After recording a career-high 11.5 sacks last year, Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Michael Johnson has three through 11 games this season.
But while he may not be getting to the quarterback as often, he’s one of the league leaders in getting his hands on the ball.
Johnson enters Sunday’s game at San Diego ranked third in the NFL with five tipped passes, one shy of the league lead shared by Philadelphia’s Connor Barwin and Jacksonville’s Sen’Derrick Marks, according to STATS, LLC.
“You rush and try to beat your guy and if you see (the quarterback) getting ready to throw, get your hands up,” the 6-foot-7 Johnson said. “Most have to look when they finally decide where they’re going to throw the ball. And if they look in my direction, the ball is probably coming that way.”
Such was the case in the Bengals’ most recent game against Cleveland, when Johnson tipped a pair of Jason Campbell passes that drastically swung the momentum of the game.
The first came on a third-and-goal play when Campbell had a wide-open receiver in the end zone. Johnson’s tip resulted in an incompletion and forced the Browns to settle for a field goal that kept the score close at 6-0.
“I came to the sideline and everybody was excited,” Johnson said. “I just thought it was a tipped pass. I didn’t know somebody was wide open. Just turned out like that.”
Johnson’s second tipped pass came at the end of the first quarter with the Bengals trailing 13-0. The deflected ball settled into the arms of James Harrison for an interception, and a few plays later Andy Dalton hit Jermaine Gresham with a 25-yard touchdown pass to kickstart what would be 31 unanswered points.
With Johnson on one side and 6-6 Carlos Dunlap on the other, the Bengals rank among the top teams in the league with 10 tipped passes.
It’s something they strive for in practice and in games when balls come their way.
“Sometimes you get it, but a lot of times you don’t,” Johnson said. “The percentage is a lot lower of getting it than not getting it. But when you do get it, good things happen.”
Injury report: Linebacker Rey Maualuga (knee), defensive tackle Devon Still (elbow) and cornerback Chris Crocker (hamstring) all returned to full participation at Wednesday’s practice.
Still has missed the last four games, Maualuga three and Crocker one.
James Harrision, who missed Monday’s light session for an undisclosed reason, also was a full participant.
Right guard Kevin Zeitler, who missed the Cleveland game with a foot injury, and punter Kevin Huber (left ankle) did not practice, and linebacker Michael Boley (shoulder) was limited.
“We are about as good as you would hope to be at this point in the year,” Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis said of the team’s injury situation. “We’ve got to feel blessed, knock on wood, to be where we are at this point in the season. That you have to feel pretty good about.”
Qualcomm memories: Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton will try to run his record to 5-0 at Qualcomm Stadium when the Bengals face the San Diego Chargers there on Sunday.
In addition to leading the Bengals to a 20-13 victory at Qualcomm last year, Dalton was 3-0 at the stadium in college, leading TCU to a pair of regular-season wins against San Diego State in addition to a 17-16 triumph over Boise State in the 2008 Poinsettia Bowl.
“Yeah, there’s been some good games,” Dalton said. “Some plays that I remember, a couple big games that I had. It’s been a fun stadium for me to play in.”
Dalton actually has rushed for more touchdowns (four) than he has thrown (three) in his four games at Qualcomm, where he is 84 of 132 for 945 yards with interceptions to go along with the three TD passes.
He scored the game-winning touchdown on a 6-yard run in last year’s game at Qualcomm.
Ticket deal: On Friday the Bengals will be holding a special “Orange and Black Friday” event during which single-game tickets Dec. 22 vs. Minnesota and Dec. 29 vs. Baltimore can be purchased through Bengals.com with no service fees.
This elimination of fees can save buyers approximately 15 percent off the normal cost. The promotion will begin at 1 a.m. Friday and run through midnight.
The team also is offering a Holiday Ticket Pack, where fans buying both Minnesota and Baltimore tickets will secure guaranteed access to purchase home playoff tickets.