Despite the apocalyptic reaction from Cincinnati Bengals offense, lost in the shadow during Sunday's 34-24 loss to the Cleveland Browns was Cincinnati's production on defense. Now perfection and shutdown are hardly words we'd associate with anything that the Bengals defense is doing. Yet when the offense took an improvised walk-about late in the first half, the Bengals defense did their part keeping the team in the game.
For example the defense didn't allow a single first down during seven consecutive Browns possessions, forced an interception that led to a first quarter touchdown, held Trent Richardson (who left with an injury) to a career low 37 yards and a 2.6 yard/rush average. Over the course of the past three games, Cincinnati's defense has held opposing offenses to 2.8 yards rushing per game. And of 14 possessions on Sunday, seven of which resulted in three and outs, the Browns managed to generate 15 yards or more during only four possessions.
It started at the 9:39 mark in the second quarter, first and ten from the Browns 20-yard line. Brandon Weeden pitches to Trent Richardson on a sweep around the right edge. Linebacker Rey Maualuga instantly reacts, wiping out pulling center Alex Mack at the point of attack, leaving debris on the field while Terence Newman and Vontaze Burfict filled the gap to stop Richardson for a no-gain. When the play was over as Burfict stood, Mack shoved the linebacker to the ground, generating an Unsportsmanlike Conduct.
Cleveland is stuck with second and 20 from their own ten-yard line when Weeden checks down to Greg Little on a quick comeback with Terence Newman five yards off in coverage. The four-yard gain significantly limits Cleveland's playbook, reduced to a conservative draw play limited to six yards thanks to Geno Atkins yanking the back of Chris Ogbonnaya's jersey.
Following a four play series, Kevin Huber crushes a 57-yard punt through the back of the endzone. Appropriately this season regarding presnap fouls, Cincinnati's defense absorbs a five-yard penalty for having 12 men on the field, giving the Browns a first and five from their own 25 with 5:11 remaining in the second. It didn't matter. Weeden hands off to Richardson, targeting Devon Still's gap, who easily sheds Alex Mack's block for a one-yard loss with an assist by Leon Hall blitzing into the backfield.
Wallace Gilberry, left unblocked on a naked boot to the left, sacks Weeden for a nine-yard loss leaving a third and 15 with 4:00 remaining in the second. The rookie quarterback checks down to Benjamin Watson in the flats, with a tremendously sure-handed open-field tackle by Newman. Browns punt.
Cleveland enters two-minute offense mode later in the second with 1:54 remaining from their own 20-yard line. Receiver Josh Gordon fails to haul an inaccurately thrown first down pass, followed by Carlos Dunlap tracking Richardson out of the backfield on a running back draw for a one-yard gain, leaving third and nine.
Weeden again hands off to Richardson on a draw, somewhat unexpectedly. Rey Maualuga drags the running back down from behind a yard shy of the first down marker. There were some suspicions that Richardson may have fumbled, which was recovered by Adam Jones, because the running back's knee may have been on top of another player. However within two minutes of either half, head coaches are not allowed to challenge plays and the booth didn't review.
Three straight three and outs forced by Cincinnati's defense.
On the flip side of the two minute warning, Cincinnati's defense forces consecutive three and outs before allowing two field goals during possessions that began at Cincinnati's 30 and 25 yard line respectively.
Unfortunately the defensive effort was negated by a combination of a collapsing offensive effort with two touchdown drives that pushed Cincinnati outside a prayer's shot of winning the game.