The Bengals defense stood tall again at home Sunday.
This is how good the Bengals defense played in Sunday's Paul Brown Stadium opener, a 24-19 verdict over the Chargers:
Here we are talking about Bengals backup rookie offensive lineman Jake Fisher's yards after catch instead of Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen's YAC that made him the NFL's leading receiver after week one.
Allen and his partner in crime, Chargers wide receiver Stevie Johnson, each stole 80 yards after the catch last week against Detroit's cushion to become the league's YAC leaders, according to profootballfocus.com. But Allen (16 yards) and Johnson (45) didn't even combine for a pure 80 yards against the Bengals.
"They played a lot of soft man," said cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick of the Lions. "We're not that team. We're the Bengals. We like to get in guys' faces and challenge everything."
This is how good the Bengals defense played Sunday: it was one of those Geno Atkins Comedy Hours. When he takes over a game like he did against the Chargers, it just makes you chuckle in wonderment. "I can't wait to see the tape," said left end Carlos Dunlap.
"Geno was a beast today. When Geno is doing stuff like that, it makes the whole defense turn," said nose tackle Domata Peko. "That's why he's one of the best players in the league. He can control the game."
Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther's men put on a clinic up front and in the back end, and, fittingly, it was the man in the middle, WILL linebacker Vincent Rey who ended it all with an interception of quarterback Philip Rivers at midfield with 49 seconds left.
Ball on the Chargers 31. Just 61 seconds left and Rivers had no timeouts left. Rey kept dropping back into Kentucky even though Rivers had gone more than 25 yards down field just once all day.
"A lot of games are won and lost up here," said Rey, pointing to his head. "Just thinking. We were thinking, so credit Paulie for putting us in the right coverage.
"A minute left, I'm just getting high and coming down to tackle the check down," Rey said. "Thankfully these hands didn't fail me. I knew they needed yards in bunches and they had no timeouts left. Our coaches do a great job each week always thinking about one-minute situations."
They played smart and physical. For the second straight week cornerback Adam Jones led the Bengals in tackles (nine) and Kirkpatrick was second with seven as they got their hands all over Allen and Johnson within five yards of the line of scrimmage to prevent them from getting loose in space.
Now Guenther can mount Rivers' helmet from the big game in The Jungle. Since November of 2012 at home, the Bengals have taken down Rivers, both Mannings, Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, Joe Flacco, and Matt Ryan. In that stretch they are a stingy 16-3-1. "The main thing is you had to stay close to him because he's an after catch technique guy, Jones said. "The thing was to contain Allen and see if the rest of them could beat us."
Cincinnati Bengals host the San Diego Chargers in week 2 of the regular season.
Except for a blown coverage on wide receiver Malcom Floyd's 40-yard touchdown catch, not Sunday. Not with a dozen minutes left in the game and the Bengals leading, 17-13, and trying to hold off another Rivers comeback. Punter Kevin Huber had just dropped a 54-yard punt on the Chargers 5 to set them up and on second down, Jones was draped all over Allen on a short pass and nearly picked it.
"Have to have that one," Jones said.
That set up third-and-six from the Chargers 9 and this is how Atkins helps everybody on that line. No blitz needed. Just some machinations from him and Dunlap.
Most of the day, Atkins had been picking on Chargers tackle Chris Hairston making his first NFL start at right guard. His presence beat Hairston for half a sack and drew him into two holding penalties and a false start. But this time Atkins lined up over center Chris Watt and blew past his right side.
"A little bit (of a twist)," Dunlap said. "I saw Geno and just reacted. I saw him beat his guy. I just played off Geno."
So this time it was Dunlap feasting on Hairston as he went around the other side and they met at the quarterback. It forced an end-zone punt, resulting in a short field and the winning touchdown drive. Dunlap now has 2.5 sacks this season after getting 1.5 Sunday. Atkins has two, a sack in each game. Those days when the Bengals had an NFL-low 20 sacks last season seem a long way away.
"As an edge rusher, having a guy like Geno dominate the inside makes it easier because that means the quarterback can't step up and that's an edge rusher's dream," Dunlap said. "So I'm thankful Geno is back."
Not only is Atkins back, so is the Bengals' feared line rotation. With right end Michael Johnson back to playing 78 percent of the snaps, versatile Wallace Gilberry is back to playing 46 percent after playing 70 last season and wreaking havoc at tackle and end. Last year he had just 1.5 sacks and now he's he already got one after he bull rushed and drilled Rivers to force a fumble late in the first quarter. Second-year right end Will Clarke had one of his busier days, logging 18 snaps and coming up with half a sack.
When Rivers took the field with 1:09 left needing a touchdown to win, Gilberry, one of the Bengals' many true pros, was adamant.
"Not going to happen. Can't happen," Gilberry said. "He's a Pro Bowl quarterback. He's one of those guys who's built for drives like that."
Not Sunday. Rivers was sacked four times and hit three other times. He told Gilberry he was feeling them.
"We smothered him. We kept him busy. We kept his feet moving," Gilberry said. "The secondary gave us time . . .I felt we were in rhythm early and usually when we get that feeling good things happen. We have to figure how to get that feeling every week."