Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis watched his team secure its fifth straight winning season in Sunday's 31-7 victory.
They have been the heart of five straight winning seasons and when they helped nail down the fifth one Sunday in a one-touchdown dismissal of the Rams at festive Paul Brown Stadium, the Bengals defensive line went looking for a lot more than that.
"That's what we want to do every week. We want people talking about us," said 10-year nose tackle Domata Peko, the dean of a group that cooled off red-hot Rams running back Todd Gurley on 19 yards in a 31-7 victory.
"Not about what we say, but what we do on the field, by our actions. How we play. I think today, people will be talking. We put our resume out there today and we let our work speak for itself."
After wrecking the shell of a shattered St. Louis offense with three interceptions, a pass rush that froze quarterback Nick Foles to five yards per pass, and relentless tackling that held the next Adrian Peterson to 2.1 yards per Gurley's nine rushes, the Bengals have held foes to 10 points or fewer in their last three PBS games and four of the last five anywhere.
"We've got a chip on our shoulder,' said left end Carlos Dunlap. "We want to be the best defense in the league. We wanted to prove a point."
And the defensive line wants to be known as the best in the league and with the Rams' line and their five first-round picks in town, the Bengals flexed their muscles. With the help of second-year St. Louis offensive lineman Demetrius Rhaney.
Rhaney had the unfortunate assignment of playing left guard in his first NFL start Sunday on the day rookie Cody Wichmann got his second NFL start at right guard. Together they were rudely introduced to the NFL elite when Bengals Pro Bowl defensive tackle Geno Atkins personally left his calling card in their jocks.
"It's got to be tough with two young dudes there," Peko said. "That's a key position with big dudes like Geno and (Wallace) Gilberry flying around. Veteran guys that know the game . . . We knew coming into the game they had injuries on the offensive line. Me, Geno, and Dunlap and the rest of the D-line, we were kind of licking our chops."
Or as safety Reggie Nelson wondered, "They have their hands full every Sunday with 97(Atkins). I can only imagine what they were going though in their offensive line meetings about stopping him."
One of Sunday's themes turned out to be that not only does Atkins not talk to the media; he barely says anything to his teammates. But they don't seem to mind since he did what the talkative NFC version of Atkins the Rams' Aaron Donald didn't do and that's wreck the game.
"Geno is not saying anything to anybody," Nelson said. "Geno is walking back to the huddle and lining up and ready to do it again. He won't even smile at you. Good luck."
They only faltered once. With 9:44 left in the first half, Gurley took a direct snap and handed it to wide receiver Tavon Austin running in motion in front of him from left to right. Austin got outside right end Will Clarke and didn't get touched until 60 yards later. That set up another Austin run, a five-yard touchdown off the jet sweep to the right that cut the Bengals' lead to 10-7 and ignited a sideline meeting.
"They got in a formation we'd been talking about in practice. We just didn't communicate it right," Peko said.
Dunlap: "They gave us a formation with Gurley at quarterback and we hadn't seen it on tape. We went to the sidelines, made the correction, and you see they didn't get anything after that."
Dunlap showed how it got fixed on first and 10 from the Rams 11, the snap after the Bengals had taken a 24-7 lead with 7:01 left in the third quarter on Andy Dalton's 18-yard touchdown pass to A.J. Green.
Austin came from his right to left on a misdirection play and Foles handed it to him. But instead of slanting inside to catch him like Clarke, Dunlap bounced the block of tight end Cory Harkey to the outside to make sure he contained the play. That forced Austin to try and cut back, and Dunlap exploded off the block to dump Austin for a four-yard loss.
"That's one of their featured plays," Dunlap said. "It might be from a different formation, but it's the same play. I saw what happened to Will. I made a correction and made a football play. I read my keys and my keys gave me a head start. But you need a head start on that guy. He's pretty quick."
As it usually does, the good work upfront paved way for some good work in the secondary. Dunlap's play backed up the Rams even more and on third-and-13 Dunlap was able to tee off on backup left tackle Garrett Reynolds and Foles had to run around and step up from the rush. Foles looked late back to the right side for wide receiver Bradley Marquez and the only guy there outside the numbers was Hall. He walked in from 19 yards with the interception to make it 31-7 with 5:20 left in the third quarter.
It was Hall's second pick in as many weeks, Nelson had that NFL-best sixth pick, and safety George Iloka had his first of the season.
"It's just not Reggie, it's just not me," said cornerback Adam Jones. "All that stuff ties into together."
But Jones and his mates can't help but notice that Nelson's six picks are a career high and lead the NFL. Last week some of his secondary mates began lobbying Pro Bowl votes for him.
"They say number don't lie," Jones said. "He's doing well. He's staying high. The corners are doing a good job of getting the receivers off the spot, and the guys up front are doing a good job rushing."
Nelson and Dunlap kidded each other as they over exaggerated their praise of each other for the media's benefit, but they really weren't kidding.
"My front seven, my D-line, they make it easy when they get pressure," Nelson said. "That's what I mean about team defense. He has to get the ball out of his hand quickly. I don't do anything. I just sit back there and save touchdowns. That's my job.
"George made a play on the ball. I was just in the right place at the right time. I owe that to George."
He thanked Iloka because Iloka was draped over tight end Jared Cook at the Bengals 15 with 31 seconds left and batted the ball in the air. Nelson dove and plucked it off the turf to keep the half-time score 17-7.
"You know the ball is coming out quick, so you're more conscious of the quarterback instead of focused on your man," Iloka said. "You get more picks when you're looking at the quarterback. I just saw the ball, I saw the guy, I tipped it up and Reggie's been doing what he's been doing all year . . . Running to the ball. I told him to put an asterisk by it, make sure he puts on the ball I tipped that. Plays like that happen when you run to the ball and are always around it. You make plays like he does.
"We're just glad they didn't score there because teams usually catch momentum if they score right before half."
Iloka made his own play on the second play of the fourth quarter when he gave Adam Jones help over the top on wide receiver Kenny Britt and Foles overthrew it right into Iloka's arms.
"They were killing it," Iloka said of the front four. "When they're getting pressure, creating havoc, for us in the back end it makes things easier. We don't have to be back there scrambling with the receivers. They do a great job keeping the quarterback in the pocket and that allowed us to keep our eyes on the quarterback."
That now means the Bengals have picked off more balls (six) than allowed touchdowns passes (five) in six games at PBS this season, where they are holding foes to an average of 15 points per game.
Peko and his guys had hand delivered the message.
"We wanted to get back to what we do," Dunlap said. "The energy was there because they were in their comfort zone."
Cincinnati Bengals host St. Louis Rams at Paul Brown Stadium in week 12 of the regular season.