CINCINNATI — The Bengals moved the ball seemingly at will during their first three possessions Sunday afternoon. Then, Danny Shelton broke Michael Jordan in half, and everything changed.
With Cincinnati facing a fourth-and-inches in New England Patriots territory midway through the second quarter, Shelton overwhelmed Jordan — the Bengals guard, not the hoops legend — and dropped running back Joe Mixon for no gain, with assists from linebackers Elandon Roberts and Ja’Whaun Bentley.
The Patriots trailed 10-7 at the time, having surrendered 105 rushing yards in a quarter-and-a-half. After Shelton’s stop, they tied the game with a field goal on the ensuing drive and never trailed again, scoring 27 of the final 30 points en route to a 34-13 victory at Paul Brown Stadium.
“I thought that was just a great attitude play,” Patriots safety Devin McCourty said after the game. “Until that play, they were kind of having their way with us running the ball. We didn’t make any kind of plays defensively throughout the early part of the game, and I thought that was the first play where our attitude came in. We stopped them on third-and-short, and then getting that (fourth-down) stop — I thought that was the attitude we needed to bring to the game. That got us going.”
The Bengals’ next five drives — excluding an end-of-half kneeldown — resulted in two three-and-outs and three interceptions. Cincinnati managed just 156 yards of total offense after the fourth-down stand.
“It just shifts the momentum, and that’s what we needed at the time,” safety Duron Harmon said. “It helped us get back to playing the football that we needed to be victorious. … We knew that could have been the turning point of the game, and in reality, it was.”
“It brings great energy to the sideline and to the team,” defensive end Deatrich Wise added. “Danny made a big play in a crucial moment, and I want to say it set the tone for the rest of the game.”
After enduring a string of healthy scratches late last season, Shelton has shown remarkable improvement in his second year as a Patriot. The 345-pound defensive tackle said he was able to read Jordan’s intentions by the way the rookie offensive lineman positioned himself before the snap.
“I was just keying the guard, No. 60,” Shelton explained. “He was leaning towards me a little, so I knew he was going to come and try to either cut-block or down-block on me. So I knew if I just made a play with my hands and threw him back, I’d be in on the play.”
The Patriots broke the game open in the third quarter with a N’Keal Harry touchdown catch followed by a Stephon Gilmore pick-six. That widening gap forced the Bengals to move away from Mixon (who finished with 136 yards on 25 carries) and put the onus on quarterback Andy Dalton. Dalton cracked, throwing four second-half interceptions as New England pulled away.
“I just think we came out in the second half with the right mentality as a defense,” Shelton said. “Because obviously, they have an explosive running back, and they had a great running game earlier in the game. I just think we came out with the right mentality, and we wanted to attack.”
The Patriots will close out the regular season with home games against the Buffalo Bills this Saturday and Miami Dolphins next Sunday — teams they held to 10 and zero points in Weeks 4 and 2, respectively.