NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis says Nate Clements, his old pro cornerback that has never been to the playoffs, can taste it. And so can tight end Donald Lee, whose Super Bowl ring he got with the Packers last year is still locked away in a steel vault.
"Oh yeah," Lee said after he had a big hand in the Bengals 24-17 victory over the Titans. "I can taste it. I don't take anything for granted."
Clements, 31, signed to a two-year deal when Johnathan Joseph left, has replaced Joseph's breathtaking athleticism, with big plays at breathtaking moments. The last-instant hustle pass breakup on Bills wide receiver Stevie Johnson in the fourth quarter. The fourth quarter blocked field goal on Hall of Famer Adam Vinatieri. Sunday it was his strip of tight end Jared Cook and recovered fumble on the Titans 21 with less than four minutes left that eventually gave the Bengals a seven-point pad.
It left Lewis shaking his head.
"He always makes plays. He's a pro and he has never been to the playoffs. He can taste it," Lewis said. "These guys play hard because of the way he goes about his business. That's a guy that has never been to the playoffs and what a role model he is for these guys."
Clements wanted to still all playoff talk.
"It's a long season. I'm not going to take the cheese. That's what rats do," he said. "I'm just taking it a day at a time … our mentality around here is just take it as one game. Our most important game was this game that we played. That's where our attention and focus was."
The strip is Clements's M.O. It was the 21st of his career. Usually he pulls it out of there thinking someone else will rally. This time he did it all on his own and fell on it for his second fumble recovery of the season after his second forced fumble. Not an easy task against a team that had fumbled just twice.
"I just work on my craft trying to be a complete player," Clements said. "It's reaction. I thought he was holding it a little bit loose and I tried to get my hand on it. Usually the first guy makes the tackle and the second guy makes the strip, but I saw the ball was loose in there and I took a shot for it."
Outside linebacker Thomas Howard looked over at Clements's locker and observed: "He's a pro. Everything you want in a football player. Tough, disciplined, smart."
TIGHT CALL: With Jermaine Gresham out for a second straight week with a hamstring injury, Lee, the nine-year vet from Reggie Kelly's school (Mississippi State) and the Reggie Kelly School of quiet professionalism had another big game. He caught three balls for 49 yards, two big ones that made the first touchdown drive.
One came on a 22-yard screen and the other a 25-yarder on a big third-and-nine where Lee beat strong safety Jordan Babineaux down the seam.
"I just read the safety, found a hole, and Andy (Dalton) put it right there," Lee said.
But he seemed more excited about rookie tight end Colin Cochart's first NFL touchdown on a one-yard pass that ended that drive and it reminded him of his first TD in the league with the Dolphins in 2003.
"The thing that reminded me about it was his spike," Lee said. "I wanted to make sure it wasn't a sissy spike and I really slammed it. So did he. He did a good job."