Bengals linebacker Germaine Pratt, author of the most famous turnover in Bengals history, has a long memory during this short week preparing for the Ravens Thursday night (8:15-Cincinnati's Channel 9 and Prime Video).
Pratt, as he always seems to be in the fourth quarter of a game there for the taking, had been at the center of Sunday's crucial and last scrimmage play when Pratt and safety Nick Scott had stood up Texans wide receiver Noah Brown at about the Bengals 33. It would have made for a daunting last-snap kick by an emergency kicker who had never hit an NFL 50-yarder. Pratt went for the strip, Brown went for 13 more yards, and the Texans walked it off with a 38-yard field goal.
"You've got to look at it two ways," Pratt said before Tuesday night's practice at Paycor Stadium. "If I tackle him right there, it would have been a harder field goal. But if you want to stop them from even attempting a field goal, it's what I do. It's what I pride myself on. I try to be aggressive. I'm not going to stop being aggressive."
Who Pratt has become is a high-end jewel thief. Since he transformed the 2021 opener into a win instead of a loss when he forced and recovered Vikings running back Dalvin Cook's fumble at the Bengals 38 with less than two minutes left in overtime, Pratt is one of two NFL linebackers with five forced fumbles and five interceptions.
And that's not counting the now iconic interception of Derek Carr at the Bengals 2 on the last snap of the Wild Card amid the Payor pandemonium later that season. It makes you wonder if Pratt hadn't made that play way back in September if they had made the playoffs at all.
Defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo had already absolved Pratt on Monday.
"He was the second guy in. Nick was there first. We teach the second guy in to go after the ball," Anarumo said. "Who knew the guy was going to split both of them? We've certainly got to get him on the ground. That's job A one A. If he was there first and just punching at it, that's different. But he was the second man in. That's how you get some of those plays."
After all, hadn't Pratt and Scott combined to help win the game just the week before when Scott upended Bills tight end Dalton Kincaid and Pratt punched it out so Scott could fall on it early in the fourth quarter in the red zone? If it's the fourth quarter or the red zone, isn't it Pratt?
His only forced fumble last season came on an eerily similar play to the Brown snap when he fleeced Travis Kelce as the Chiefs were driving for a winning score early in the fourth. His first forced fumble this year was in the red zone early in the opener.
And his last pick three weeks ago in Frisco was a little of both, as the third quarter became the fourth and the Bengals denied the 49ers the tying touchdown from the Bengals 8.
"To me personally, I always go for the football. That's just my mindset," Pratt said. "I try to go for the ball, try to create a turnover. Make a big play in a big situation.
"I'm not going to stop being who I am."
PLASTER PLAN: Pratt, Scott, and the rest of the defense are still steaming about how they played against Houston. They did something no defense had done in 25 years in allowing a 350-yard passer, a 170-yard receiver, and a 150-yard rusher and they knew as they talked postgame it had to be stopped. No player-only meetings.
"That would be a sign of panic and we're not panicking," Scott said. "This is a mature, solid, veteran defense. We know what happened. Wherever you are in the league, whatever team you are, when you fail to play up to your standard, you run the risk of what exactly just happened. Just from the defense's standpoint, from the back end up to the front, we made mistakes. I made mistakes. The guy next to me made mistakes. In the NFL, they capitalize."
Scott and the secondary are taking a long look at those long plays. Texans rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud generated eight passes of at least 20 yards and there was a sense he had more trouble against man-to-man than zone.
"The biggest thing when you have a mobile quarterback and you're playing zone, the play extends a little bit longer than normal," Scott said. "That's when we need to kind of just latch on to the closest guy and start running around the field. It seemed like a couple of times where we didn't do a good enough job of that."
Covering an extended play is called "plastering," and with quarterback Lamar Jackson waiting on the perimeter in Baltimore, Scott says the Bengals have to be much better plastering. He only has to look on the other side of the ball to see what Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow does to defenses. The old M.O. on Jackson had been to make him throw. With his 70.3 completion percentage, just percentage points behind NFL leader Dak Prescott, maybe too old.
"It's a testament to his ability to grow as a quarterback in this league. He's a tough guy to defend. He's an MVP for a reason," Scott said. "Josh Allen, C.J. Stroud, Lamar Jackson, guys that move. Joe Burrow. They will extend plays and it makes it tough on the defense. They not only have strong arms, but they can use their feet as weapons."
RUN AGAIN: The thing that seemed to really surprise the defense was allowing 188 yards on the ground and that's a huge point of emphasis for Thursday since the Ravens lead the league in rushing. Pratt traced it back to running back Devin Singletary's first big run, a 15-yard burst up the middle on the second series, and he took the blame.
"It started with me. When Singletary got out. I knew the play. I called the play. I've got to get on the edge," Pratt said. "I thought it was going to be a tackle for a loss. I needed to set the edge. I'm the guy that brings attention to detail to the defense. It starts with me. I started the bleeding and it opened the wound."
The Ravens run the ball on everybody, but since Anarumo re-made the defense in 2021 the Bengals have pretty much kept them in check on the ground. The biggest rushing game they've allowed in those six games against the Ravens came back in September when they gave up 178. No one had a big day, but it was good enough to do what the Ravens do and limit possessions with more than 33 minutes of possession.
"We can't let this last game weigh us down for this game. It's a big divisional one," Pratt said.
He's got his eye on one guy who wasn't around in September for the Ravens, rookie free-agent running back Keaton Mitchell, a 5-8, 191-pound blur. Two weeks ago in his NFL debut, he ripped Seattle for 138 yards on just nine carries. One of his three carries went for 39 yards las week in Cleveland.
"He's electrifying," Pratt said. "I saw one play last week. He ran a draw and he circled the whole Browns defense. That's a good defense. He's running hard. Every time he gets the ball it seems like he's going for 30 yards."
Mitchell is the son of former Ravens and Bengals safety Anthony Mitchell, a key special teamer for Cincinnati's 2005 AFC North champions who played all 16 games in his sixth and final NFL season.