Bengals red zone defense key in win

CINCINNATI -- If Domata Peko was a football analyst and were asked on live television to come up with one reason his Cincinnati Bengals beat Green Bay on Sunday, the defensive tackle knows exactly what he would say.

"One of the keys to victory," Peko said, while answering a similar query in front of news cameras in the Bengals' locker room, "was holding them to field goals in the red zone."

He's right.

The Packers broke inside the Bengals' 20-yard line four times during Cincinnati's 34-30 win, and on two of those occasions they were denied the opportunity to pick up get into the end zone. Instead of getting touchdowns, they were limited to field goals. Take those combined six points away and turn them into 14, and all of a sudden, the Bengals have a big loss on their hands instead of a potential tide-turning, season-defining win.

The two key stops came in the second quarter, and were on the heels of a five-drive sequence that saw Cincinnati throw an interception, fumble the ball three straight times and punt.

On the first stop, the Bengals denied the Packers after they drove 20 yards from the Cincinnati 21 to the goal line. Just before getting to the 1, the Packers marched the ball up to the 5 following a pass interference call on Adam Jones. The hero on that defensive stand was end Carlos Dunlap.

Hurried by Dunlap on a first-and-goal from the 5, flustered Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers was forced to throw the ball away. On the next play, Dunlap got to Packers running back James Starks, who could only advance the ball 2 yards before getting stopped. A play later, a Rodgers scramble to his right resulted in an awkward tackle that came when three Bengals defenders swarmed to him and prevented him from getting in the end zone with a hard hit at the 1-yard line.

Fourth down. Field goal.

"We just had a short-term memory," Dunlap said. "We just knew if we maximized what we could control, that we would have a chance. In the end, man, you have to suck it up."

The Bengals did just that again on Green Bay's next drive. As the Packers closed out the second quarter by driving from their own 22 down to the Bengals' 4-yard line -- and eventually, their 8, after a sack -- it was the combination of Dunlap, fellow end Michael Johnson and linebacker Vontaze Burfict who were the difference makers this time.

On first-and-goal from the 5, Johnson and Burfict came out of the 2-minute warning by stopping Starks for a 1-yard run. A play later, Dunlap sacked Rodgers for an 8-yard loss. A play later, cornerback Terence Newman stopped the bigger Jordy Nelson well short of the goal line after Nelson caught a 4-yard pass from Rodgers.

Fourth down. Field goal.

"When it's our turn to be called out there, when it's our turn to take the field, we take it like we own it," Peko said. "We've just got to man up and put that fire out. We were able to do that [Sunday]."

The Bengals did end up allowing a pair of third-quarter touchdowns while in red zone situations. Had it not been for their earlier stops, those would have hurt much more.

The red zone defense was part of an even larger defensive showing that included stifling arguably the game's best quarterback and holding him to 236 yards fewer passing yards than what he had a week ago in a record-tying performance against Washington.

"We knew that Aaron Rodgers and that offense is one of the top offenses in the NFL," Bengals linebacker Rey Maualuga said. "Our effort and our mentality was, when he gets the ball to a receiver everyone runs to the ball and makes a play."

Cincinnati's best plays Sunday came right when the Bengals needed them the most.