Dehner Jr.: Bengals’ remarkable toughness not in doubt after comeback vs. Bucs


TAMPA — Bengals defensive lineman B.J. Hill didn’t want to wait for the locker room to open up after Sunday’s 34-23 comeback win against the Buccaneers to say what he had to say.

As he walked through the tunnel and spotted a few reporters with iPhones rolling, he offered a message.

“We are fairly tough on defense,” Hill said. “You remember that, all right?”

He continued using the phrase “fairly tough” — four more times as he talked after the game. He was referencing the comments made by Tom Brady on his podcast this week describing the Bengals defense as “fairly tough.”

The comment was benign enough. But it landed like a haymaker in the defensive meeting rooms.

Say what you want about this Bengals team, but questioning their toughness will always light a blazing fire. Toughness and resiliency are core tenets for this team. It defines the way they play and the fact that no deficit or situation fazes them.

Not down both starting edge rushers, Trey Hendrickson and Sam Hubbard. Not down cornerbacks Mike Hilton and Chidobe Awuzie, playing three rookies, including Dax Hill in his starting debut out of position in the slot and undrafted free agent Allan George up from the practice squad. Not enduring the worst offensive first half of Joe Burrow’s career. Not trailing 17-0 on the road against Tom Brady, a man who was a perfect 89-0 in those situations in his career and desperate following a drubbing in San Francisco last week.

The Bengals always find a counterpunch. They always have another swing in them.

It’s rare, but part of their championship makeup.

“I enjoy playing with this team,” said DJ Reader, who forced a fumble and batted down another pass. “Guys are in there grinding. I have been a part of some great locker rooms. But I have never had guys from top to bottom, our rookies grind, our older guys grind. Everybody in the middle, they just grind. Our coaches grind. How do you not want to play for that?”



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The Bengals have proven they can beat teams in many different ways in this six-game win streak. On Sunday, they won with resiliency.

Ripping off 34 unanswered points coming off as poor a half of football as they’ve played all year makes that abundantly clear.

“We are battle-tested,” cornerback Eli Apple said, explaining why this team is so resilient. “We been here before.”

Players and coaches on this team speak often about forgetting last year and that the 2022 Bengals are their own group. Yet, memories of comebacks from the past play a role in those that can come in the future.

“You seen that Chiefs game last year,” Tyler Boyd said. “You know what time it is.”

Hill pointed out more than a few Bucs players were talking trash in building the 17-0 lead, but his response was the same.

“Wait till the second half,” he said.

Halftime was full of what head Zac Taylor called “a deep breath” and Apple called “encouragement.” Defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo filled it with pressure.

Zac Taylor said of Sunday’s win over the Buccaneers: “It’s probably one of those games we needed, to be quite honest with you. Smacked in the mouth in the first half and responding the right way.” (Kim Klement / USA Today)

Aggressive calls attempting to produce more bodies around Burrow or keep him off-balance dialed up to a higher degree after the break. After a botched fake punt led to an Evan McPherson field goal it was a third down where Anarumo showed a potential heavy blitz. He instead backed out of it and Tre Flowers was stalking the first-down marker quick throw. He ended up with the first interception by a cornerback this season and a play that started a momentum that wouldn’t relent.

“I knew it was going to look like pressure so the ball had to come out,” Flowers said. “I’m glad he threw it, not shocked, glad he threw it. Coach Lou has played against Tom Brady so many times, why not listen to him? He put us in position to win.”

The next position would be showing blitz again, but this time actually bringing it. Logan Wilson wrapped around for pressure and Reader punched the ball out for a forced fumble the Bengals would recover.

Brady fumbled a handoff to Leonard Fournette on the ensuing defensive possession and the Bengals jumped on it. Finally, Joseph Ossai shed his block late and hit Brady as he was throwing. The ball landed in the hands of Germaine Pratt lying on the ground.

Four straight possessions ended in a turnover. The Bengals offense started their drives at the Tampa Bay 16, 31, 13 and 39.

“We got hot,” Pratt said. “We are a fairly tough defense. You know, fairly tough. I think we are tough as nails to get four turnovers on four possessions.”

The key was always going to be to get into Brady’s face more often. They didn’t in the first half and looked like a team sorely missing Hendrickson and Hubbard. That changed after halftime and made the difference in what tied for the sixth-largest comeback in Bengals history.

“Got to get that old man tap dancing, man,” Apple said. “Got to get him out of the pocket and get him uncomfortable.”

He looked comfortable in the first half when he had time, though, right Eli?

“He was fairly OK,” he said, “but not good enough to win.”

The Bengals are a walking, talking Michael Jordan, “And I took that personal” meme right now. Every week they seem to find some motivation or chip on the shoulder. Against the Chiefs, it was Justin Reid. Against the Browns, it was the Battle of Ohio losing streak. This week it was, well, fairly obvious what had them riled up.

The four turnovers created in an 11-play stretch were part Bucs gaffes and part Bengals taking out their frustrations.

“You start to feel momentum shifts,” Reader said. “If you are a true player and a true dog and really love this game, you know when to go and try to kill. It’s not always going to happen, but you know when to start attacking, attacking, attacking. That’s what guys did.”


They did the same on offense. Four turnovers were flipped into 24 points including a touchdown to each of Burrow’s big three receivers. One of the most notable was a third-and-goal from the three where Burrow found Tyler Boyd for the go-ahead touchdown.

Burrow saw a double on Ja’Marr Chase and a double on Tee Higgins. Tampa’s plan was to force a man who was in surgery at this time last week for a broken bone jutting out of his finger to prove tough enough to make the big play.

He did just that, sliding to haul in the touchdown just barely in bounds.

“I got to make that play,” Boyd said. “No matter how I thought about the finger. I have to make that play for my QB.”

Like most storylines with the Bengals, it all comes back to Burrow, who cast the Brady comparisons aside this week but sure did a nice impression with the way he rallied the team in critical moments. That’s part of where the resiliency of the entire team lives.

“When we don’t start fast and it’s not going our way that’s when Joe is at his best,” Boyd said. “That’s when he dials in and brings that inner dog out of him. That’s when he is at his rare form, his rare ability.”

Add the dog inside the x-ray meme to the list circulating around this team. Dogs and fighters and grinders and “fairly tough” defenses. Call it whatever you want, it’s a powerful weapon. And one Taylor believes his team needed to sharpen before entering the critical stage of the season chasing down an AFC North title and potential top seed.

“It’s probably one of those games we needed, to be quite honest with you,” Taylor said. “Smacked in the mouth in the first half and responding the right way.”

The Bengals have had a way of making this six-game stretch look easy, boring at times, even. But they will need to put together a comeback like this again at some point. Whether on Monday Night Football against Buffalo or somewhere along the road through January.

There is no doubt they can do it. Sunday was the latest proof.

“We really care about football,” Hill said. “We care about each other. We are not a selfish team. We don’t care who makes the play, we just want somebody to make it.”

When they play like that, beating this Bengals team is fairly tough.

“Teams, like we have,” Burrow said, “they just find ways to win games. We’re never out of it.”

(Top photo: Julio Aguilar / Getty Images)


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