SEATTLE — For some reason when he dropped back to return a punt with the Bengals leading, 20-12, here Sunday, wide receiver Brandon Tate knew, "I was going to do something special."
Why not? Moments before he had made a huge 45-yard return on a kickoff that went a long way in setting up Mike Nugent's 48-yard field goal with 4:50 left that stemmed the momentum Seattle had gained to cut the lead to 17-12 four minutes before.
"All the credit goes to the other 10 guys on the field," Tate said after he had taken that punt 56 yards for his first NFL punt return touchdown. "You should be interviewing them."
But all the credit has to go to the Bengals for picking up Tate on waivers from New England a week before the season. He contributed heavily to their perfect October with key punt returns in every game, highlighted by the 33-yarder two weeks ago against the Colts early in the second half that set up the breathing-room touchdown at 17-7.
And the week before that in Jacksonville, his 22-yarder set up the tying touchdown at the end of the half and his 19-yarder translated into a field goal that gave the Bengals a brief fourth-quarter lead. On Oct. 2 against Buffalo what looked to be an obscure 11-yarder in the middle of the third quarter set up the touchdown that cut the lead to 17-13 in Cincinnati's second-half comeback.
Still, after Sunday's game, it was that final kickoff return that special teams coach Darrin Simmons was talking about.
"Brandon broke a couple of tackles and that was nice to see," Simmons said. "It came at a critical time."
It was Simmons who had no qualms about putting Tate at punt return even though he had never done it in his two NFL seasons and was more accomplished after returning two kicks for scores for the Patriots last season.
And it was Simmons who didn't hesitate at putting cornerback Adam Jones back there the first chance he could get Sunday when Jones was active for the first time since injuring his neck a year and a week ago.
He was rewarded with Jones's longest return since he went 90 yards for the Titans five years ago on a 63-yard return that set the tone for the day while setting up the first Bengals touchdown that made it 10-0 late in the first quarter.
The two returns showcase just how important special teams have been this season. The Bengals have won the field position battle in every game with average drive starts, Nugent has made all but one of his field goals, and on Sunday they allowed Pro Bowl kick returner Leon Washington just one long one (42 yards) in five tries.
"No, no. Don't say I was tired," said Jones, who got pushed out of bounds at the Seattle 26 by punter John Ryan. "It was the hamstring. But I didn't pull it. It just grabbed."
Jones didn't return for the rest of the game, but he was there when Tate asked him how he did it.
"Don't juke, take it and go."
Which is what Jones did. But his one cut at the point of attack as cornerback Leon Hall and wide receiver Andrew Hawkins cleared it out for him, caused him to tweak the hamstring.
"Sometimes people forget that everybody is down there coming after you," Jones said. "But you've got to slow it down and get it up the field and go."
Jones's enthusiasm turned out to be contagious. And he was the first one to greet Tate after the touchdown with a chest bump. Tate has frustrated Simmons at times with his stutter-steps, but the decisive move on the touchdown had him smiling.
"He works hard and he's been getting better," Simmons said.
Jones is saying he'll be back for Sunday's game in Tennessee against the Titans, the team that drafted him with a top 10 pick six years ago.
"I'm not going to miss that one," he said.
DOUBLE MOVE: The rookie tandem of quarterback Andy Dalton and wide receiver A.J. Green continue to light it up. They hooked up for their longest touchdown of the season with 1:51 left in the first half.
On first-and-15 (after a false start on right tackle Andre Smith), Dalton bobbed and weaved from pressure, stepped up when he saw Green one-one-with safety Earl Thomas, and dropped it over his right shoulder for a 43-yard touchdown that made it 17-3.
"Thomas is a great safety, but he tries to stop the run a little bit," Green said. "I tried to give him a little move and go over the top … I gave him a little something inside, went over the top and Andy gave me the perfect ball."
It was a double move with Green stopping and starting on a play that gave him his fifth touchdown of the season for a pace that would give him the first double-digit touchdowns by a Bengals receiver since T.J. Houshmandzadeh's Pro Bowl 12 in 2007.
And Dalton showed he's never shy going deep to his guy. In the second half he got picked off twice inside the Seattle 10 on bombs he had Green working, for the most part, one-on-one. On the first one, with 4:26 left in the third quarter, rookie cornerback Richard Sherman got his first NFL interception when he jumped in front of Green on the right sideline.
"I ran around him. It was a bad release. It's one of the things I have to work on," Green said. "I was trying to be patient and I really didn't get on top of him like I was supposed to."
Then on the next series with 12:29 left in the game, Dalton went down the right sideline again to Green, and Sherman was on him again but safety Kam Chancellor was also there at the last instant on one of those plays it looked like Seattle moved the safety over the top of Green at the last instant. The ball got hit in the air and Chancellor caught it, but the ball looked to be underthrown.
Still, Green said, "I make that play nine out of 10 times."
No matter. Green came in leading all NFL rookie receivers with yards and touchdowns and Dalton is still going to gun for him. He targeted him 10 times out of his 29 passes for four catches and 63 yards.
"A.J. is a great player. We're going to do everything we can to take shots with him, and give him a chance to make a play," Dalton said. "We did that today, and a couple of times, I threw interceptions off of it, but I think we're still going to take shots with him."
PRESSURE PACKED: Back in April, Seattle picked Alabama right tackle James Carpenter with the 25th pick after also considering Dalton.
Bengals left end Carlos Dunlap tortured Carpenter all day and got by him one last time with three and a half minutes left in the game on third-and-nine and the Bengals leading by eight. His first sack of the season couldn't have come at a better time when he dumped quarterback Tarvaris Jackson at the Seattle 9 to set up Tate's touchdown return.
Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer dropped eight into coverage and rushed three because he knew Dunlap or somebody else was probably going to win. After all, Dunlap had already hurried Seattle quarterbacks five times and lured Carpenter into one holding penalty when the officials could have called two more.
"With the eight-man rotation we're pretty confident that we can get pressure one-on-one," Dunlap said. "They'd been giving up some pressure all year. (Jackson) uses his feet pretty well and we were trying not to let him get outside contain."
Joining Dunlap in the sack parade were safety Chris Crocker on a blitz, end Frostee Rucker, and tackle Geno Atkins to give the Bengals 18 on the season and a pace for 41, their most under Zimmer. Although Dunlap came into the game leading the team with 11 quarterback pressures a season after he set the team rookie record with 9.5 sacks, he had yet to get one this season until Sunday. But he did it with the game on the line.
"With all those pressures and no sacks, it means you're not getting there so it was nice to get the burden off and get home," Dunlap said. "It was huge. You never want to rush it. But the play came to me and I was able to capitalize on the opportunity."
It was another huge game by the front eight in the rotation, as well as a linebacker corps manned by backup middle linebacker Dan Skuta and backup outside linebacker Brandon Johnson. They gave running back Marshawn Lynch just 24 yards on 16 carries.
"We knew he's one of the best backs in the league and that they were going to try and run it and that they had a shaky quarterback situation," tackle Domata Peko said. "We gave up a lot of passing yards (350), but it seemed like he was just dropping back and throwing it up in the air to his wide receivers."
Mission accomplished. When the Bengals suffocated the run and Charlie Whitehurst couldn't offer a thing, Seattle turned to the hurting Jackson, still suffering from a pulled pectoral muscle.