Don't look now, but the Bengals defense is as white hot as the record Paycor crowd of 67,270 that watched them Thursday night dismantle the undefeated Dolphins and their eighth-ranked offense.
While the offense battles inconsistency, the defense has yet to allow a second-half touchdown in the season's four games. They've given up just one touchdown in the last 11 quarters, they're allowing just 17.5 points per game and on Thursday they slowed Miami's Olympic steeplechase passing game while coming up with two turnovers courtesy of strong safety Vonn Bell on the heels of forcing four turnovers in New York.
"It's the people you have on your defense that matter, not the calls," said defensive end Sam Hubbard. "This is a great group. When something goes wrong, there's no finger pointing or blame. We just go to the next play."
Just like Hubbard did.
Here are some snippets from Thursday night showing why this defense is so good:
It was late second quarter and it looked like the Bengals were about to put in the dagger. The Dolphins were reeling. After they watched their quarterback strapped on a board and wheeled off the field, Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow sifted a 59-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Tee Higgins to put the Bengals up 14-6 as Dolphins backup quarterback Teddy Bridgewater came in for his first full series.
And when Hubbard and rookie defensive tackle Zach Carter converged on running back Raheem Mostert to set up a third-and-four, the refs threw a roughing flag on Hubbard that the Bengals couldn't understand because they still haven't heard a whistle. Bridgewater wriggled off the hook and kept the Dolphins in the game with Miami's lone touchdown drive that made it close the rest of the way.
But they shrugged it off. Tyreek Hill went off for 160 yards. His partner in one of the NFL's most dynamic duos didn't. Jaylen Waddle had just two catches for 39 yards.
With Bengals free safety Jessie Bates III noting that Waddle still had a limp from a groin injury, he saw the Dolphins "trying to get it to 10 (Hill). That was the plan."
Not unlike what the Chiefs did with Hill in the AFC title game eight months ago. Bates said the Bengals rolled out a pretty similar defense.
"Playing some quarters (coverage)," Bates said. "When you've got two fast, dynamic guys like that, you have to keep a shell, you can't play single-high. Besides on third-down when we got stops. It was similar."
Third down? The Bengals won eight of 10 of them with the big one middle linebacker Logan Wilson blowing up Edmonds with 10 minutes left on third-and-inches. The offense had just missed a golden opportunity to punch it in from the 1 and the Bengals' lead was only 17-15.
But here came Wilson, continuing to play like a Pro Bowler.
"I was going to shoot the B gap on the right. That was my gap responsibility. As the tight end motioned over, my gap switched, so I knew they had to go into that gap, so I just shot my shot."
Just like linebacker Akeem Davis-Gaither did in the second quarter on one of his 11 snaps. With the Dolphins driving on second-and-10 from the Bengals 30, Davis-Gaither ran across the middle with Waddle and dislodged the ball from him as he went to the ground and the Dolphins had to settle for a field goal.
Bates called Wilson's stop the defensive play of the game because the Bengals converted the punt to Evan McPherson's 57-yard field goal, his third 50 of the year, to make it 20-15.
"You think about what we have on every single level," Bates said of his defense. "(Nose tackle) DJ (Reader) didn't play tonight and we've still got B.J. Hill and Josh Tupou. Then at linebacker you've got Logan, Germaine (Pratt) and Akeem. In the secondary you've got a bunch of guys that love each other like brothers and it's a real cool experience to see everybody get better."
Defensive backs like Eli Apple, who played all 64 snaps after getting a few needles from Hill earlier in the week. Apple responded by playing smartly and not getting beat deep. He thinks the Dolphins got taken aback a bit when defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo didn't travel Chidobe Awuzie with the best receiver like he has been doing. Instead, he kept Awuzie and Apple on their sides.
"Lou's a mad scientist. He likes to do some crazy stuff," Apple said. "I like it when we play sides."
Earlier in the week, the Bengals DBs talked about how they would have to know where their help and leverage was at all time. But on Bell's first interception, Awuizie had no help. Until he did when Hill blazed down the middle and Tua launched it. But he underthrew it just enough for Bell to make a basket catch as Hill leered.
"We were in a certain coverage and he had over the top, and I had the fastest man in this game," said Awuzie of Hill. " I looked back and I was like, 'OK, I feel kind of naked here' with no help in that certain call, and I saw Vonn just flash across my eyes and make a great play. It was like a big momentum shift for the game. That's what started it all — it was just a big momentum shift for the game. The second one was just as important as it gave us position to score again ... Vonn had a hell of a game, and it's a testament to all the time he puts in."
The second one came with the Bengals leading, 20-15, with three minutes left and Bridgewater took a shot at his tight end. But the ball sailed on him and Bell was there again to cradle it just before it hit the ground.
"Vonn deserves that," Bates said. "He's the first guy in here every morning."