The Bengals defensive line outplayed the NFL's best front four Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium and produced a 31-13 victory over the Super Bowl champion Giants that snapped Cincinnati's four-game losing streak and sent the Bengals to Kansas City next week at 4-5.
The Bengals, before a crowd of 56,614, fittingly put on the exclamation point with 10:45 left in the game when right end Wallace Gilberry stripped the ball from quarterback Eli Manning as he was throwing in the pocket and fell on New York's fourth turnover of the game at the Giants 41.
New York didn't score its first touchdown until running back Andre Brown scored on a two-yard run with 2:46 left in the game.
The Bengals stunned the champs with three turnovers in the third quarter (a third of Cincinnati's total of nine coming into the game) that produced 14 points as quarterback Andy Dalton enjoyed the first four-touchdown game of his career when he hit four different receivers while completing 21 of 30 passes for 199 yards for a passer rating of 127.6 that more than doubled Manning's 56. It was Dalton's third best of his career and his first game this season without an interception.
Cornerback Adam Jones, all over the place with a third-down pass defensed and a 68-yard punt return that set up a touchdown, started the turnover parade when he punched the ball out of the hands of running back Ahmad Bradshaw at the Bengals 14 and left end Carlos Dunlap recovered.
It was a huge play. It looked like the Giants were going to cut the lead to 17-13 early in the third quarter, but instead it was their last shot. The Bengals couldn't take advantage of that series but they did on the next one when defensive tackle Geno Atkins pushed left guard Kevin Boothe into Manning as right end Michael Johnson hit Manning's arm and it produced a floater at the line of scrimmage, where it was corralled at the Giants 12 by defensive tackle Pat Sims celebrating his first game back since he injured his ankle nearly a year ago on Nov. 27.
Three of Dalton's TDs came on third down in the red zone and so did this one on third-and-eight when Dalton saw tight end Jermaine Gresham matched up on safety Antrel Rolle running across the back of the end zone. Dalton threw it at the highest point and the 6-5 Gresham outjumped the 6-0 Rolle to make it 24-6 with 6:37 left in the third quarter.
Then Atkins and Dunlap converged on Manning three snaps later and he hurried a pass into the arms of cornerback Nate Clements dropping into a zone. Clements returned the interception 21 yards to the Giants 16, and on third-and-four from the 10, Dalton hit rookie wide receiver Mohamed Sanu with the first touchdown catch of his career. The 6-2, 210-pound Sanu literally posted up on 6-0, 207-pound cornerback Prince Amukamara while running a post pattern and Dalton hit him on the back shoulder.
It was a coming out of sorts for Sanu with a career-high four catches for 47 yards that included third-down and fourth-down conversions in the first half.
A.J. Green's only mistake was agreeing with New York talkmaster Boomer Esiason earlier in the week that the Giants has "plenty of holes." On the fifth play of the game Green proved it when he skated through a blown coverage for a 56-yard touchdown catch to give the Bengals a 7-0 lead in the first 2:26 and spark them to a 17-6 halftime lead.
Manning didn't get his first third-down conversion until 2:46 left in the half, his favorite target, Victor Cruz, didn't make a catch until 2:30 left in the half (he finished with just 26 yards on three catches) and he needed to convert a fourth-and-six to wide receiver Hakeem Nicks to get Lawrence Tynes's 31-yard field goal with 15 seconds left in the half to make it 17-6.
And the Bengals made sure they got only that when Dunlap sacked Manning.
Manning finished the half 15-of-20 for 107 yards with no touchdowns and no picks, but Dalton separated himself with two touchdown passes for a passer rating of 131.5 on 15-of-20 passing for 161 yards.
Green, who had six catches for 86 yards in the first half before finishing with 85 yards on seven catches, set up his own TD with Dalton starting the game on a quick seven-yard throw to him working on cornerback Corey Webster giving Green a big cushion on the outside. On second down running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis picked up the first down on a toss sweep. Then Dalton made the same throw to Green for seven more and Green-Ellis got the first down smashing behind the right side for four yards. Then Dalton went play-action, rolled out right, and no one was on Green sailing down the right sideline. That give him eight straight games with a touchdown, tying T.J. Houshmandzadeh for Cincinnati's longest streak of receiving TDs in a season.
The Giants came into the game with the NFL's second-fewest penalties but they made a huge one after their first series, when Adam Jones forced a punt knocking away a third-down crossing route.
Jones went back to receive the punt, but didn't pick up a roller that stopped at his 15. But Giants cornerback Justin Tryon illegally went out of bounds and Jones made the Giants pay on the re-kick. Jones caught it down the middle and had time to size it up. He went right, made running back Andre Brown miss, paused before cutting back, and stepped out of linebacker Michael Boley's tackle and kept going to the left edge until punter Steve Weatherford chased him out of bounds at the Giants 11 for a 68-yard return to go on top of his 81-yard touchdown return earlier in the season.
Dalton kept pumping to Green with two incompletions into the end zone and then got an 11-yard touchdown when slot receiver Andrew Hawkins got space on cornerback Jayron Hosley at the 5 and Hawkins made a one-handed catch and kept going to make it 14-0 just 4:07 into the game.
The defense forced another punt when ends Robert Geathers and Dunlap split a sack for Dunlap's first sack since Sept. 30. But with wide receiver Brandon Tate returning this punt, he fumbled on a big hit by linebacker Chase Blackburn and the Giants recovered at the Bengals 27.
The Bengals defense rallied again to force Tynes's 23-yard field goal when on third-and-four from the Bengals 6 WILL backer Vontaze Burfict made a good play in coverage when Bradshaw could pick up only a yard on a dump pass. Tynes's kick cut it to 14-3 with 5:34 left in the first quarter.
With No. 1 pick Dre Kirkpatrick taking his first NFL snaps at cornerback on the first Giants possession of the second quarter, the Bengals jacked Manning to 0-for-4 on third down when Atkins chased him out of the pocket and Dunlap chased him down short of the sticks as the Bengals front continued an active first half against the Giants offensive line that came into the game allowing the NFL's fewest sacks per pass.
The Bengals then strung together another long drive with Cedric Peerman getting his most extended work of the season at running back with 17 yards on four carries and he made a nice catch-and-run in the flat for a first down in the red zone. But it was Sanu that got them there.
Sanu converted a third-and-eight when he made a leaping fingertip grab against Amukamara for 12 yards. And then on fourth-and-two from the Giants 37, the line gave Dalton great time and at the last instant he bought another second stepping to his left and found Sanu across the middle for 15 more.
It looked like Dalton bought time for another third-down touchdown throw to Hawkins. He scrambled to the right on third-and-nine from the Giants 10 and threw it on the run when he saw Hawkins open near the right corner. He caught it, but one of his feet was on the line and the Bengals had to take Mike Nugent's 28-yard field goal that made it 17-3 with 4:17 left in the half.
It was the second time Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis went for it on fourth down in the half. On fourth-and-three from the Giants 31 (after New York blew up a third-down screen to Hawkins), Dalton's pass to Gresham was broken up by Amukamara.
Dalton dished it out to seven receivers in the half, but Sanu and Green were the only two with more than 27 yards. The Bengals held Bradshaw to 14 yards on four carries.
PREGAME NOTES: With Chris Crocker now back to playing the snaps of a starter at safety, the Bengals opted to give Taylor Mays his third start and first opposite Crocker on Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium against the Giants when Nelson missed his first game as a Bengal with a hamstring injury.
Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis also opted to dress defensive tackle Pat Sims for the first time since Nov. 27, 2011, when he injured his ankle. To make room for Sims, a 327-pound run specialist, the Bengals deactivated both rookie defensive tackles, second-rounder Devon Still and third-rounder Brandon Thompson.
Thompson has played in just three games and been inactive for the last five, but Still has played in every game with significant snaps backing up starting tackles Domata Peko and Geno Atkins and has 20 tackles, half a sack, and a fumble recovery.
Both centers have been hampered by hamstring injuries but were active Sunday with rookie Trevor Robinson expected to make his second NFL start. If Faine can't go during the game, the move the Bengals are trying to avoid so they can keep guys in the same spot would be moving left guard Clint Boling to center and bringing right tackle Dennis Roland off the bench to play left guard.
The Bengals continued to shuffle their No. 2 receiver with Marvin Jones (knee) basically missing his third straight game. Armon Binns, who has played six of the nine games, was inactive while Ryan Whalen was up for only the second time this season.
Also inactive was cornerback Jason Allen and tight end Richard Quinn. Which meant that cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick was up for the second time despite missing Friday's practice with a thigh issue.
Last week Lewis extolled the virtues of Crocker's ability to run the defense while also helping his teammates see what is happing on offense. It's his sixth straight game and second straight start since coming off the couch for the Sept. 30 game in Jacksoville, the last Bengals win.
Lewis chose to introduce his offense as the Bengals took the field in their black jerseys and white pants. His game captains were quarterback Andy Dalton, middle linebacker Rey Maualuga, right end Michael Johnson, wide receiver Andrew Hawkins, and linebacker Dan Skuta. The Giants won the toss and deferred.