No flip of the switch for Bengals’ defense

Cincinnati Bengals safety Vonn Bell (24) intercepts a pass intended for Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill, center, as Bengals free safety Jessie Bates (30) defends during overtime in the AFC championship NFL football game, Sunday, Jan. 30, 2022, in Kansas City, Mo. The Bengals won 27-24. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

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Cincinnati Bengals safety Vonn Bell (24) intercepts a pass intended for Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill, center, as Bengals free safety Jessie Bates (30) defends during overtime in the AFC championship NFL football game, Sunday, Jan. 30, 2022, in Kansas City, Mo. The Bengals won 27-24. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Defensive coordinator says group took much from late first half stop.

Halftime adjustments seem to have paid off for the Cincinnati Bengals in big games this season, but defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo said there’s no secret switch he flips in the locker room to turn up the heat in the second half of games.

The defense held the Kansas City Chiefs to three points in the second half to help the Bengals rally for an overtime win in the AFC Championship on Sunday. Cincinnati also beat the Chiefs in Week 17 with a similar second-half performance.

Anarumo said the key for his defense – and a big reason the Bengals are now preparing for a Super Bowl -- is just resiliency. Cincinnati plays the L.A. Rams in the championship game Feb. 13 at SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles.

“It’s a collective effort and as we talked about things on the sidelines during the game, in the first half, ‘Hey, these are the things we have to do better,’” Anarumo said Tuesday. “Our guys I think just settle into the game. Sometimes it takes a little bit longer to do that. I knew at halftime, we were locked in. We talked about changing up a couple things, even towards the end of the first half. But they understand the scheme. They understand it so well, so they’re able to digest all the information that we’re giving them in a short amount of time. It’s not like it’s something totally new. ‘Hey guys, we’re going to do this now and they’re like, okay no problem.’ And the core of what we did was still the same. It’s just we executed better.”

Patrick Mahomes completed 18 of 21 passes for 220 yards and three touchdowns in the first half, as the Chiefs took a 21-3 lead early. Cincinnati scored a touchdown with 1:05 left to make it an 11-point game, and Bengals cornerback Eli Apple made a crucial stop at the 1-yard line to prevent Tyreek Hill from reaching the end zone on the final play of the half when the Chiefs decided to try for the touchdown instead of a field goal.

Anarumo said the momentum swing then was more essential than anything he could have said at halftime.

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“That last play (of first half) was huge,” he said. “We get the stop there. They don’t get any points. So that gives us an automatic boost. We get into the locker room. We meet as a coaching staff briefly. We addressed the group with run and pass issues and then I talk to the group, and then the guys go to their separate individual coaches. It’s as fast as that. So, we have a pretty good plan of, ‘Hey, we’re going to talk about this’ at halftime while the offense is out there. So we have it all listed. The assistants do a great job with that and coaches did a great job communicating what we wanted to adjust and going forward. But I just think again, it all falls back on the players because I knew how important that stop would be when they got the ball first (in the second half). We had to make them punt, and we did. And I just think we just gained more confidence, and it kind of snowballed. We were able to make some plays. And when you get takeaways like that, I don’t care who you playing, it hurts them and that showed on Sunday.”

Mahomes completed just 8 of 18 passes for 55 yards and no touchdowns the rest of the way. He had two interceptions and was sacked four times.

Being able to stop an explosive offense like Kansas City twice is especially satisfying, Anarumo said. The defense has held its three playoff opponents to an average of 19.7 points per game and recorded seven takeaways over those three games.

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“They’re great, everybody would acknowledge that,” Anarumo said. “It’s so hard to manage all of their weapons. He’s such a great quarterback and Coach Reid does such a great job calling the game with coach Bieniemy. It’s a huge challenge. That’s why we’re in this business as coaches and players. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t take satisfaction in it. It happened to go our way. I’m proud of the way the guys hung in there. They didn’t flinch, and I knew at halftime we were going to be fine. When I looked in their eyes, no one was panicking. I knew we’d settle in and play better in the second half.”

Vonn Bell’s overtime interception was crucial, as the Chiefs just needed a touchdown to end the game without the Bengals getting a chance on offense. It was a third-down pass intended for Tyreek Hill with Jessie Bates covering over the top and Bell underneath. Bates got a tip on the ball, and Bell grabbed it.

Cincinnati got the ball at its own 45 and eight plays later, Evan McPherson kicked the 31-yard field goal on third-and-11 to end it.

“That’s a scheme coverage we had in for them,” Anarumo said. “Vonn, it starts with Mike Hilton (applying pressure). He delivered the route to Vonn. And then Vonn was going to be underneath, Jessie over the top. They played it great. Those are very difficult plays for DBs because you’ve got to be exact. You can’t interfere. Jessie did a great job getting his hand in there. Vonn was in the right place at the right time and took advantage of the play.”

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