Bengals’ defense banged up heading into matchup vs. top-seeded Titans

While the Cincinnati Bengals offense struggled to put up points in the second half of Saturday’s wild card game against the Raiders, the defense showed they could be counted on to protect a lead.

As the Bengals advance in the postseason, they’ll need more complimentary football, but with the defensive line banged up, will the defense be able to hold up against the top team in the AFC?

Cincinnati travels to Nashville to play the No. 1-seeded Tennessee Titans in the divisional round Saturday, and the Bengals will be without defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi and most likely backup tackle Mike Daniels. Ogunjobi was placed on injured reserve Monday with a foot injury suffered in the third quarter Saturday, and Daniels exited in the first quarter with a groin injury that likely ended his season.

Defensive end Trey Hendrickson is in concussion protocol and Josh Tupou is trying to work back from an MCL issue.

Safety Jessie Bates said the way the defense stepped up even while short-handed on the line is a sign of what this unit is made of and won’t be a deterrent.

“I think it’s a lot of guys who have a stuff to prove on the defensive side, and it just showed,” Bates said. “It’s just a very connected group.”

The Bengals offense didn’t score a touchdown in the second half, but the defense held the Raiders on four of five trips to the red zone. Las Vegas was 0-for-2 in go-to-goal situations.

Bates said the team had struggled in red zone situations throughout practices during the week leading up to the game, and players were overthinking things and asking a lot of questions. Whatever issues they had then apparently got ironed out because Cincinnati held Las Vegas to 19 points, and Germaine Pratt got the game-sealing interception on fourth-and-goal from the 9.

“That’s what it takes in playoff games,” Bates said. “When offense gets down there, we need to force three points or get a takeaway. We’re well aware of putting ourself in those situations after giving up a long run. Let’s calm down, take a deep breath, huddle up and make sure we communicate.”

Pratt was the fitting hero after he spent all season emphasizing takeaways in practices.

But Cincinnati’s secondary especially stepped up when the defensive line was wearing down and unable to get pressure on Derek Carr. Mike Hilton and Bates had some of the other big pass breakups in the game. Bates earned a grade of 85.6 from and was the second highest graded defender on the team, behind Hendrickson.

“I think that our philosophy as a defense, we’ve grown so much as far as just doing your job,” Bates said. “If you look at the plays I made, I was just doing my job. The plays that BJ (Hill) made when Trey Hendrickson is out with a big-time sack (on the final drive), he was just doing his job running the game with Sam, making the plays when they come to you. That’s what our philosophy, our motto is on defense. Do your 1/11 and you’ll be just fine because we have the players to do so. It’s a good feeling to feel that way, it hasn’t always been like that.”

Bates said he felt fresh going into the game after sitting out of the regular-season finale at Cleveland along with most of the other starters. He said he is “just getting started,” and that is the feeling for the defense as a whole, despite the injury concerns.

“It really started before the half, we gave up that touchdown and I felt like that’s where they kind of got a little bit of momentum going for themselves,” Bates said. “I thought that we played very well as a defense, but there are things that we can clean up as far as in the run game especially knowing whoever we are going to play, it’s going to come down to stopping the run and stuff like that later on in the season. It’s simple things we can fix, things we got hit on.

“But we feel pretty good with the way we played. I don’t think people really process how hard it is to keep your calm and go win a game in the fourth quarter in that situation. You see a lot of times defenses kind of lay down, get tired and give up the touchdown. So, the first time we played the Raiders our offense went out there and executed and won the game for us. This time our defense stood up and got a stop. That’s what you want to have.”

Bates went home and watched the game again to process better what unfolded and enjoyed a chance to relive the moment.

“You see a very connected team that grinded out a win,” Bates said. “We have not in my first three years finished out games in the fourth quarter. We’re doing that, and that’s why we’re having success. There’s a lot of hard work, time that’s put into this from the coaches to the owners and players. It’s a good feeling.”


Bengals at Titans, 4:30 p.m., CBS, 700, 1530, 102.7, 104.7

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