Bengals have best defensive ranking for playoffs

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 3, 2014 at 1:39 pm •  Published: January 3, 2014

CINCINNATI (AP) — The Bengals have never taken a defense ranked this highly into the playoffs.

Cincinnati is No. 3 in the NFL in yards allowed heading into its home game Sunday against San Diego, a team that the Bengals throttled only a month ago.

And the defense does a lot more than just dig in. It can score, too.

The defense has been a key component in Cincinnati's 8-0 record at home. The AFC North champions (11-5) have gotten six interception or fumble returns for touchdowns at Paul Brown Stadium this season.

"We're not really a gambling defense," coordinator Mike Zimmer said. "We're not going to give up big plays trying to get interceptions and run it back for touchdowns.

"Sometimes it's luck."

The defense has been Andy Dalton's best friend all season long, a big reason Cincinnati has piled up 49, 41, 42, 42 and 34 points in the last five homes games.

The defense has repeatedly erased the offense's turnovers by holding opponents to a field goal or less. During a 34-17 win over Baltimore last Sunday, the Ravens managed only three field goals off Dalton's first three interceptions.

The defense's all-around impressive play has given it a deep confidence heading into the playoffs.

"We all kind of have a little chip on our shoulder today," second-year linebacker Vontaze Burfict said.

The Bengals finished with that highly ranked defense in a season when it faced Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Matthew Stafford, Andrew Luck, Philip Rivers, Joe Flacco and Ben Roethlisberger. The Bengals won 17-10 in San Diego on Dec. 1 by forcing two fumbles and an interception.

Rivers was 23 of 37 for 252 yards with one touchdown and one interception.

"We didn't play our best, but they certainly had a lot to do with that," Rivers said. "They're a heck of a team."

Cincinnati also has gotten through a season without some of its top playmakers on defense, an indication of its depth and Zimmer's creativity. Defensive tackle Geno Atkins, who led all interior NFL linemen in sacks last season, tore a knee ligament in the ninth game. Top cornerback Leon Hall tore an Achilles tendon, and starting cornerback Terence Newman has missed the last three games with a sprained knee.

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