Bengals have best defensive ranking for playoffs
Cincinnati (AP) — The Bengals have never taken a defense ranked this
highly into the playoffs.
Cincinnati is No. 3 in the NFL in yards allowed heading into its home
game Sunday against San Diego, a team that the Bengals throttled only a
And the defense does a lot more than just dig in. It can score, too.
The defense has been a key component in Cincinnati's 8-0 record at
home. The AFC North champions (11-5) have gotten six interception or
fumble returns for touchdowns at Paul Brown Stadium this season.
"We're not really a gambling defense," coordinator Mike Zimmer said.
"We're not going to give up big plays trying to get interceptions and
run it back for touchdowns.
"Sometimes it's luck."
The defense has been Andy Dalton's best friend all season long, a big
reason Cincinnati has piled up 49, 41, 42, 42 and 34 points in the last
five homes games.
The defense has repeatedly erased the offense's turnovers by holding
opponents to a field goal or less. During a 34-17 win over Baltimore
last Sunday, the Ravens managed only three field goals off Dalton's
first three interceptions.
The defense's all-around impressive play has given it a deep confidence
heading into the playoffs.
"We all kind of have a little chip on our shoulder today," second-year
linebacker Vontaze Burfict said.
The Bengals finished with that highly ranked defense in a season when
it faced Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Matthew Stafford, Andrew Luck,
Philip Rivers, Joe Flacco and Ben Roethlisberger. The Bengals won 17-10
in San Diego on Dec. 1 by forcing two fumbles and an interception.
Rivers was 23 of 37 for 252 yards with one touchdown and one
"We didn't play our best, but they certainly had a lot to do with
that," Rivers said. "They're a heck of a team."
Cincinnati also has gotten through a season without some of its top
playmakers on defense, an indication of its depth and Zimmer's
creativity. Defensive tackle Geno Atkins, who led all interior NFL
linemen in sacks last season, tore a knee ligament in the ninth game.
Top cornerback Leon Hall tore an Achilles tendon, and starting
cornerback Terence Newman has missed the last three games with a
Burfict has emerged as a Pro Bowl linebacker in his second season,
leading the team in tackles. He also forced a fumble and returned it
for a touchdown against the Browns.
"I remember last year saying, 'Who is this kid?'" defensive tackle
Domata Peko said. "He plays with an attitude you can't teach. He has
that really aggressive, physical nature. That stuff is contagious.
"A lot of guys have talked about us losing Leon and Geno, but we still
have guys here. Guys like Vontaze. He's been leading us."
Burfict ended up undrafted in 2012 because of his repeated personal
fouls at Arizona State and his poor showing at the combine. The Bengals
had been in touch with him before the draft and told him he'd have a
spot in Cincinnati if nobody picked him.
"Literally, the very first practice that we had in rookie camp, I told
(owner) Mike Brown, 'He's special and I don't mean to overstate this,
but he's special,'" coach Marvin Lewis said. "He reminds me of another
guy that I've coached and he's done everything he can do."
Lewis was referring to former Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, who led
Baltimore to a pair of Super Bowl championships, including one last
season before retiring. Lewis thinks that Burfict can have a similar
"You feel good for Vontaze for that, but we're not done," Lewis said.
"His mark will be left by winning championships. That's what Ray has
Notes: With temperatures in the teens, the Bengals moved practice to
the University of Cincinnati's covered practice field.
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