Carlos Dunlap was not going to let this one get away.
Dunlap, who along with Geno Atkins form the only tandem in the NFL with more than 70 career sacks each, turned in one of the best performances of his career Sunday in leading a defensive charge that rattled Jets quarterback Sam Darnold and propelled the Cincinnati Bengals to their first victory of the season.
Now in his 10th year, Dunlap, who came into the game with just 2.5 sacks, is closing in on Eddie Edwards’ all-time sack record of 83.5. He finished with three sacks on the day and upped his career total to 78. Dunlap posted seven total tackles (six solos) and six quarterback hits, and even added a pass defensed in one of the most dominant performances of the season for any defensive lineman.
And he got plenty of help, both from his running mates on the defensive side of the ball and from the Bengals’ special teams, who kept New York pinned back throughout most of the afternoon. The Jets began seven of their drives inside of their own 20 yard line. New York started drives at its own 8, 10, 2, 9 and 14 yard lines.
“We talked about field position, it was going to be huge,” head coach Zac Taylor said after the game. “We felt like we won that battle.”
Midway through the third quarter, Stanley Morgan downed a Kevin Huber punt at the Jets’ 2-yard-line, and a holding penalty on left tackle Kelvin Beachum resulted in a safety that propelled the Bengals to a 13-point lead at 19-6. A 47-yard field goal by Randy Bullock less than five minutes later put Cincinnati ahead by more than two scores for the first time all season.
New York came into the game red hot as the only team in the Super Bowl era to score 34 points three games in a row. It left with only six points on the scoreboard, and none after halftime thanks to a defense that has continued to make improvements over the last three weeks. Cincinnati held the Raiders to 17 points two weeks ago and surrendered just 16 points last week to the Steelers.
“They’ve been building off of each performance every week and their confidence keeps growing,” Taylor.
A big reason for that success was the job the Cincinnati front did in shutting down the Jets’ rushing attack. Le’Veon Bell, who had been a Bengals’ killer in the past, was held to 32 yards on 10 carries. The Jets managed just 62 yards on the ground on 17 carries for an average of 3.6 yards per carry.
In addition to Dunlap, right end Sam Hubbard also played a big role in the Bengals’ defensive resurgence. Hubbard recorded five total tackles, a sack and a quarterback hit, and frequently dropped back into coverage to help finally clog the middle of what had been a porous Cincinnati defense.
“That’s where it all starts, is up front,” said Cincinnati safety Shawn Williams, “Controlling the line of scrimmage, penetrating, getting downhill and playing fast.”
Tights ends and running backs accounted for 10 of the 28 total completions thrown by Darnold, but for a total of just 74 yards. Darnold, who appeared confused by the multiple fronts thrown at him by Bengals’ defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo, completed 28 of 48 passes for 239 yards (an average of just five yards per completion) and an overall rating of 71.4, his worst showing since his disastrous outing when he saw “ghosts” against New England back on October 21.
“I hope he saw ghosts again today,” Dunlap said. “I think Shawn told me that he heard him say it again.”
Cincinnati linebackers stepped up, as well, with Nick Vigil, who was questionable coming into the game, finishing with six total tackles and rookie Germaine Pratt chipping in five more.
What did this win mean to the Bengals? “A big burden lifted off of our shoulders,” Dunlap said. “We’ve been working for this for so long. We came up short so many times.”
Not this time, though. Thanks to Dunlap and his crew.
“Great defense,” Dunlap stressed. That’s pretty much it.”