Two streaks — one impressive, one ignominious — disappeared in a deluge Sunday afternoon at Paul Brown Stadium as the Cincinnati Bengals pressured, plastered and eventually picked off New England quarterback Tom Brady.
The Cincinnati defense recorded four sacks and hit Brady a total of eight times as they snapped his run of consecutive games with a touchdown pass at 52, two shy of the NFL record.
And the Bengals offense ended a dry spell of 120 minutes and 34 seconds without a touchdown in the fourth quarter when former Patriot BenJarvus Green-Ellis scored on fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line for the deciding points in a 13-6 victory that knocked New England (4-1) from the ranks of the unbeaten.
“Obviously that’s a huge win for a football team that was playing a good team,” Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said after watching his team improve to 3-2 to stay in in a first-place tie with Cleveland and Baltimore in the AFC North Division.
“I thought the defensive group up front got after it,” Lewis added. “They understood, recognized and felt the play (action) passes, and that’s the difference. We were able to get pressure on their play-pass game, which is difficult to do.”
And they did it right off the bat, with All-Pro defensive tackle Geno Atkins sacking Brady on the second snap of the game to set the tone for what was to come.
“Geno always sets a tone,” Bengals cornerback Adam Jones said. “We had a saying before Brady came into town: Brady’s undefeated, and Geno’s undefeated, too. No. 97 is a remarkable player.”
Defensive end Wallace Gilberry, who was starting for Michael Johnson (concussion), had two drive-ending sacks on third-down plays, forcing a fumble on the second one. And linebacker Vontaze Burfict registered a drive-thwarting sack of his own on third down as Mike Zimmer’s defense held the Patriots to only 248 yards of total offense.
“Coach Zimmer knew exactly what they were going to run, called great defensive plays and we executed them,” said Burfict, who finished with a team-high eight tackles.
The Cincinnati offense labored as well for a second consecutive game after failing to score a touchdown the week before in a 17-6 loss at Cleveland. Despite a re-commitment to the run game that yielded a season-high 162 yards on the ground, the Bengals struggled to maintain anything with quarterback Andy Dalton throwing for only 107 yards through the first two and a half quarters.
But after four consecutive incomplete passes to start the second half, Dalton went 10-of-11 for 105 yards in leading back-to-back long scoring drives.
A 13-play, 59-yard march ended with a Mike Nugent 50-yard field goal that broke a 3-3 tie. And then a 14-play, 93-yard statement of a series culminated with Green-Ellis converting on fourth-and-goal for the only touchdown of the game.
“When we don’t have mistakes on offense and shoot ourselves in the foot, we have good drives like that and do good things,” said Green-Ellis, who ran for 67 yards against his former team. “That’s the kind of drive we have to put together more consistently.”
New England answered by going 75 yards in three plays to set up first-and-goal at the 1, but the Bengals held them to a Stephen Gostkowski field goal that trimmed the lead to 13-6.
“We had our chances,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. “In the end, the game came down to some red-area chances. Not much to say other than they did a better job today.”
A Giovani Bernard fumble gave the ball back to the Patriots at the Cincinnati 44. But that’s when the torrential rains began, and the drive ended with Gilberry sacking Brady on third down with 3:34 left.
New England held the Bengals to a three and out to give Brady (18-of-38 for 197 yards) one more chance. He drove the Patriots to the Bengals’ 27 with 26 seconds remaining, but on first down he tried to force a ball to Aaron Dobson. Jones tipped the pass away and then watched it fall into his arms as he lay on the ground to end the game — and Brady’s remarkable streak that fell two shy of Drew Brees’ record.
“I was down on the ground like, ‘Thank you, Jesus. Thank you,’ ” Jones said. “When you’re playing against our guys up front, you have to think a little bit more because they are coming. You see a couple plays where I got pushed by and I was praying to God that they got there, and they got there. It worked together. I commend those guys up front. We did a hell of a job.”