One of the key plays in the 27-24 overtime loss at Green Bay on Sunday came in the first quarter when Cincinnati Bengals safety Shawn Williams jarred the ball loose from Davante Adams as the Packers wide receiver was reaching for the goal line.
Cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick picked up the ball at the goal line and returned it 52 yards, but a replay review showed Adams’ arm was down just before losing the ball.
Not only did the overturned call lead to a Green Bay touchdown on the next play, it contributed to extending an improbable Bengals streak of 14 games without recovering an opponent’s fumble, which is the longest in modern NFL history (1933) according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
“It’s something we made a focus this offseason and we continue to work on it during the week, but we just haven’t been able to do it at this point,” linebacker Nick Vigil said. “In order to win games and change momentum in this league, you have to be able to create turnovers.”
The last time the Bengals recovered an opponent’s fumble was Oct. 9 at Dallas, when defensive end Carlos Dunlap jarred the ball loose from Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott on a sack on the final play of the third quarter. Linebacker Vinny Rey scooped up the loose ball and returned it 10 yards to set up the first Bengals scoring drive of the game.
Since forcing three fumbles in that Dallas game, the Bengals have forced six in the last 14.
“We’ve got to get more, I know that,” coach Marvin Lewis said. “That’s a part of it. We have to get an opportunity to get more of them out. It’s by chance a lot of times, but the more (fumbles you force), the more opportunities you’re going to have (to recover it).”
The Bengals’ three fumble recoveries in 2016 were the fewest in franchise history. The previous low was six, and that came in the 1982 strike season when the team played nine games.
The franchise record for fewest fumble recoveries in a 14-game season is nine, set in 1972.
The Bengals forced 12 fumbles in 2016, which one shy of the franchise record set in 2015.
“I don’t think you can over-coach interceptions or fumbles,” defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said. “You work on them in practice and usually when one comes, they come in bunches.”
That’s what happened in 2015 when Lewis addressed the team’s lack of interceptions at the bye.
“Marvin came into my office and said we don’t have a lot of interceptions, and all of a sudden at the end of the year we’re (third) in the league in interceptions,” Guenther said. “It’s something you continue to harp on in practice and hopefully they come.”
After their 21 interceptions were good for third in the league in 2015, the Bengals picked off 17 last year, one shy of league leaders Baltimore, Kansas City and San Diego. And the team’s plus-3 turnover ratio was good for 12th in the league.
While the lack of fumble recoveries hasn’t been crippling, it has been head scratching.
The 14-game streak is twice as long as any other stretch in the Lewis era. The 2015 team went seven games without one, and another seven-game drought spanned the final six games of 2009 and the season opener in 2010.
In addition to the fumble overturned by replay Sunday, the Bengals thought they had another one in the third quarter when cornerback Darqueze Dennard appeared to strip Green Bay running back Ty Montgomery at the Cincinnati 2-yard line, with linebacker Kevin Minter recovering.
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But the officials ruled Montgomery down, and four plays later the Packers cut the Cincinnati lead to 21-14.
Dennard also stripped Montgomery on the first play after the two-minute warning during Green Bay’s game-tying drive, but again the officials ruled Montgomery was down before the ball came out.
“Maybe I should answer your question differently — maybe we’ve gotten more out than you know,” Lewis said with a laugh.
Cincinnati Bengals (0-3) vs. Cleveland Browns (0-3)
When: 1 p.m. Sunday
Where: FirstEnergy Stadium, Cleveland
TV: Ch. 7, 12
Radio: Bengals — 1530-AM, 102.7-FM, 104.-7-FM; Browns — 1290-AM, 95.7-FM