Lost in the exhilaration caused by Terence Newman’s game-winning 58-yard fumble return for a touchdown Sunday against Green Bay was the difficult spot in which it put the Cincinnati Bengals defense.
The play came on the 11th snap of a Packers drive that began with 10:55 left in the game. Following the extra point and kickoff, the Bengals defense went right back on the field for another 13 plays before Michael Johnson tipped an Aaron Rodgers pass on fourth down at the Cincinnati 20-yard line to preserve a 34-30 victory.
“That was a gut check,” Bengals defensive end Carlos Dunlap said of the stretch that had the defense on the field for 24 consecutive snaps and 9:34 of game time.
“No flinch,” is how Cincinnati head coach Marvin Lewis described it.
“We sucked it up,” defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer said. “We sucked it up a lot. I was proud of that.”
Following the Newman touchdown, Green Bay got the ball back with 3:47 on the clock as Rodgers tried to add to his collection of five fourth-quarter comebacks and nine game-winning drives.
Before the first snap, Zimmer made the first of what would be two adjustments on the final drive based on a player’s suggestion.
“After the touchdown Terence told Marvin, ‘Tell Zim to run a couple of cover-2s because I’m gassed right now,’ ” Zimmer said. “The first couple of plays I put them in cover-2.”
The Bengals defense had played mostly man to that point – “about 90 percent,” Zimmer said – but Rodgers took advantage of the cover-2 with three short passes underneath, gaining 7, 7 and 8 yards to set up a first down near midfield.
But after a 2-yard run by Johnathan Franklin, Dunlap came up with the first of his two batted passes on the final drive as part of what was one of the best performances of the his career.
With backup defensive end Robert Geathers lost earlier in the week to a season-ending elbow injury, Dunlap played a career-high 71 of the 81 snaps the Cincinnati defense was on the field. Despite the fatigue, he finished with seven tackles, including two for losses, a sack, two quarterback hits and the two deflections.
“He was good at the end of the game, so was Michael (Johnson),” Zimmer said. “I think we caught our second wind. We were gassed for awhile, but when the game is on the line our guys know it is going to be throws. It is going to be fun for them because they aren’t playing the run all day.”
After Dunlap knocked down another pass on third-and-5 at the Bengals 20, Green Bay called timeout. When the Packers returned to the field and lined up, Cincinnati called its own timeout.
“I was talking to somebody and I said ‘I’m going to do this,’ and Vontaze (Burfict) was standing there and he said ‘No, coach. Run this,’” Zimmer said. “I said ‘All right. You’ve got it.’”
Burfict’s suggestion led to the play where Johnson knocked down Rodgers’ pass on fourth down to secure the win and finally give the Bengals defense the rest of the day off to celebrate and rest.
“When the offense is driving down, you realize the game is all depending on you,” said Bengals safety Reggie Nelson, who was on the field for all 81 defensive snaps. “You’ve just got to step it up. You’ve got to get that next step of energy inside you and keep going. Thankfully we did that.”