, underlining what defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer said about his second-round project during the week: He's a way aways.
The Bengals also put down tackle Anthony Collins (knee) six days after he took 34 percent of the snaps in a rotation at left tackle with Andrew Whitworth. Also out were running back Rex Burkhead and center-guard Mike Pollak.
The Bengals were clad in their orange jerseys and white pants, a combo that has a 10-5 record. Head coach Marvin Lewis sent out for his captains Andrew Whitworth, Andre Smith, Rey Maualuga, Vontaze Burfict and Taylor Mays. The Packers won the toss and deferred, giving the ball to the Bengals.