LANDOVER, Md. — Right end Michael Johnson saluted Cincinnati's six-sack effort Sunday against Caped Crusader Robert Griffin III with a nod to one of those old sayings from the last couple of years that hasn't been heard lately.
"The Fisher-Price package is back," Johnson said after he logged a career-high three sacks as the Bengals outlasted the Redskins, 38-31, at FedExField.
"But we're not young anymore."
Griffin, the rookie, still quarterbacked the NFL's highest-scoring team to 31 points while throwing for 221 yards and rushing for 85 to generate the bulk of his team's 381 yards. And the Bengals got a huge lift when the Redskins blew two timeouts on offense and head coach Mike Shanahan used the last one on a failed challenge with 13:27 left in the game.
But when the beleaguered Bengals defense needed to make a play, it did. The Bengals haven't given up 102 points in their first three games in 27 years, but they took control of the game when they had to in the first half in front of a hostile crowd.
And according to Johnson, that was in large part because of the return of left end Carlos Dunlap, sidelined since the Aug. 10 preseason opener with a knee injury.
Playing primarily on passing downs, Dunlap picked up where he left off whenever he's healthy and made a monstrous play. He popped Griffin for a sack, batted the ball out of his hands, and somehow came up with the fumble at the Redskins 12 to set up a touchdown with 3:13 left in the first half.
Give Dunlap 15 sacks in 25 NFL games.
"It's just good to be back and knocking off the cobwebs," Dunlap said. "With a running quarterback you always have to contain him and we didn't to do that too well in the preseason against Aaron Rodgers. We learned from that this week and we knew how to handle it."
The Fisher-Price package is that youthful group of defensive linemen drafted mainly in 2009 and 2010. Johnson, a third-rounder in 2009, has joined forces with Dunlap and Pro Bowl tackle Geno Atkins, 2010 second- and fourth-rounders, respectively, to give aid to veterans Robert Geathers and Domata Peko.
Atkins continues to tear it up with another sack, giving him three in the first three games, but it is the return of Dunlap that gives the Bengals the ability to spell people and keep people fresh. With the loss of backup defensive end Jamaal Anderson to a season-ending quad injury last week, the Bengals also turned to a guy that arrived Wednesday, five-year veteran end Wallace Gilberry, and he gave them some snaps, too.
"The rotation is the big thing," Johnson said. "It's not me. It's the guys working together and giving each other rest so we can stay fresh."
But if the Fisher-Price package returned, then the Bengals also unveiled the Modern Maturity Club. With cornerback Leon Hall (calf) inactive, the Bengals decided to go with 34-year-old Terence Newman at one corner, Adam Jones (who turns 29 next week) at the other corner and moved 32-year-old Nate Clements for a start at safety after 167 games at corner in place of Jeromy Miles, and all three responded with big games.
Clements in particular delivered one of his more memorable performances, returning quickly from a leg injury and gutting it out for nine tackles while rotating between corner and safety.
Griffin had come into the game with touchdown passes of 88 yards in the opener and 65 last week and was averaging 9.5 yards per pass. But with the Bengals safeties not biting on play-action like they had the previous two weeks, Griffin's longest pass Sunday was 29 yards to a tight end, Fred Davis, and he averaged just 6.5 yards per throw.
"It started up front with the defensive line," Clements said. "They did a great job getting to him and taking him out of his rhythm. Once you stop the run and make them one-dimensional, it's an easier game. We're always looking to play with the lead and that helped. I think we just put our head down and did our job."
That hadn't been the case in the first two games and the Bengals had to survive and an ugly 11-minute stretch in the third quarter when they gave up touchdown drives of 80 and 86 yards when the Redskins tied the game at 24-24 with 3:29 left in the third quarter.
Griffin got the Redskins back in the game by simply running the old-fashioned option instead of the zone read. Washington added the wrinkle Sunday of giving him the option of pitching to a running back and sometimes he had two backs. And the Redskins moved special teams ace Brandon Banks into the backfield when the 5-7, 153-pounder usually plays wide receiver, and he ripped the Bengals for 29 yards on three carries.
"We lost our discipline; we tried to do too much," Johnson said. 'With a guy like (Griffin), you have to stay in your rush assignments and we got out of our lanes and he hurt us."
Griffin took a lot of shots a week after complaining the Rams hit him late. Newman got flagged with 51 seconds left when he hit Griffin as he went out of bounds and it gave Washington life at the 50.
Griffin was asked about the aggressiveness of the Bengals ends as they chose to drill him and let the back go in the option. He did say he didn't think the Bengals were doing anything illegal.
"I am just saying that they were being aggressive and coming after the quarterback rather than going for the running back," Griffin said. "On that long drive where we used Brandon Banks a bunch, we got them a bunch of times by switching it up. Whatever they were going to do, they were wrong and that's the mindset that you have to have."
"They were trying to run at me and get quarterback hits on me. Some teams think if you hit the quarterback enough that they will stop coming after you. I just want to let everybody know that that will never happen. But they were coming after me. In the second half, I was more aggressive than their ends were. On the first one, he was extremely aggressive and got to me, and I made sure that that did not happen again."
Yet the Bengals made the needed stops.
"When (RG III) goes to the bathroom tonight he's going to see Mike Johnson right behind him," Dunlap said.
After the Bengals went up 31-24, Griffin faced a third-and-six from his 37 and when Johnson got stopped on a rush, he dropped back, put his hands up and batted the ball away.
"When you're 6-7, good things happen," he said.
And when the Redskins were on the Cincinnati 19 with 29 seconds left the middle of the line surged and harassed Griffin until Atkins dragged him down for a 15-yard loss with seven seconds left.
"You've got to get the wins at home," Clements said. "But it's the wins on the road that are crucial."