- Coley Harvey, ESPN Staff Writer
- 0 Shares
CINCINNATI -- When most reflect on the Cincinnati Bengals' season and think back to the end-of-game heroics that won nearly all of the six contests the AFC North leaders currently claim as wins, their thoughts first settle on the team's defense and special-teams units.
After all, it was cornerback Terence Newman's fumble recovery for a touchdown and defensive end Michael Johnson's fourth-down pass deflection that effectively sealed a 34-30 win over the Green Bay Packers in the third game of the year. In the Bengals' next home game, a contest against the New England Patriots, the entire defensive unit kept Tom Brady out of the end zone for the first time in 53 games, and clinched a key 13-6 win on cornerback Adam Jones' game-sealing interception in a driving rainstorm.
In two other games, Cincinnati's punter and return specialist factored in a pair of walk-off wins that came when kicker Mike Nugent drove through a pair of game-winning field goals. One came at the end of regulation, the other in overtime.
Only twice has the Bengals' offense seemed to dominate the headlines after wins this season. That's going to have to change.
With a defense now decimated by injury, the Bengals' offensive players feel a little added pressure this week as they head to Baltimore for a key division contest against the Ravens.
"Yeah, we've got to do a little bit more," receiver A.J. Green said. "They had our back for a couple of games now and we've got to step it up a little bit."
Although drops -- five, to be exact -- have been issues for Green at times this year, he still enters the weekend leading the league in receiving yards with 862. That's 21 more yards than Detroit's Calvin Johnson, who has appeared in two fewer games than Green because of an injury and also because of having to go through the Lions' bye week.
Green's sentiments are shared by others.
"It's been a defense has been our big brother kind of thing," running back Giovani Bernard said. "We have to step up. We've been able to do that a couple of times here and there, but our biggest thing is just being consistent with it and limiting turnovers."
Cincinnati's new-found offensive urgency emerged late last week when defensive tackle Geno Atkins became sidelined for the season with a torn ACL. His injury marked the fourth time this season that a key player on that side of the ball was lost for the year with an injury. Cornerback Leon Hall, defensive back Taylor Mays and defensive end Robert Geathers have also suffered season-ending injuries this year. Four others were lost in the preseason, placed on the yearlong injured reserve.
As the Bengals' defense goes into yet another game having to make tweaks and changes, this time, their teammates on the offensive side of the ball realize they have to help out.
"Our defense has been there for us for like, forever," receiver Marvin Jones said. "We're still confident in their ability and what they can do in stopping offenses, but we have to do our part to keep it going and to keep points on the board."
One way the Bengals can put points on the board is to avoid hurting themselves in the red zone. Once last week, on a pass to Jones, quarterback Andy Dalton left the ball too far inside, allowing a Dolphins cornerback to snatch the ball from Jones and sprint away for a pick-six. What was once a possible Bengals touchdown turned into a Dolphins score. By the end of the night, that play would have a major impact on the outcome of the game. Cincinnati lost 22-20 in overtime.
"Every time we start to turn the ball over a lot in a game, that's usually when we lose," Bernard said. "For us, it's just eliminating the turnovers and playing smart on offense. ... We just have to be smart with the ball when we have it. Whether that's running the ball, passing the ball, carrying the ball."
In last week's loss, the Bengals had three passes intercepted and dropped another five. It was the first time they had that many drops since 2007.