Safety Reggie Nelson made the first third-down stop on Johnny Manziel Sunday as the Bengals blitzed the Browns, 20-0, in the first 20 minutes.
CLEVELAND - With the season on the line, the Bengals defense went out and made a money grab Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium when they hijacked Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel's first NFL start in the third greatest stand in franchise history during the 30-0 victory that put them a win away from their fourth straight postseason with two games left.
While posting their first shutout in six years, the Bengals put Manziel through a NFL 101 clinic all rookie quarterbacks must undergo and held the Browns to a paltry 107 yards. They sacked him three times, hit him six times, gave him 2.6 yards on five carries, and picked him twice while all the while giving the Manziel money sign.
"That's his trademark," said right end Wallace Gilberry, one of the tone setters who rubbed his fingers together after a jarring seven-yard loss on a read option Manziel had time to do neither on Cleveland's fifth snap of the game.
"That's the thing everyone is going to do against him from here on out. That's his thing. I just wanted to do it before he did. This week it was all about Manziel and as a team we focused on us."
If you're scratching your head over the inconsistencies of Andy Dalton, who just can't figure out these Browns, how about the Bengals defense? A week after they gave up the most yards in a home game in 19 years, they allowed their third fewest yards in history.
You have to start dusting off the shelves for this one. Only two opponents have had fewer yards and one of them did it nearly 38 years to the day on Dec. 12, 1976 at Shea Stadium in Joe Willie Namath's last start as a Jet when they gave just 72 yards, still second fewest ever. Earlier that season, the Bengals' fifth-ranked defense allowed 35 yards to the Packers, still the fewest.
Now a defense tied for 28th and the only one in Bengals' history that has allowed three 500-yard games in one season comes up with an effort that allowed the Browns to get across midfield once while averaging less than three yards per play and knocking then all but out of the playoffs.
"Any time you make a team one-dimensional, you're going to be able to make calls that make where the ball is going to go predictable," said cornerback Adam Jones, who had one of the two interceptions. "The thing today was the front did a great job pressuring."
What seemed to be forgotten in the Manziel Maze is that this is a proud defense that has been the back bone of three straight post-season runs and most of them are still here and prideful and last week's effort along with the implosion against the Browns last month on a Thursday night at Paul Brown Stadium hung heavy and the Johnny Football stuff started to wear a little thin.
""You know our defense, you know our locker room. We don't like to get embarrassed like that," said nose tackle Domata Peko. "We made a point this week in practice to attack down hill. They ran it 52 times. That's a punch in the face. We came out and got redemption….That Thursday night game has been on our back."
Let's see, the Browns ran 37 plays in just over 21 minutes for their 21st starting quarterback since they came back into the NFL 15 years ago. Figure about 25 of the snaps produced the money sign and one of them, a pass into the midsection of leaping middle linebacker Rey Maualuga, drew a 15-yard flag for taunting when Maualuga did it in Manziel's face.
(Left end Carlos Dunlap indicated that Manziel didn't see his sign on the final play of the third quarter because his face was in the grass after his sack.)
"I was excited. I was overjoyed. The whole week the talk was about him and what he was going to do," Maualuga said. "So every time we had a big play, we had to make some momentum.
"The whole talk was how he was going to beat us with his feet; he was going to beat us with his arm. We just had to start fast. The sacks and the incompletions flustered him a little bit. It kind of got him out of rhythm."
Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther crafted a game plan tailored for an athletic rookie quarterback not yet comfortable or accurate in the pocket. They hardly blitzed in order to prevent running seams and they played mostly zone so he'd have to sit back and decipher coverages that were changed at the snap.
"It was unselfish. We just couldn't tee off. If you do that he's going to run it on you," Gilberry said. "We had to sit back on the pass rush and let him come to us and that's what we did."
Maualuga said Texas A&M tape and the preseason tape gave them enough clues. That's how Maualuga got an interception moments after his flag, but it was called back when Gilberry was called for offsides. Manziel threw high and behind wide receiver Travis Benjamin over the middle and Maualuga hauled in the tipped ball.
"If nothing is there, he pulls it down and runs," Maualuga said. "The karma got back to me. It was cover two deep and they're always talking about Johnny Manziel looking down his receivers. He was looking to the left and E-Man (SAM backer Emmanuel Lamur) made a great play and the ball came out and landed in my hands."
The two interceptions that counted were also classic rookie mistakes. On the first one, a sideline throw to old friend Andrew Hawkins, cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick saw it and signaled to the safety that he could undercut instead of the safety doing it, which is how they practiced it, and Kirkpatrick got his first interception of the season at the Browns 33 to set up a field goal.
Manziel paid the price for being late and inaccurate with the drop-back throw. Then he paid the price for simply throwing it on third-and-four from the Bengals 19 with 1:17 left in the half in what turned out to be their best chance to score.
Manziel stepped out of a sack from Gilberry as he scrambled to his right and then he made the ill-fated mistake of throwing across his body with nothing on it. Adam Jones, relegated to nickel because of his bruised chest while Kirkpatrick took over his base duties, saw it a mile away, ran, and leaped in front of wide receiver Taylor Gabriel in the end zone to end the half.
"Couldn't believe he threw it,' Jones said.
"He's going to be a great player," Kirkpatrick said. "I hope he goes back and watches the film and his progressions and learns from it."
"He's going to be a great guy, but today wasn't his day," Gilberry said.
It was a day where some proud vets weren't going to let the money-grubbing kid have their paycheck.
"This isn't any college. This is the NFL where there are grown men that are going to be chasing after you. Not little college kids," Peko said. "We've got some grown men with kids that are out here trying to feed their families. It's a lot faster than college. He has a lot to learn. He's young, that's what you expect from a young guy."