COMMENTARY| Not often does a team give up 30 points like the Cincinnati Bengals did in Week 3 against the Green Bay Packers and the accolades for the game go to the defense, but that's exactly the unit that provided the stars of the game for the Bengals in their 34-30 win.
Any time a 35-year-old cornerback runs a fumble recovery 58 yards for a game-winning touchdown, he is the star of the game. That's what Terence Newman did for the Bengals Sunday, but he did even more than that to warrant his game-star status. His interception late in the third quarter stalled a Packers' drive near midfield, and his man coverage against big wide receiver Jordy Nelson was impressive, even though Nelson made seven of his eight catches against Newman.
If not for a 22-yard reception by Nelson in the first quarter that would have been overturned by a review challenge and a 30-yarder that Newman barely missed deflecting away for an incompletion, the veteran CB would have yielded just 34 yards to Nelson.
The Bengals' powerful and quick defensive end Michael Johnson capped a strong game by eluding a cut block and leaping to tip away the Packers' last chance for a come-from-behind win when quarterback Aaron Rodgers' fourth-down pass fell harmlessly to the ground to effectively end the game.
Perhaps even more important, Johnson forced the fumble that Newman returned for a TD. The play was a fourth-and-inches that Johnson disrupted in the backfield before he punched the ball away from Packers' running back Johnathan Franklin.
In addition to his two key plays, Johnson finished the game with seven total tackles and 1.5 sacks in what was a dominant performance overall.
Like Johnson, the other Bengals starting DE -- Carlos Dunlap -- played a ferocious game with only minimal snaps off due to the three-DE rotation used by the Bengals throughout the game. Dunlap swatted two of Rodgers' passes on the Packer's final drive with less than two minutes left in the game, including the pass on the third-down play before Johnson ended the game with his deflection.
Dunlap also recorded seven total tackles and a sack late in the first half at the Bengals 12-yard line that helped force the Packers to settle for a field goal before halftime.
CB Leon Hall also chored an exceptional game for the Bengals. He snagged the proverbial "turn your head and locate the ball" pick on a sideline throw that stopped a Packers' drive deep into Bengals territory at the outset of the fourth quarter.
Overall, Hall throttled Packers' receiver Randall Cobb (five catches for 54 yards) and threw the final block downfield that helped spring Newman for his game-winning TD fumble return. Unfortunately, Hall suffered a hamstring strain during that blocking effort that has put his availability for Week 4 into question.
The Rest of the Defense
Offensively, perhaps only RB Giovani Bernard seemed deserving of a star-of-the-game nod with his 14 touches for 99 yards, but since the Bengals' defense were able to offset turnovers in four consecutive series by an often-hapless Bengals' offense, the stars of the game have to be on the defensive side of the ball.
While the above four stars seemed to excel more than the rest of the defense, the rest of the unit did play exceptionally well. Linebackers Vontaze Burfict, Rey Maualuga and Taylor Mays were collectively outstanding for the most part against the run and in coverage, particularly down the middle of the field. Backup DE Wallace Gilberry delivered the depth needed all game to spell Dunlap and Johnson.
Third CB Adam Jones also had a great game in providing his share of stifling coverage, and safeties Reggie Nelson and George Iloka were both powerful presences in the secondary, providing their share of slobber knocking.
A lot of the public recognition of the Bengals may fall to the potentially explosive offensive side of the ball, but if the Bengals' defense can continue to play with the intensity shown Sunday, it will be the defense that does the most damage for the Bengals this year.
Robb Hoff has worked as a freelance researcher for ESPN's production and news departments for more than five years. He posts his NFL draft predictions each year at footballnostradamus.com
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- Green Bay Packers
- Terence Newman
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- Carlos Dunlap
- Jordy Nelson