The goal-line stand is football in its purest form and bares the soul of any defense. From Pop Warner to the GCL to the SEC to the AFC North, it takes a punishing array of strength, discipline and will.
The Bengals have stood tall the past two weeks, giving nothing on six snaps from the 1, and it not only won them two games but it revealed just what has made them tick under defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer.
"We're disciplined, smart players that run to the ball," backup linebacker Vinnie Rey decided after a long pause Monday, agreeing that Sunday's events that began the second quarter in Buffalo can be an identifiable moment.
If the Bengals offense has finally found its identity the past two weeks with grinding, physical play from its offensive line and wide receivers spiced by the momentary big play by a growing cast of characters, then the defense offered a reminder why it's been a top 10 unit the past three seasons in holding the Patriots to a field goal and snapping the Bills streak of scoring points in all 17 of their red-zone drives.
"It's them vs. us. It's your will vs. my will," said defensive tackle Domata Peko. "We just went out there and created a new line of scrimmage and attacked them and got the job done.
"Coach Zimmer always says 'create a new line of scrimmage.' That's what we were trying to do. They needed half a yard and four plays to get it. It's just all about attitude, their will against ours. We put our foot on the gas pedal and shut them down."
Peko and his defensive line of Geno Atkins, Brandon Thompson, Michael Johnson and Carlos Dunlap anchored the charge starting on second-and-goal from the 1 and the Bengals protecting a 10-7 lead on the first play of the second quarter.
Rey and his linebacker corps of Vontaze Burfict, Ray Maualuga and James Harrison were there to swoop in from the second level along with the defense's two smallest players on the field, a pair of 225-230 pound safeties in Taylor Mays and George Iloka.
"I think we've got tough players on our team and Zim has a tough mindset, regardless of whether they drive 98 yards to our one-yard line," Mays said. "We can still keep them out. And that's kind of how the defense thinks. It starts from the top down and we have players that really buy into that."
It doesn't take a senior software developer to figure it out. The Bills didn't score and the Bengals did when they got the ball back on a 98-yard touchdown haul. A 14-point swing in a 27-24 overtime victory?
But never mind the numbers.
"It can make an impact on the game and change the momentum because this is a game of momentum," Rey said.
Those were the only four snaps from scrimmage Rey played on Sunday and four of the 21 Mays played in various packages. But they came up big on third down when Mays crashed down to get an arm in and Rey came over the top to make sure the 216-pound Fred Jackson wasn't going to leap over the plane of the goal line behind the lead block of 5-9, 250-pound fullback Frank Summers.
"Everybody has a gap. If the ball comes into your gap, make sure you don't let him get in," Rey said. "Everyone is relying on me to do my job and I'm trusting Taylor is going to do his job. They stood him up and I just jumped over to make sure he didn't sneak in. It wasn't going to be me."
A team effort, but 11 guys taking it personally.
Rey's job was to key Bills quarterback Thad Lewis and make sure he didn't pull the ball in a play-action fake. Once he saw it was run, Rey could fly to the ball.
But that's about all the strategy there is.
"You can't really think because it happens so fast. You can't think run or pass. You just have to see, hit and drive your feet," Mays said as he described his third-down play. "I took on the wing and somebody on the D-line did a hell of a job because the running back had nowhere to go."
On second and third down, Jackson, with Summers leading him, tried to go behind 324-pound right guard Kraig Urbik. The Bills also put an extra offensive lineman out there in 6-7, 310-pound tackle Thomas Welch. On second down, Harrison knifed in from the second level to grab Jackson's legs while Burfict stood him up.
"I remember I went really low and he tried to jump over the pile and Geno got some good penetration and Vinnie Rey came in and finished him off," Peko said of the second-down play. "(Third down was the) same type of thing where we just tried to blow up the line of scrimmage. At that time a lot of running backs try to jump over the pile, but our linebackers are real stout and met him at the top."
Rey: "Zim gives a call, but we just go."
Peko: "It's just 'goal line.' Zim makes the call and we just run the plays. It was real big for us. We needed that. It was a big stop. They didn't get three points, they got no points."
Mays: "I'm playing down, (darn) near defensive end. They ran to my side I think three times. ... They were trying to run kick out, kick out, and we've got those big linebackers coming from the inside. We (on the edge) just have to turn it back. I'm just trying to go in there and blow something up. And let the big guys finish it off."
On fourth down, Rey got his play-action fake from Lewis, his old teammate at Duke.
"Every time he handed off the ball, I was looking for him to keep it," Rey said. "That's my job. Especially because I've seen him do it in college. Keying the quarterback, making sure he doesn't come to my side."
On fourth down Lewis faked the run and rolled right in the classic two-way go. Rey plastered Summers coming out of the backfield and followed him to the pylon while also peeking behind to make sure his buddy wasn't running. But Lewis was in trouble because Harrison was in pursuit. When Rey realized Lewis had nowhere to throw and had tucked it, he broke off Summers. But Harrison had already wrapped him up for his first Bengals sack.
"James came and made a play," Rey said. "I came up to help, but James made the play."
Which, in the end, is the strategy.
"We've got a tough team with a tough D-line; it's a tough defensive mindset. It's fun," Mays said.
After the game, Lewis hugged Rey and looked for a photographer to take a picture of the two Dukies.
"He told me it was good to be on the field with me," Rey said.
Except for four snaps.