Bengals’ pass rush, defense returns to form against Raiders

Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Sam Hubbard (94) reacts after making a tackle against the Las Vegas Raiders during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 21, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
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Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Sam Hubbard (94) reacts after making a tackle against the Las Vegas Raiders during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 21, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

Credit: Rick Scuteri

Credit: Rick Scuteri

CINCINNATI -- Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Sam Hubbard said he rewatched his fumble recovery from Sunday’s win in Las Vegas “about a million times,” and as much he would have loved to return it for a touchdown, he was pleased to get as far down the field as he got.

Hubbard scooped up the ball after Trey Hendrickson forced it out on a sack of Derek Carr late in the fourth quarter to close the door on any comeback hopes the Raiders were still clinging to while down 29-13 with less than two minutes to play.

After Hubbard’s 43-yard return put the Bengals on the Vegas 31-yard line, they finished off the game with an Evan McPherson field goal and went home with a 32-13 win to improve to 6-4 headed into a big AFC North matchup at home against the Steelers.

“If I just stayed on the sideline, I would have made it, but after a two-minute drive and sack celebration, I’ve never been more tired, so credit to my guys, D.J. (Reader), Larry (Ogunjobi), they were out there blocking for me,” Hubbard said Monday. “I’ve just got to stick to the sideline next time.”

On the play before the fumble, Hubbard wildly celebrated his own sack, which brought his total to 6.0 for the season. Hubbard joked that he was so tired he almost gave the ball right back to the Raiders accidentally.

“I was looking back to pitch it to anyone I could because I was so tired, but I almost pitched it to the other team, so I’m glad I held on to it,” he said.

The consecutive sacks after the two-minute warning, both from the starting defensive ends, sent a strong message the Bengals defense is back to the aggressive play that put them among the best in the league early in the season.

Cincinnati’s pass rush has been much improved this season and it made a big impact Sunday when it mattered most.

“That’s huge,” Hubbard said. “We talk about it, and that’s the sign of a great defensive line ‘cause they go up and score on that last drive and leave the game to an onside kick, it’s just stressful. To be able to close it out with the defensive line, it’s a great feeling.”

Hendrickson now has a sack in six consecutive games, a difficult feat in the NFL and one that shows the Bengals were right in believing his 13.5 sacks last year with the Saints were no fluke.

Hubbard said Hendrickson set the goal of recording a sack in every game during training camp, and he’s played a big role in pushing his fellow defensive linemen to be better. That mentality has stretched across the unit.

“He’s helped me immensely just from every day pushing me to be better competing, and not just Trey, it’s Larry (Ogunjobi), it’s D.J. (Reader), Josh (Tupou), B.J. (Hill), everybody on the inside. It takes four guys to rush the quarterback, and when we’re out there together, all four of us, we are all on our lanes, we’re getting pressure, causing each other to make plays because everyone else is doing their job. And just the way we go about our business and work and film, we all push each other and that’s why we’re playing at a high level.”

That was especially important Sunday, as the Bengals needed to reset the tone for a playoff push in the second half of the season after coming off back-to-back losses before the bye. The first of those losses was a shootout with the Jets in which the Bengals defense forced three turnovers and still couldn’t get a win.

Cincinnati made sure that wasn’t going to happen this time, and it was a satisfying victory.

“It’s important when you’re going down this point in the year, losing a few games with some time off, to regroup and really come back and get a win to get back on track,” Hubbard said. “I think this was a really huge game for us this past week, as far as it was like an ‘us or them’ mentality and for it to be us and have the whole season ahead of us, it’s a great spot to be in and we really put an emphasis on that.”

Hubbard is looking forward to the defensive line picking up where it left off Sunday against the Steelers.

In the first meeting in Pittsburgh, a surprising 24-10 road win, the Bengals sacked Ben Roethlisberger four times and helped apply pressure that may have factored into two interceptions. They also limited running back Najee Harris to 40 yards on 14 carries.

“This is really the first time being a Bengal, where this time of year we’ve had football that really mattered and has implications for the division playoffs and such,” Hubbard said. “So, I always play my best when it’s the biggest rivalry games, dating back to college (at Ohio State). Against the team up north (Michigan), I always played my best. They play them this week, I consider it almost a rivalry of the same caliber, so I’m definitely excited and really excited to go to work and to try and put our best foot forward this week.”

SUNDAY’S GAME

Steelers at Bengals, 1 p.m., CBS, 700, 1530, 102.7, 104.7

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