Mother Nature, Mike Zimmer and a Super Bowl scout teamed up to stop that naturally-occurring phenomenon known as quarterback Tom Brady on Sunday when the Patriots failed to score a touchdown for the first time since the second week of the 2009 season in Cincinnati's 13-6 drip-dry victory at sold-out Paul Brown Stadium.
But only Zimmer got a game ball.
It's the first time the Bengals have been 3-0 at home under head coach Marvin Lewis, the first time since 2001, and all three have come against Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks. It also kept them in a first place tie in the AFC North with Baltimore and Cleveland at 3-2.
When Brady got the ball back one last time at his own 35 with 1:48 left, thanks to a 57-yard tracer by punter Kevin Huber, the skies opened with a monsoon of CNN proportions. Brady had already been sacked four times, twice by end Wallace Gilberry, after he spent the week getting tips on how to stop Brady from Osi Umenyiora. "I was so happy," cornerback Adam Jones said of the deluge. "I was thinking. 'When is it coming?' It came right on time with two minutes in the game."
Lewis called it and after the game left tackle Andrew Whitworth and center Kyle Cook were complimenting him on his skills as a weatherman. After consulting with equipment manager Jeff Brickner, Lewis felt he had a pretty good handle on the conditions.
"He walked up to us before the game started and said, 'Hey Cook, Whit. Get ready because It's going to clear when we go to kick the ball off and then it's going to start raining late in the fourth quarter,' " Whitworth recalled. "And we were like, 'Yeah, sure. That sounds like a Coach's weather wish right there.' We were giving him a hard time and then sure enough."
But it was Zimmer, the Bengals defensive coordinator, who concocted a scheme that handcuffed the undefeated Patriots and their offense that has scored more than 500 points in each of the last three seasons by stonewalling Brady on 11 of 12 third downs, four sacks and eight hits. Brady came in with 52 straight games throwing a touchdown pass, two games shy of tying Drew Brees's NFL record of 54, but the only 53 he almost got Sunday was in passer rating at 52.2.
"Those guys had a doughnut today," Jones said with a shake of his head. "How hard is that?"
Jones denied Brady twice in the last 6:30.
The first came on third-and-goal from the 1 after backup linebacker Vincent Rey stuffed 250-pound running back LeGarrette Blount on first down and left tackle Nate Solder couldn't track down a Brady pass as a tight end. Brady looked like he had wide receiver Julian Edelman with a back shoulder throw in the left corner on third down and Edelman had it but couldn't hang on as he went to the ground because Jones kept hanging on to him.
"I played through his hands. I was able to get it out of there I was so happy," Jones said. "Played it through his hands. I couldn't even see it. I saw when his hands went up, so I just reached for his arm."
But the big one came with 16 seconds left and Brady needing a TD for overtime from the Bengals 27. He went for one of his rookie receivers deep, but Jones leaped in front of Aaron Dobson, tapped the ball to himself and caught it as he went to the ground for his first interception since the second game of 2010.
"Surprised? No, but I was very happy," Jones said. "I was on the ground and I was like, 'Thank you, Jesus.' "
Jones tapped it into the air because he said the rain had made his gloves useless to catch.
"It landed right where I wanted it to," Jones said. "I couldn't squeeze it. Did you see the monsoon? The gloves were gone."
This is the kind of taut game it was. Bengals running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis observed, "When Pac took that ball away, it was breathtaking."
No one wanted to get very specific about Zimmer's scheme. Jones would only say it was "unbelievable … we were in the right place at the right time."
"We didn't disguise anything," said WILL linebacker Vontaze Burfict. "He knew what we were in. I think the defensive line just got after him."
The plan seemed to consist mainly of changing up the looks, making sure the cornerbacks pressed and didn't slack off, and playing sound. The Bengals knew they couldn't fool Brady. It was a win that began and ended up front with a defensive line down Michael Johnson and Robert Geathers and a secondary lacking its best player in cornerback Leon Hall.
Tom Terrific didn't look like his Cali cool self.
"When you're playing against those guys up front, you have to think a little bit more because they're coming," Jones said. "You see there were a couple of plays where I got pushed by and I was saying, 'They've got to get there,' and they got there."
The plan began up front.
"The plan was to hit (Brady). That was it. The plan was to hit him," said Gilberry, who got Brady twice and also hit him three times but was also called for roughing on the next to last play of the game. "I got over-aggressive on one play. I understand the referee has a job to do. They have to protect the quarterback and I have to be more disciplined in the way I attack the quarterback. I'm not going to say it was a bad call, but it is what it is."
Gilberry got a battlefield promotion with Michael Johnson's concussion and made his first start as a Bengal and fourth of his career. Rookie end Margus Hunt made his NFL debut and got one hit on Brady as defensive line coach Jay Hayes rotated all three.
"He did a great job," Gilberry said. "There wasn't a drive in the game where I didn't feel like could do my job 100 percent. We had a great week of practice. We understood where we had to be."
Gilberry came into the league undrafted with the 2008 Giants, where his fellow end, Umenyiora*, *took him under his wing and they've been close ever since. It was Umenyiora and his Giants defensive front that were the keys in both Super Bowl victories over the Pats, and so Gilberry picked his brain again this week.
"He gave me some great ball tips. Everything he told me came to fruition," Gilberry said. "He gave me some great tips on Brady. Like when he was in shotgun and like when was under center and they all held true. I look up to (Umenyiora). I can call him any time or day and ask him questions. It didn't just start. He's been mentoring me for years."
Which is what Zimmer has been doing for this defense for six years and while this may not be his signature moment, it's close. He also got a game ball three days after wife Vikki died in 2009, when the Bengals beat the Ravens in the last minute.
It has become a theme of the 2013 season: the defense bails out the offense. The Bengals shouldn't have won Sunday because they turned it over twice, once in the red zone, got their quarterback sacked four times, and committed seven penalties to none for the Patriots.
"It was a great accomplishment. It was a great job by the defensive players. The coaches, led by (Zimmer)," Lewis said. "I had never given anybody a game ball before, I guess maybe once before, but I did give Coach Zimmer that ball. It's a hell of a deal."
Lewis did give out a game ball, but it was 10 years ago during his first season. He gave it to Bengals president Mike Brown after a win over the undefeated Chiefs. The Patriots were also undefeated in more ways than one. It was Cincinnati's first win in five tries over the Brady-Bill Belichick New England dynasty.
"Zim doesn't get emotional. He got a little smirk on him. It's good to see Zim laugh, because he's always so serious. He deserves it," Burfict said. "He called some great defensive calls out there, and he just knew what we were expecting from them and called great plays.
"I can't really explain the plan, but coach Zimmer knew exactly what they were going to run and called great defensive plays. We executed, and hats off to him ... (the game ball) is meaningful. I'm with him every day. He yells at me. it's a love-hate thing between us. Every play that he calls I make sure everybody is on the same page because I'm out there playing for him. I'm not really playing for me or my team. I'm playing out there just for him and making sure I execute the call he wants and at the end of the day you know the whole defense is good."