CINCINNATI — Bengals defensive end Wallace Gilberry was called for roughing the passer in the final minute of Sunday’s game, giving the Patriots 15 yards as they drove down the field for a potential tying touchdown.
It was at that moment that Gilberry knew he was in Tom Brady’s head.
“He looked at me and winked at me,” Gilberry said not long after the Bengals’ 13-6 win. “So when you got them doing that, you know they’re focusing on where you’re at at all times, instead of where the receivers are. That’s a good thing.”
Brady had a pretty good idea where Gilberry and his defensive linemates were all day — on top of Brady.
The front four of Carlos Dunlap, Geno Atkins, Domata Peko, and Gilberry — subbing for the injured Michael Johnson — battered and bullied the Patriots’ offensive line all day, and threw Brady and his offense out of rhythm.
“We just wanted to hit him, and hit him constantly. That’s what we did,” Gilberry said. “That’s one of the best quarterbacks in the league, and to be able to go out and hit him consistently and get him rattled, that’s a big plus for the D-line.”
When the offensive line protects Brady, good things happen. He was hit just twice and not sacked last week against Atlanta, and the Patriots scored 30 points in victory.
But he was officially hit eight times against the Bengals and sacked a season-high four times — Gilberry got two sacks, Atkins one, and linebacker Vontaze Burfict the other. Brady heard their footsteps all afternoon, even when they weren’t bearing down on him.
The result was just two field goals, 248 total yards, and a lot of frustrated faces on the Patriots’ sideline.
“He was picking himself off the ground all day today,” said Peko, a gargantuan defensive tackle. “You could tell he was a little rattled out there. Even when there wasn’t pressure, it still seemed like there was, the way he was throwing it.”
Brady completed just 18 of 38 passes for 197 yards, and a last-minute interception to seal the loss. His streak of 52 games with a touchdown pass came to an end, and his 52.2 passer rating was his lowest since 2007. He was so off his game by the fourth quarter that he completed just one of his final 10 passes, although the monsoon-like conditions at the end certainly played into that.
“Our execution needed to be good today, and it wasn’t,” Brady said. “They have a good rush, they rush you into quick throws and things you don’t want to make. That’s why they are a good defense.”
Atkins said the Bengals’ coaches preached all week to push the pocket and make it uncomfortable for Brady to throw. Peko said that plan worked to perfection.
“A lot of guys were getting to his feet, and he wasn’t able to step into throws as he usually does,” Peko said. “That was the reason for overthrows and a lot of dropped balls today.”
And the Bengals weren’t exactly intimidated by the Patriots’ skill players, even with Danny Amendola back in the lineup. The Patriots didn’t have Rob Gronkowski, Stevan Ridley, or Shane Vereen on Sunday, and Amendola played limited snaps as he returned from a groin injury.
“A lot of guys were dropping balls today — more than usual,” Peko said. Brady is “missing a lot of his weapons — Gronk, [Aaron] Hernandez, Wes Welker. So without all those weapons we were able to shut down these young receivers, stop the run, and get after him.”
Brady and the Patriots shouldn’t feel too disappointed about their performance, because they’re in good company. The Bengals do this to everybody.
They now have gone 19 straight games without allowing a 300-yard passer (20 if you include the playoffs), slowing a list of quarterbacks that looks like a Pro Bowl roster: Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger, Jay Cutler, Matt Schaub, Joe Flacco, Tony Romo, Philip Rivers, Eli Manning, Peyton Manning, and Robert Griffin III.
The Bengals finished third in the league with 51 sacks last year, and have one of the best defensive lines in the game, led by Atkins, the star tackle who signed a five-year, $55 million contract extension right before Week 1. Atkins had five tackles (one for loss) and a sack on Sunday, garnering constant double teams from left guard Logan Mankins and center Ryan Wendell.
“He’s the real deal. That’s why he’s getting paid a ton,” Mankins said.
Atkins set the tone on the second snap of the game, dropping Brady for an 8-yard sack.
“When you can do that early, it kind of does something to your self esteem,” Gilberry said. “We knew we could hit him, and if we could keep it up for four quarters, that’s going to be to our advantage.”
Even with the Patriots driving for a potential tying touchdown, Peko wasn’t worried about the defense slipping up.
“It was kind of hard to throw in that stuff — not only the rain, but when you have the defensive line coming down your throat every single play,” he said. “We can hit you in all types of ways.”
The Bengals didn’t just overwhelm the Patriots’ offensive line with brute force, either. They also did their homework, specifically on the Patriots’ play-action passing game. Every time Brady faked a handoff, he seemingly had a Bengal in his face. On Atkins’s sack, he slipped through the line untouched.
“Their defense did a good job of scouting those,” Mankins said. “They played them perfect, to where we didn’t have a chance to block them in that scheme.”
“They’re getting paid, too. You’ve got to chalk it up to them sometimes.”
The Bengals’ defensive line had a special huddle inside the locker room after the game to celebrate their dominant performance. And coach Marvin Lewis almost never gives out game balls, but he handed one to defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer for slowing Brady and the mighty Patriots.
“Doesn’t matter who the quarterback is — a good one, a Hall of Famer like him,” Peko said of Brady. “If you get pressure on any quarterback, he’s going to make mistakes.”Ben Volin can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @BenVolin.