This is why the Bills drafted cornerback Nate Clements in the first round 10 years ago and this is why the Bengals signed him before this season.
After stepping up in a halftime locker room racked by frustration and a 14-point deficit and urging his teammates not to turn on each other and to realize they were still in it, Clements went out and made one of the big plays in the 23-20 win.
There was 8:49 left in a game the Bills led, 20-13, and the Bengals had just gone three-and-out. Now Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was looking at a third-and-one from his own 47. It looked like he was off on an another 17-play drive that had just consumed the previous 9:04 when he threw a little slant to wide receiver Stevie Johnson in front of Clements for the first down.
But Clements kept coming and tried to yank the ball out of his his arms. He did just enough that the ball was ruled incomplete after a second look on the field, and it survived a challenge much to the angst of the Bills.
The Bills punted and the Bengals scored on their last two possessions and…
"Just scrapping and fighting. I'm always going to fight and scratch until the play is done," Clements said. "He made the catch but I still had to finish. You keep fighting. You never know."
Johnson thinks he knows and he was livid after the game.
"Yeah, it was a catch, and the back judge — who missed about three or four pass interference and holding calls — said it wasn't a catch, and that's what it was," Johnson said.
But Clements' biggest moment may have come back in the halftime locker room, when it was the Bengals' time to spew.
"Nate did a great job of getting us together and letting us know we were still in it," said quarterback Andy Dalton.
Middle linebacker Rey Maualuga said Clements spoke right before the defense broke the huddle.
"Nate was awesome. He stood up and told everybody that we need to step it up. He was right," Maualuga said. "Everybody was just going through the motions. He's been playing for 12 years. He's seen everything. He said, 'We're better than this. We need to go out there and perform to our capabilities.' He's going to give everything he's got and he expects the person to his left and right to do the same,"
And Clements got plenty of help coming out of the locker room. Maualuga led his team with 11 tackles; Dalton was 11-of-16 passing in the second half with a touchdown for 182 yards, while running back Cedric Benson pounded for 87 of his 104 yards on 11 carries in the second half. The Bills, who came into the game with 15 plays of 20 yards or more, had one play longer than nine yards in the second half.
Asked who would get the game ball for this one, left tackle Andrew Whitworth didn't blink.
In more ways than one.
A.J. BALLET:After being saddled with a sore toe in last Sunday's Paul Brown Stadium opener, rookie wide receiver A.J. Green put on his first ballet for the home folks Sunday with four catches for 118 yards, 98 of them coming on two bombs from quarterback Andy Dalton as he fried cornerback Leodis McKelvin one-on-one with acrobatic artistry of 40 and 58 yards.
That made him the first Bengals receiver since Eddie Brown (Dec. 17, 1988) to catch two balls of at least 40 yards in the same game.
"It's run down there man-to-man and I'm better than you," Green said. "They gave me a chance and I made a play."
When Chad Ochocinco and T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Chris Henry were here, it was a "9" route. Now it's a "Go Ball." Same thing. Go long.
It's what offensive coordinator Jay Gruden talked about all week after not scoring a touchdown. Somebody has to beat one-on-one. Not only did Green do it spectacularly, but tight end Jermaine Gresham did it on two huge catches, the 17-yarder he got behind safety George Wilson for a TD that cut it to 17-13, and another 17-yarder behind Wilson on third-and-eight that kept alive the tying touchdown drive.
On the first ball to Green, the 58-yarder at the end of the first half, he leaped in the air to scrape the ball off McKelvin's helmet and then ran several more yards with it.
But he said the second one was better, a 40-yarder that was slightly overthrown and Green looked more like a centerfielder and McKelvin an outfield wall. Green backpedaled, leaped, and grabbed it over his head at the Bills 7.
"I think that's the good one. I barely caught it with my fingertips," Green said. "I feel like if the ball touches my hands, I've got to catch it."
Hasn't he been even better than advertised? Green is the first Bengals rookie receiver since Darnay Scott in 1994 to have multiple 100-yard games. And after a quarter of play gone this season, he has 19 catches for 312 yards. That would put him on pace for 76 catches for 1,248 yards, shattering Cris Collinsworth's club rookie record by more than 200 yards and it would be the most by a Bengal since The Ocho's club record 1,440 in 2007.
After last Sunday's game in which he had four catches for 29 yards, Green said his sprained toe was 100 percent. On Sunday, he admitted it wasn't.
"By Wednesday it felt fine," he said.
NUGENT'S PERFECTION:It's been a long time between walkoff field goals for Mike Nugent. Since his 38-yarder beat the Steelers in overtime for the Jets in 2007, Nugent has been with three teams and gone through ACL surgery before Sunday's 43-yarder gave the Bills their first loss of the season in the Bengals 23-20 victory at Paul Brown Stadium.
Nugent hasn't missed since coming back from the knee injury he suffered last November in hitting his first 10 of this season and three more Sunday. But one thing that has been the same since he started in the NFL seven seasons ago is his routine. So when the Bills called timeout to freeze him, he went back to the sidelines and didn't linger on the field. He even thought about hitting one into the net, but he didn't have time.
"My biggest thing is I'm all about routine. I don't know if it's superstiition, but I like having the same routine every time," Nugent said. "I don't like standing out on the field. Because you're not standing out on the field for a minute and 45 seconds before a field goal. So I just came off the field and acted like it didn't happen and move on to the next play."
Nugent thought the Bills might call timeout because they had two left, "but I never assume they are," he said, so when it was called late he took a practice swing and made that one, too.
Nugent wasn't surprised the Bengals didn't try to get him closer after running back Brian Leonard rumbled for 14 yards and got the ball to the 25 with about 25 seconds left. The Bengals had two timeouts left, but they used only one to stop it at four seconds.
"If it was in the 50s, I'd say definitely. But the fact we were in the 40s and it was on the left hash, which is one I'd probably rather have, I think it was great clock management," Nugent said.
Nugent had some company in the person of middle linebacker Rey Maualuga as they watched the offense drive. He didn't say much, but Nugent isn't like some kickers and doesn't mind it if guys talk to him at the key moments.
"The camaraderie we have on this team is so great, it's little things like that I think loosen me up a little bit," Nugent said. "It's like 'We're depending on you,' I'm always appreciative of that.'"
Special teams coach Darrin Simmons was high-fiving Nugent long before that final kick. Of his five kickoffs to the dangerous Brad Smith, four went for touchbacks and the only return went for 23 yards. A far cry from the kick Smith popped against the Bengals for a touchdown last season while playing for the Jets.
There is clearly nothing wrong with Nugent's knee.
"I was thinking in the offseason, 'Put in as much work now so it's not going to hurt every now and then during the season,' " Nugent said, and then he praised snapper Clark Harris and holder Kevin Huber. "My job is so much easier with guys like Clark and Kevin. The ball didn't move six inches."
SLANTS AND SCREENS
» Running back Brian Leonard had a throwback game to 2009 Sunday. The man who made possible a last-minute win over Pittsburgh when he leaped for the final yard on fourth-and-10, carried the last two snaps Sunday for 29 yards and into field-goal range. One on a 15-yard screen and the last a 14-yard power bolt off left guard.
Just another day at the office for the third-down back who specializes in the two-minute drill.
"It's my role. They expect me to make plays when I get the ball and I get it in critical situations and I'm used to it," Leonard said. "I didn't expect to run it on the last play, but obviously it was blocked great."
» Sunday marked running back Cedric Benson's 14th reguar-season 100-yard game with the Bengals (19 carries, 104 yards), and the Bengals are 12-2. Counting playoffs, he's got 15 100-yarders, two behind James Brooks and his No. 3 spot on the club's all-time list behind Corey Dillon's 28 and Rudi Johnson's 19.
» Left tackle Andrew Whitworth had his left hand wrapped in ice, but said it wasn't broken: "It's a big welt."