Leon Hall breaks up the first-quarter pass inteded for Marques Colston. (AP photo)
Posted: 1:35 p.m.
NEW ORLEANS - How many times has the Bengals defense started a preseason game and looked comatose against a surgeon like Saints quarterback Drew Brees?
Memo to New England's Tom Brady for Thursday night? Maybe it won't be as easy as it once was.
In their first performance since vaulting from 27th to 12th in the NFL rankings last season, the Bengals stoned Brees from their own six-yard line on their first series and blanked the league's most prolific quarterback in the first quarter on one first down.
Brees broke loose early in the second quarter when he zipped 4-for-4 for 75 yards in a five-play drive capped by his 33-yard touchdown to tight end Jeremy Shockey against a combination of first-teamers and backups, particularly in the back end.
But the tone of playing fast and physical had been set when Bengals running back Cedric Benson's fumble put the ball on the Bengals 6 and they responded with:
» First down: Right end Robert Geathers and WILL linebacker Keith Rivers stopping running back Reggie Bush for two yards.
» Second down: Cornerback Leon Hall getting good position on 6-5 wide receiver Marques Colston for an incompletion.
» Third down: Brees trying to hit wide receiver Robert Meachem with a quick swing pass into the flat, but safety Chris Crocker and cornerback Johnathan Joseph combining for the stop at the Bengals 2, leading to Garrett Hartley's blown 20-yard field goal.
"It was a good test for us because you're going to start sometimes backed up in your red zone," Crocker said. "That's the goal, to finish. To just give them three and they missed the field goal and that was our mindset.
"I'm sure there were things we probably could have done better, but for the most part guys really hustled. We had a lot of hustle plays. We're going to make mistakes sometimes, and guys are going to miss some tackles, but it's the second and third guy that runs to the ball that covers your butt."
Crocker kept the intensity boiling on the next series when he crunched Meachem on second down for the Saints' first first down, an 11-yard catch on the sideline that he paid for by laying on the ground before temporarily leaving the game.
"That's just my mentality," Crocker said. "Worst case scenario is we're going to be a physical defense. In the secondary we've got a lot of guys that can tackle so when you get a chance to take a shot on a guy you take it. My job is to get him on the ground. It was a pretty good lick on him."
Also getting a big shot in was safety Roy Williams, who celebrated his 29th birthday by blowing up a running back in pass protection as Brees was getting rid of the ball. He came back to help lift the guy back to his feet.
Now in their second year under defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, his approach to practice has seemed to match the acquisition of guys like Crocker and Williams.
"That's the way we practice, very intense, very focused," Crocker said. "We're not sluggish. It just turns into our speed on game day. That's how we practice."
Rivers led the first team with five tackles and Crocker was next with three, one a tackle for a loss. Rookie defensive end Michael Johnson had an active debut as he worked among the starters and backups for three tackles, one for a loss and a pass defensed.
The Bengals didn't put a lot of heat on Brees, but they made him get out of the pocket a few times and blitzing middle linebacker Dhani Jones missed a shot at him for a sack. Their run defense was stingy with the Saints managing 20 yards on their first eight carries with Bush getting just five on three attempts.
In that first half the Bengals blunted New Orleans three out of four times on third down, when the Saints got only 119 of their total of 316 yards.
OCHO AWES: It sure looks like wide receiver Chad Ochocinco is back, doesn't it? A 55-yard catch that was all run and an 18-yard catch on third-and-five that was all timing. And quite nearly a 75-yard bomb on the first snap of the season that was all speed.
"He was beat," said The Ocho of his run past cornerback Roman Harper batted down at the last instant. "It will come."
Naturally, he loved the call by offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski. So did quarterback Carson Palmer: "Bob Bratkowski is an aggressive coach. We've got speed and we're going to use it."
Lewis thought The Ocho dropped it. Palmer thought he underthrew him a little bit. Ochocinco said it was "a tad" underthrown but The Ocho admitted he was trying to keep Harper at bay by not letting him see where his eyes were looking "because then he could have just gone like this (thrown up his hands) and blocked it."
So The Ocho didn't turn all the way around, and he saw the ball tick against Harper's lower leg. "It will come," he said.
HUBER'S DEBUT: Rookie punter Kevin Huber's NFL debut literally rolled along until late in the game. His first punt went 48 yards and pinned the Saints on the 12. The next one went 34 yards and had the Saints on the 10. But the last two punts went just 39 and 35 yards and ended up giving the Saints a 54-yard field goal.
That came after he hit the line-drive 39-yarder out of his end zone. Even though the Saints didn't put heat on him, Huber said the Bengals approached it like they were and had him go to a one-step kick.
"Catch and get it out," Huber said. "That's something I have to work on, the one-step approach. I was glad I was able to get that punt in. I've got to go back and work on that a lot more."
Huber finished with a 33.8-yard net average with two of his six punts inside the 20. Like the whole game for the team, some good, some bad.
"I felt good. I felt I started strong. There are a couple down the stretch I'd like to have back," Huber said. "One thing I learned is if I start the game strong I have to finish the game strong."
On Huber's first hold as a Bengal, Shayne Graham missed a 30-yard field goal to the left, a play on which Huber thought there wasn't anything abnormal about the operation. Head coach Marvin Lewis offered, "Our specialists can and will play better."
HENRY HOMECOMING: Chris Henry admitted it. That 14-yard touchdown pass he caught from J.T. O'Sullivan for the only Bengals score came on one of those fly patterns (or "9" routes) that he can make while he's asleep.
"It seems that way," said Henry after his 100-yard game on seven catches.
Before the game Henry chatted with a group of youth football players ready to take the field at halftime and told them he was from their city. Belle Chasse. La., to be exact, where he was named Metro Offensive MVP by the New Orleans Times-Picayune as a high school senior.
It made for an odd sight with 11 seconds left in the half when Henry made the catch and some of the kids jumped up and down to cheer the visitor.
"I told some of them I was from here. I think that's what that was about," he said.
Henry was so jacked up before the game that he told some of his teammates that he didn't need to stretch. Cornerback Jason David clearly wasn't ready on the play.
"He was playing off and inside me. I knew I had the 9 route and fade," Henry said. "I tried to get as close to him as I could before I made my (cut). He just realized it too late. I had him. I just had to catch the ball. It was simple."
As simple as he told O'Sullivan that he would be available during the two-minute drill at the end of the half. Henry caught four for 27 yards in that drive.
DNP: Bengals that didn't play but weren't listed as injured: Rookie free agent receivers Greg Orton and David Richmond and free agent running back Marlon Lucky.