CINCINNATI — Chris Crocker didn’t need to study stats to know a pretty good NFL quarterback was coming to town.
All the veteran Cincinnati safety heard all week was “Tom Brady, Tom Brady.”
“All week long, all you guys were talking about was Tom Brady,” Crocker said. “We wanted people to be talking about us. We took it as a challenge. He’s a Hall of Fame quarterback. We knew Tom Brady was coming here, and we had to step up.”
Crocker, signed as a free agent Sept. 25 to shore up a banged-up secondary, and his defensive teammates did more than step up.
In a 13-6 win Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium, they shut down the Patriots in ways New England hadn’t seen, literally, in years. Besides snapping Brady’s streak of games with a touchdown pass at 52, two short of tying the NFL record, the Bengals became the first team to hold the Patriots without a TD since a 16-9 loss at the Jets Sept. 20, 2009.
The last time the Patriots scored fewer points was in a 21-0 loss at Miami on Dec. 10, 2006.
The Bengals’ defense also held New England to 1 for 12 on third-down conversions while snapping a four-game losing streak to the Patriots.
The effort prompted Cincinnati coach Marvin Lewis to give a game ball to defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer.
“It was a great accomplishment,” Lewis said. “It was a great job by the defensive players and the coaches. I had never given anybody a game ball before. I guess maybe once before, but I did give Coach Zimmer that ball. It’s a hell of a deal.”
The only other person to get a game ball from Lewis was team owner Mike Brown after a big win over Kansas City in 2003 — Lewis’s first season as coach.
Defensive tackle Domata Peko believed the Bengals set the tone with tackle Geno Atkins’s 8-yard sack on the second play of the game. Crocker also stopped wide receiver Danny Amendola on the 1-yard line, giving the Bengals a chance for a goal-line stand that eventually led to a Patriots field goal with 6:28 left in the game, but the defense’s defining moment came after New England safety Devin McCourty forced a fumble from Bengals rookie running back Giovani Bernard that was recovered by linebacker Jerod Mayo at Cincinnati’s 44 with 3:26 left and Cincinnati leading, 13-6.
The Bengals, known to self-destruct in similar situations, instead got pass breakups from cornerback Terence Newman and Crocker and a 5-yard sack by defensive end Wallace Gilberry, forcing New England to punt.
“It’s definitely fun to watch those guys go out and play,” Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton said of the defense. “They’re doing so many good things, and to see what they do to a guy like Tom Brady. They’re playing unbelievable.”
The Patriots had one more shot after that, but cornerback Adam Jones snuffed it out with an acrobatic interception of Brady’s pass to wide receiver Aaron Dobson at the Bengals’ 3-yard line with 16 seconds left.
“I got the jam and was able to stay inside of him,” Jones said. “I got my hands on the ball and tipped it to myself. I was lying on the ground, saying, ‘Thank you, Jesus.’ ”
Gilberry’s sack was the last of four for 31 yards by the Bengals of Brady, who’d thrown at least three touchdown passes in each of his last two games against Cincinnati.
“We knew we were going to have our hands full, but we were able to get to Brady on the second play,” Peko said. “After that, you could see he was a little shaky. If you hit somebody enough, they’re going to make mistakes. We wanted to shut down the run game and make them one-dimensional.”
Dalton, who helped Cincinnati beat Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers earlier this year, relished yet another win over an elite quarterback.
“These are guys that have played for a long time, and now I get a chance to play them, and to come out and get wins against some of the best in the league, it really means a lot,” Dalton said.