CINCINNATI -- A little more than an hour before the Cincinnati Bengals lined up for the opening kick Sunday, there was reason to panic.
It had just been announced that defensive end Michael Johnson, whose big plays were crucial in the Week 3 win over Green Bay, was designated as inactive for the Bengals' latest contest. Trainers still weren't clearing him to play the New England Patriots after he suffered a concussion. Backup Wallace Gilberry would start in his place.
Similarly, veteran cornerback Leon Hall had also been scratched for the second straight game. Chris Crocker, a player who had been training to be a referee and broadcaster several weeks ago, was summoned to fill Hall's shoes.
Two of Cincinnati's best defensive players were out, and Tom Brady was loosening up his arm, looking to add the Bengals to the list of teams he's torched.
That wouldn't happen, though.
Thanks to the Bengals' depth, the home team barely missed a beat. Gilberry was providing enough pressure that it seemed as though Johnson was still on the field. Crocker added a level of hard-hitting intensity and pass coverage ability that made it appear Hall hadn't left, either.
And they weren't alone. Other veterans factored into the 13-6 win that was propelled by a defensive effort that kept New England quarterback Tom Brady from throwing a touchdown pass for the first time in 53 games, the second-longest streak in NFL history.
"This week, as far as guys in the secondary, we felt like in the media, all they were talking about was Tom Brady," Crocker said. "'His receivers are this or that, it doesn't really matter, he's still getting them the ball.' And we just felt like, 'Hey, we're pretty good in this back end.' So we've got to step up and take that as a challenge. We want you all to be talking about us after this game."
In all, Crocker, an 11-year veteran in his third tour of duty with the Bengals, finished with seven tackles. That ranked as the second-highest tally on the team behind Vontaze Burfict's eight. Two of Crocker's tackles were for losses, and he also deflected a pair of passes. Gilberry, a six-year lineman who has played for the Chiefs and Bengals, recorded four tackles, including two sacks.
"I take pride in my work; whether I'm a backup, whatever the case may be. Whether I'm a journeyman or whatever they want to call me, I take pride in my job," Gilberry said. "As a free agent and six years in the NFL, that's saying something. I take pride in my job, I take pride in my family, being here at the game watching and giving them something to be happy about. That's what it all boils down to."
According to Crocker, the Bengals' ability to stifle Brady and hold him to just 197 yards passing, boiled down to something else, too.
"We're what I call, we're like nuts and bolts," Crocker said. "They kind of hold the team together. Whether it's Wallace, whether it's me, whether it's Brandon Ghee, you really need guys like that who have experience and who can, when somebody goes down, knows that expectations don't go down. You have to step up. You have to be just as good or better than the guy who's in front of you. That's the mindset."
Another 11-year veteran who had a key play late in the game was cornerback Terence Newman. With 3:26 remaining in the ballgame, Newman raced back to the goal line with Patriots receiver Aaron Dobson, who was running a fly pattern. Newman punched Brady's pass away with one hand. Had he missed and the ball were caught, New England would have tied the game up at 13 with plenty of time left on the clock.
"Terence Newman is just playing light's out," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said. "He's really playing great football for us. You play a position out there where you're only catching the ball once in a while, but we're not giving up the big plays, and we've got to keep doing that."
The one big play the Bengals needed most came by cornerback Adam Jones. The ninth-year defender made an interception at his own 5 with 16 seconds to go to effectively end the game.
"It makes it easy for us up front when those guys are hunting," Gilberry said of the defensive backs. "Like take [Jones] for instance. The guy's been through a hell of a lot, but he comes in every week and he's the same guy. On Sunday, he's the same guy, and you've got to respect that. What a guy does on his own time, that's his business. But when we're here, we're working. And we respect him and he respects us. We're a family. When you play like a family, good things like that happen."