Updated: 9:45 p.m.
If rookies Andy Dalton and A.J. Green have been consistent with their heroics on offense, than what about on defense and the man they call "The Tasmanian Devil?"
The Bengals celebrated their fifth victory of the season in which they erased a fourth-quarter deficit Sunday in a 23-20 victory over the Browns. And it was second-year defensive lineman Geno Atkins that set the tone on the first snap of that last quarter when he drilled Browns quarterback Colt McCoy with a shot to the stomach and forced him to float an interception to safety Reggie Nelson.
What else is new?
Atkins, who hasn't stopped hustling since he arrived via the fourth round in 2010, Energizered Bunnyed the Browns with two quarterback pressures, two tipped balls, and another sack to jack his team-leading total to 6.5. On the hit, he slid out to the edge to McCoy's right to make sure he contained him and then popped him as he tried to throw it out of bounds.
"I just lowered my shoulder and he fell down," Atkins said. "After that I think he started to feel the hits a little bit. He was slow to get up late in the fourth quarter."
Nelson hauled in the ball before it went out of bounds at the Bengals 46 and it set up Mike Nugent's tying 40-yard field goal with 10:57 left in the game.
Nelson said he had no idea where McCoy was throwing because wide receiver Greg Little was nowhere to be found.
"It was a special play that we put in, and I was honestly trying to throw the ball out of bounds," McCoy said. "I thought I had protection in front of me, which was the design of the play. When the guy came through me, I didn't even see that ball. I got the wind knocked out of me. The ball just sailed straight up. I didn't have anybody downfield; I was trying to throw it away. I didn't even know what happened. I knew the ball was going to go out of bounds, so that was pretty unfortunate."
Nelson gladly gave Atkins the assist for his second interception of the season.
"That's the only reason we get interceptions," Nelson said. "With the pressures they get, it's awesome."
Little got lost in a good zone applied by Nelson and cornerback Adam Jones.
"It was just a good call by Coach (Mike) Zimmer," Nelson said. "(Jones) had him on a deep ball and I had him over the top. It was basically like a double, and it just worked out well."
Atkins kept bringing it and with 6:35 left he ended another series on a third-and-four from the Browns 38. He beat left guard Jason Pinkston to the inside on a move with his hands ("a club rip," he said) that brings him within two sacks of Dan Wilkinson's team record for sacks by a tackle.
"It would be a huge honor," he said. "If I can get it, I'll get it."
But Atkins has noticed teams are starting to double-team him.
"You just have to continue playing fundamentally sound and it will work out," he said.
On Sunday, he fundamentally helped change the game.
NUGENT AGAIN: Add Bengals kicker Mike Nugent to the cool-as-a-cucumber bin when things get tight in the fourth quarter. He hit the tying 40-yard field goal with 10:57 left in the game and the winner from 26 yards with 38 seconds left, making him eight-of-nine in the final quarter and 20-for-21 overall.
His only miss came in the final minutes of the Bengals 27-17 win over the Colts back on Oct. 16, so the Bengals didn't really need it. But when they've needed him …
In the fourth quarter Nugent has given the Bengals two wins, Sunday's and the one at the gun against Buffalo, as well as a short-lived fourth quarter lead in the 49ers loss. He also hit an ice-cold 48-yarder with 4:50 left in Seattle that gave the Bengals an eight-point lead and the next week in Tennessee his 36-yard field goal with 1:55 left accounted for the 24-17 final.
"The fact that the offense moved the ball down the field like they did was the real game-winner," Nugent said Sunday.
But Nugent also had a hand in hemming in Pro Bowl kick returner Josh Cribbs. Cribbs averaged less than 22 yards on his five returns and Nugent added one touchback. And when he didn't get a good hit, like on the last kickoff after he made the field goal, safety Jeromy Miles got a big hit at the Browns 26 for 29 yards, Cribbs's longest return of the day.
Miles had a huge day with four special teams tackles and linebacker Dan Skuta added two, including a big hit on Cribbs that dropped him at the Cleveland 19 early in the third quarter.
"Josh Cribbs is a guy you really have to prepare for; the coaches did a great job getting us ready for him," Nugent said. "I'm a little disappointed that I gave him the opportunities to return the ball, but the team did a good job stopping him."
The Browns were more than ready for Bengals punt returner Brandon Tate. They held him to minus-5 yards on two returns.
But for the 10th time in 11 games the Bengals won field position with an average drive start at their 32 compared to the Browns 29.
Special teams ended up deciding it. Browns kicker Phil Dawson's bid to tie an NFL record with his eighth straight field goal of 50 yards of more and the go-ahead score with 1:51 left on a 55-yarder was thwarted on a rolling snap.
SLANTS AND SCREENS
» Running back Cedric Benson, who logged his fourth 100-yard game against the Browns and the 16th for the Bengals in the 26 games against the 21st-century Browns with 106 yards on 21 carries, credited a family Thanksgiving for running so hard and fast. He popped his longest run (33 yards) since the opener against these Browns and generally looked to be running about 100 miles faster than everyone else.
"We sent a message early. It was Thanksgiving. I had some family come to town. Had some good food. A lot of love," Benson said. "I think that contributed a lot to me being a little faster than everybody. We talked about having a big run. We hadn't had those in awhile. They're fun. They take you back to high school. The offensive line. (Fullback) Chris Pressley fitting up on the linebackers and the receivers downfield. Those guys were playing their tails off for me." Even though he did dent the top 10 Browns red zone defense for a 16-yard touchdown run, Benson got stuffed on fourth-and-goal from the one in the first quarter and he's pretty sure he got in.
Benson, who said he doesn't remember scoring from the 1 "since the summertime," said the Bengals have to make it more decisive so the officials give it to them.
Benson carried just five times in the fourth quarter after pounding it nine times for 64 yards in the first quarter. Offensive coordinator Jay Gruden said the Browns were trying to take away the run with a variety of fronts and that the Bengals needed to loosen them up throwing on first down.
Benson got hurt briefly in the second quarter after catching a pass, but came back after a few snaps.
"I was going out of bounds and I guess some guy from Cleveland was trying to be a superhero," Benson said. "I was thinking, it's kind of my fault because I was showboating a little bit on the play. Next time I'm just going to run straight out of bounds."
Benson is hoping next time that the Bengals don't wait around to need another comeback.
"I think we need to stop being so hard on ourselves," he said. "We need to put teams away early. We've got a lot of talent. I mean to have your tennis shoes untied in the fourth quarter. Guys just have to make their minds up and do it. Until we're there, I hope everybody continues to get there."
» Safety Chris Crocker left the field with his shoulder hanging in the first half after he tackled Browns running back Peyton Hillis, but he came back after Taylor Mays replaced him for a few snaps and he says he'll play next week in Pittsburgh.
» Defensive tackle Pat Sims eschewed a cart after the last play of the third quarter when he hurt his ankle. He limped off instead and appears to have a chance to play against the Steelers.