A week after challenging his quarterback and middle linebacker, Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis challenged his offensive and defensive lines and everyone answered the bell in a 31-13 three-phase domination of the Super Bowl champion Giants on Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium.
"The guys know that the playoffs started today," cornerback Adam Jones said after a busy day he stopped a Giants scoring drive with a forced fumble and set up a touchdown with a 68-yard punt return.
The front four penetrated the Giants offensive line that came into the game leading the NFL in pass protection for four sacks, half of what the Giants had allowed all year as middle linebacker Rey Maualuga oversaw the shutdown of Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning with a game-high 12 tackles.
Meanwhile, the offensive line kept the league's most notorious front four at bay as Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton threw a career-high four touchdown passes while not taking a sack.
The Bengals drove a ton of demons out of PBS. It was their first win since Sept. 30, the first victory over a winning team in eight games since last year's Nov. 6 victory in Tennessee, and their first win over a Super Bowl winning quarterback in 11 tries.
Cincinnati had just nine turnovers all year, but came up with four turnovers in a 14-minute span of the second half against the NFC East leader that was second in the NFL with a 14-plus turnover differential and already had three fourth-quarter wins.
"It should be a boost of confidence to know you can do things like that," Jones said. "It was an unbelievable day for the Bengals."
Left end Carlos Dunlap, sackless in the four-game losing streak, had 1.5 Sunday, and while sack leader Geno Atkins didn't have a sack he was plastered on Manning for his two interceptions.
"We're supposed to be the strength of this team and I think we did a good job setting the tone today," left end Robert Geathers said of his line after he had sack. "You've got to take your hat off the to the DBs. They covered their butts off. Eli had to pump the ball. I'd say that's how we got our sacks."
Jones left the game with about five minutes left with a calf injury, but indications are he'll be OK and that it wasn't major.
GREEN ANSWERS: Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green learned a lesson from the New York media and the Giants defensive backs learned a lesson from Green when Dalton fired the game's first five passes his way and came out of it with three catches for 71 yards and a 7-0 lead in the game's first 2:26.
Green was wide open down the right sideline on a first-down play-action fake for a 56-yard touchdown catch. He would go on to finish with seven catches for 86 yards even though he caught one ball for minus one yard in the second half.
"You can't have that against anybody that you are going against. Everybody gets paid in this league. Everybody is good. You can't have miscommunication," Giants cornerback Corey Webster said of the TD. "They are already a good team. We don't need to give them a 50-yarder to start. You can't have that. You have to have better communication—communicate every play. You have to be great communicators on the field, and we weren't."
Green also suffered a communication lapse earlier in the week on former Bengals quarterback Boomer Esiason's radio show in New York in which he agreed with the assertion the Giants defense had holes.
"That question was really blown out of proportion. I didn't say that. He said the question. I said we had opportunities," Green said. "It's not my character to talk trash about anybody. Anybody who knows me knows I don't talk trash at all.
"I have to think about the question, replay it in my mind, then answer it."
Green, cool and calm as always despite his first media storm, had all the answers on the field.
"I just go out there and play my game," he said. "I don't get too high, I don't get too low. That's one thing about me. I stay pretty even. I don't care what it is."
When he saw the quotes, Giants safety Antrel Rolle warned Green that he better be looking his way because he was going to "talk with my pads," but after the game Green said they spoke.
"I said, 'Good game,' and he said,' Good game.' That was it," Green said.
And he certainly is even in the Bengals record book with T.J. Houshmandzadeh. They now hold the season record for most consecutive games with a touchdown catch with eight.
ADAM ENERGY: The Bengals have won two home games this season and in each one backup cornerback Adam Jones lit up the game's first four minutes with a big punt return and helped set the tone for the day.
But that wasn't his only contribution Sunday. He also forced a huge fumble at the Bengals 14 and added three passes defensed and five tackles playing on the outside when the Giants went three receivers and cornerback Leon Hall dealt with Giants receiver Victor Cruz in the slot.
Jones has been playing sparingly from scrimmage lately (he only played three snaps last week), but with Nate Clements helping fill the spot of inactive starting safety Reggie Nelson (hamstring), Jones played a significant amount.
"Today it was my day. I'm just working hard, not (pouting) when I'm not in there and go when my number's called," Jones said. "My life is so much easier. I had a lot to deal with that I don't have to deal with. I'm just happy for the team."
But the punt was pure Adam energy.
Against Cleveland it was an 81-yard touchdown 1:47 into the game back in September. On Sunday against the Super Bowl champion Giants it was a 68-yarder 3:49 into a game the Bengals already led, 7-0, and put the ball on the Giants 11.
That set up three touchdowns where the drives began inside the Giants 17 with Jones's return, defensive tackle Pat Sims's interception at the 12 and cornerback Nate Clements's 21-yard interception return to the 16.
Jones caught it down the middle and had time to size it up. He went right, made running back Andre Brown miss with a pirouette, paused before cutting back left, stepped out of linebacker Michael Boley's tackle and kept going to the left edge until punter Steve Weatherford slowed him down enough to get tackled at the Giants 11.
"You know I don't know until I watch it," Jones said when asked what he saw on the return. "Should've got in the end zone, but I'll look back over it and see what I should've done and we'll go from there.
"All I know is I broke right, (saw) two people I had to beat, and was like 'Well, I might as well go back to the other side.' (Special teams coach) Darren (Simmons) and (my teammates) get all the praise and the kudos. "
Manning had 215 yards on 29-of-46 passing and the big difference from what happened last week against big brother Peyton is that the Bengals covered the receivers tougher and didn't let them get any yards after catch at the insistence of defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer.
"Zim's been stressing that all week. If he catches the ball, his (butt) gets hit right there where he catches it," Jones said. "We've got a lot of first-rounders in here. Guys don't just tuck their tails after a couple of games. We've got a great group of guys working hard and we'll see how it goes this week."
Jones's forced fumble came at a huge moment. It came just five minutes into the second half and at the end of running back Ahmad Bradshaw's 11-yard run as the Giants busted into the red zone looking to cut the lead to 17-13. Bradshaw had it high, Jones dislodged it with a claw, and left end Carlos Dunlap recovered it.
"He tried to run me over and I went for the ball; it was a great football play," Jones said. "We've been practicing that all week, stripping the ball. It paid off today."
SLANTS AND SCREENS
» Rookie WILL backer Vontaze Burfict injured his elbow and briefly left in the third quarter, but returned wearing a pad to finish off his eight-tackle game.
» Rookie wide receiver Mohamad Sanu not only caught his first NFL touchdown pass on third-and-four, but he caught first downs on third-and-eight and fourth-and-two and also converted a third-and-two when he ran for three yards lined up next to Dalton in the shotgun.
» The Democrats may have a new trend when it comes to NFL ties. On Sunday, five days after Barack Obama was re-elected president, the 49ers and Rams played to the first NFL tie since the Bengals and Eagles finished 13-13 on Nov. 16, 2008 at Paul Brown Stadium. That was 12 days after Obama won his first term.
» The man from USA Today threw out a trivia question in the press box.
Who was the Bengals quarterback that day?