INDIANAPOLIS - All spring and summer new Bengals defensive coordinator Teryl Austin has been screaming about “scoop and score, scoop and score,” to his players that generated the second fewest turnovers in the NFL last season.
So naturally the Bengals’ wild 34-23 Opening Day victory over the Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium came courtesy of safety Clayton Fejedelem’s 83-yard scoop-and-score of Colts tight end Jack Doyle’s fumble to interrupt Andrew Luck’s comeback comeback with 24 seconds left.
And just as fitting, the two guys that caused the fumble, Fejedelem and middle linebacker Hardy Nickerson, came off the bench to do it. If safety Shawn Williams hadn’t been ejected for hitting Luck in the first quarter and middle linebacker Preston Brown hadn’t turned his ankle late in the first half, they wouldn’t have been on the field.
“Next man up is our mentality,” said Fejedelem, best known for being a captain and special teams bulwark who roamed for 10 tackles in place of Williams. “(Doyle) presented his chest. I saw the ball and I tried to do what I could and the ball kind of popped. The rest is history running down the field.”
Except rookie safety Jessie Bates III was telling him to get down and not run it back, as the textbook says.
“I told him after the game, ‘I don’t blame you at all,’” Bates said. “If you can make a play, make a play.”
Not only did the special teamer make a play, so did Nickerson. It was Nickerson covering Doyle on third and 15 from the Bengals 30 and grabbing him at the 15, trying to keep him from the first down and Doyle looked short. Fejedelem went high and Nickerson went low. Nickerson thinks one of those pulls got the ball out.
“Inside leverage and he broke away from my leverage,” Nickerson said. “I made the tackle to pulled him back. They had run a similar route on third-and-10 and I just tried to pull him back from the (first-down) stick.”
Apparently Bates wasn’t the only guy trying to tell Fejedelem to take a knee so quarterback Andy Dalton could.
“There were a lot of guys telling me to stay down,” Fejedelem, “But every now and then you just need a highlight.”
DALTON HITS: Dalton out-pitched Luck with 21 of 28 passing for 243 yards and two touchdowns (a 109.7 passer rating to Luck’s 93.2), but nobody was talking about his passing after his 18th fourth-quarter comeback and third in the last five Opening Days
He made a touchdown-saving tackle on the second play of the game and with the Bengals looking deep into the abyss, not to mention a third-and-six from the Bengals 40 with 6:25 left in the third quarter down 23-10 Dalton eschewed all QB protocol running out of the pocket. He didn’t slide and got drilled picking up the first down. If he did slide, he doesn’t make it. But he was still mad.
“That was dumb on my part,” Dalton said. “I felt like if I kept running to the outside (it would have been a first down). “I was mad at myself. I got the first down, but I took a hit.”
He said when he made the tackle on Moore he wasn’t flashing back to his season-ending broken thumb tackling the Steelers’ Stephon Tuitt late in the 2015 play-off run.
After he threw a dying quail to running back Joe Mixon with pressure in his face on a screen that went bad, Dalton saw at about the 10-yard line he was the only guy between Moore and the end zone. Dalton forced him to make a cut and he brought him down at the Bengals 7. Big? Two plays later Preston Brown picked off Luck
“In that moment I was the last guy,” Dalton said. “Those are big plays. “
Dalton had fun with it.
“Shawn (Williams) was out of the game so I had to make a (safety) play,” Dalton said, unable to keep a straight face. Asked what he was thinking, Dalton said, “Just laying the hammer.” That wasn’t with a straight face, either.
When Dalton was told the scoreboard said he had the fourth fastest time of the game chasing down Moore, he said he made sure he told the huddle where he was on the list.
But he was quite serious when he said he got hit a few times in the head and was upset it wasn’t called. When someone observed he didn’t get the protection Luck got since the Bengals were called three times for roughing Luck, Dalton said, “I felt the same way,” after he uncharacteristically went nuts on two officials after an early third-down pass got knocked down.
“To get hit in the head when they’re supposed to be looking at me,” Dalton said with a shake of his head.
DUNLAP’S REVENGE: Left end Carlos Dunlap got two roughing calls on Luck and one was huge late in the third quarter and the Bengals trailing, 23-16. It was on third down and forced Luck into a backward pass that Fejedelem tracked down at the 4. But the flag slowly came out after Dunlap bear hugged him and took him to the ground.
Wide receiver A.J. Green was one of the guys that thought Dunlap got robbed. “You could have killed him,” Green told Dunlap.
Dunlap agreed. Luck, who missed all last season, was being scrutinized.
“I was upset because I thought I did the next best thing,” Dunlap said. “I didn’t try to drive him into the ground. I rolled right off him right away. I let the ref know I wasn’t trying to be malicious. Andrew Luck, after two years, they’ll call it tight regardless. No other way for me to avoid him. On the back side, I tried not to drive him into the ground.”
Of course, on the next second down, Dunlap sacked him, forcing Adam Vinatieri into a 55-yard miss that may have put it out of reach at 26-16, Colts. He admitted, he was looking for a flag.
“It was an unbelievable feeling to respond with a sack clean by NFL standards,” said Dunlap, an impassive sort who was as fired up after that sack as he’s ever been. “I didn’t want to put us in a bad situation. I just wanted to get us out of a bad a situation.”
After watching Williams get ejected, Fejedelem was philosophical: “If it had been anybody but Andrew Luck, it probably would have been just a penalty. But it’s a quarterback-driven league and there’s not too many good teams that don’t have one.”