Updated: 10/10/11, 7:10 a.m.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — There was good-natured jawing going on around the linebackers' lockers Sunday following another Bengals victory pulled from the fourth-quarter goody bag.
This is the way it is when you're 3-2 and survive some missed tackles and some big plays and your defense hangs in there to give up just 276 yards, .5 more than the average that gave you the No. 1 ranking. And it was good enough to keep the Bengals No. 1 after Sunday's games.
The game was actually won, 30-20, when the defense pitched stands from its 2- and 5-yard line in the first half and held the Jaguars to a field goal each time. So now middle linebacker Rey Maualuga was looking at outside linebacker Thomas Howard, "What was the best play?"
Maualuga's on first-and-goal from the 2 when he made tight end Marcedes Lewis drop a ball in the end zone? Or Howard's play on the next snap when he led a charge of Maualuga and end Frostee Rucker to dump running back Maurice Jones-Drew for a seven-yard loss.
Lewis had Maualuga beaten off the line and the ball was in his hands. But Maualuga reached in enough to make him juggle it at the last instant. Howard had to give it up.
"That was a hell of a play," Howard said of his stop. "But it wasn't the best ... that was the best."
Chalk up another team-high tackles for Maualuga, this time with six, "but the PD (pass-defensed) was huge," he said.
"I was nervous as hell," he said of Lewis' release. "I was just reading my keys and the running back or the fullback wasn't coming downhill real fast. I knew I had to open my hips. I had to undercut him. I knew I never would intercept the ball. I played his hands. Coach talks about ripping through his hands and I ripped through his hands and made a great play."
Then Maualuga didn't want to leave out his man Howard.
"Thomas Howard made an outstanding, horrific play with the greatest multitudes," he said of the gang tackle on second down.
If it sounds like these guys are all in and having a good time with each other, you may be on to something there.
"We've been in situations like that the whole year," Maualuga said. "Just calm down and play football and make plays. The good thing about it is everyone's on the same page. We get in the huddle, I call the play, and everybody just talks. Communication and discipline. I think that's what we've been feeding off the last couple of weeks."
Not to mention a little good-natured jawing.
"Two good plays right in a row," Maualuga said.
TATE'S FATE: For Bengals return man Brandon Tate, Sunday's 30-20 win over the Jaguars proved to be not just a job, but an adventure.
At times he struggled, catching one punt on his own 5-yard line and letting another get past him. Plus, he ran a couple kicks out of the end zone when it was best he down them.
But Sunday is why the Bengals picked him off waivers from the Patriots and let Quan Cosby go. Tate's two longest punt returns of the season of 22 and 19 yards set up 10 points, the winning margin. Last season, Cosby, as solid and as reliable as he is, had a long of 20.
"I feel like I'm getting better at it. Understanding that this is what they want me to do," Tate said. "I have to get better with my decision-making."
Special teams coach Darrin Simmons raves about Tate's willingness to learn, but he's also trying to harness his energy and athleticism into the blocking scheme. Head coach Marvin Lewis thinks Tate is a symbol of his young talent learning on the job.
"He's the epitome of this," Lewis said. "He may misjudge the flight of the one ball and catches it inside the six- or seven-yard line, the next play he returns it for (22 yards). We're just going to keep coaching hard and keep working with them until we can make all the mental plays as well."
Tate now has punt returns of 22, 19 and 16 yards, and the average is slowly climbing. He's at 9.8, 16th in the league.
GREAT SCOTT: Running back Bernard Scott got a season-high six carries for 20 yards and the go-ahead touchdown when he walked in from two yards out over the left side with 1:56 left in the game.
But he actually played less in the second half than he did in the first, when he and Cedric Benson basically split the five series. But for the second straight week Lewis put in Scott for a series early in the fourth quarter. And it was a big one because Tate had just returned a punt 19 yards to the Jags 37 with 11:07 left in a 13-13 game.
Scott did get seven yards on the first carry when he beat the Jags to the right edge, but then got only one up the middle before quarterback Andy Dalton and wide receiver A.J. Green couldn't connect on third-and-two to set up Mike Nugent's 47-yard field goal with 9:41 left.
Cedric Benson then checked back in for the next two series, but on the last one when the Bengals got on the goal line, Scott came back in for the touchdown run.
"We had run it earlier in the game and it worked well," Scott said of the nine-yard run teamed with third-down back Brian Leonard. "I thought we might do it again, but I wasn't sure we would do it down there. The offensive line blocked it great."
Even though Benson had just 53 yards, he carried it 24 times, the most since he took it 25 times in the opener. If Benson has been looking for more carries, Scott hasn't said much about getting more touches.
"When your number is called, you have to be ready," he said.
Lewis has been calling himself out for not getting Scott into games more.
"It was the same thing we had last week," Lewis said. "It's been two weeks in a row. I told you I screwed up when we played before then and I didn't get him into the game, so I told you guys and the coaches I would take care of it. That way they can worry about coaching. I was able to stay on the plan today."
Scott saluted his family in the stands by trying to throw the ball to them in the upper deck after he scored.
TOUGH SLEDDING: The Bengals could only punch out 2.5 yards per their 31 runs and there were a couple of rarities. Left tackle Andrew Whitworth, who gave up just two sacks last season, gave up one to defensive end John Chick, and center Kyle Cook, the glue of the line with his smarts, got flagged for a pre-snap penalty.
But there were reasons. Everyone in the building but the refs thought Chick jumped the snap. And Cook said the officials misinterpreted how the Bengals were going about their silent count. He got it straightened out with them before they called it again.
SLANTS AND SCREENS
» Amazing, but the Bengals are 3-2 and don't have an interception in the last four games and none this season by a DB. But cornerback Nate Clements got the fumble recovery on the Jags blown shotgun snap at the Jacksonville 19 late in the game.
» And the Bengals got a defensive touchdown before they got that second pick when tackle Geno Atkins scored on the last play of the game on a 10-yard fumble return when the Jags tried the razzle-dazzle.
» Atkins, who continues to be immense, now has more TDs than his father Gene Atkins had during 10 seasons and 143 games as an NFL safety. He also had a tackle for a loss Sunday.
» Ends Frostee Rucker and Jon Fanene and tackle Pat Sims each had a sack. Sims becomes the fifth of the eight D-linemen to get at least one this season. Fanene now leads the team with three and Rucker has two, the first time in his six seasons he's had more than one in a year.