In the Bengals’ 48-year history, they have never used their first pick in the draft on a safety.
That suggests that the Bengals don’t consider it a top priority in building the roster. But their safeties saved the day on Sunday in Pittsburgh.
Cincinnati’s offense struggled. Twice, the Bengals drove into the red zone and failed to score. On another occasion, an interception by Reggie Nelson gave the Bengals the ball at the Steelers’ 33-yard-line and the offense lost 17 yards before having to punt.
“Playing a great defense like these guys at their place, we knew that it was going to be a little ugly here and there,” said Andrew Whitworth.
After Andy Dalton threw interceptions on back-to-back drives in the fourth quarter, the Bengals trailed 10-6 with 6:27 remaining.
“Andy said, ‘The next time we get the ball we’re going to score,’” said Whitworth. “He believed that and I think we all felt that. We really felt like, ‘Hey, if the defense makes another stop, we’ll drive back down there and try it again.’”
“That’s what the defense is supposed to do,” said Nelson. “Get the ball back to Andy and let him go to work.”
Two plays after Dalton’s second INT, Ben Roethlisberger dropped back to pass, escaped a near-sack by Pat Sims, rolled to his left, pointed down field, and finally – after holding the ball for 9.65 seconds – fired a pass in the direction of fullback Will Johnson. Third year safety Shawn Williams leaped in front of Johnson and made his first career interception at the Pittsburgh 45 yard line.
“There was an opportunity to make a play and that’s what I did to put our team in the best position to win the game,” said Williams.
“That was an unbelievable play,” said Clint Boling. “To see it on the replay screen – I really don’t know how he did it.”
“I’m not sure if he’ll ever have an interception that was tougher,” said my broadcast partner Dave Lapham. “A full dive where he caught the back half of the football and stayed in bounds as he went to the ground. Any of the great Pro Bowl receivers would take that catch.”
“I’m just happy for him because I know how I felt when I got my first career interception,” said fellow safety George Iloka. “It’s like a weight off of your shoulder. It’s like, ‘Man. If I end my career tomorrow, at least I can tell my kids about that.’”
Williams’ INT led to the Bengals only touchdown – a nine yard strike from Andy Dalton to A.J. Green that gave Cincinnati its first lead of the game with 2:57 remaining.
“Shawn made an unbelievable play to turn the game for us and you have to look at what a true team is,” said Whitworth. “When you collect wins, it really isn’t about your best players playing great every week; there’s always that guy who plays a role and steps up and makes a huge play and turns the tide for you.”
“He made the biggest play of his career at the most significant time to make it,” said Lapham.
But the Bengals safeties weren’t finished. On the Steelers next offensive play, Reggie Nelson came up with his second interception of the game to set up a Mike Nugent field goal with 1:47 remaining. That gave the Bengals a 16-10 lead and meant that the Steelers could not force overtime by driving for a field goal on their last possession.
“Shawn’s pick was more important than my picks,” said Nelson. “He gave us momentum near the end and that’s what we needed.”
The Steelers had a shot at a game-winning touchdown with 4 seconds left from the Bengals 16 yard line, but Nelson did a good job in zone coverage of defending Antonio Brown and Roethlisberger’s final pass sailed through the back of the end zone.
“It feels great man,” said Nelson. “Defense wins games. We always preach that.”
“You just have to continue to play until the whistle blows and all of the time runs off the clock,” said Williams. “That’s what we did.”
The Bengals started three safeties on Sunday. Nelson, Iloka, and Williams combined for 10 tackles, four passes defensed, and three interceptions.
“The safeties came through today and that’s good,” said Nelson.
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