With his Cincinnati Bengals trailing Indianapolis midway through the fourth quarter, the 6-foot-6 defensive end — with what he says is a 7-foot wingspan — tipped a pass by Colts quarterback Jacoby Brissett straight up into the air. He then caught it and rumbled 16 yards into the end zone for a touchdown that tied the game, 23-23.
Randy Bullock’s conversion kick gave the Bengals the 24-23 winning margin.
As soon as Dunlap crossed the goal line for the score, he was pounced on from behind by teammate Dre Kirkpatrick. The pair tumbled to the turf just beyond the end zone, as Bengals linebackers Vontaze Burfict and Nick Vigil jumped onto the pile and turned it into a joyous scrum.
“Any time one of us scores, especially in a rare moment like that, you want to celebrate together,” Dunlap said. “Everybody tackled me. It felt like 1,500 pounds were on top of me.
“It was just an unbelievable moment. Everybody was ecstatic.”
Afterward, several players in the dressing room talked of how Dunlap had saved the day.
He did, but in the big scheme of things that’s not the most important thing he’ll do this week. He’ll work at saving lives, too.
This coming weekend when the Bengals travel to Jacksonville for Sunday’s game, he’ll meet with a group of Florida kids the day before as part of his anti-bullying crusade.
He regularly goes around Cincinnati doing that and also is taking his efforts to a few of the cities the Bengals are playing on the road this season.
Dunlap put on a program in Cleveland the day before the Bengals played there and he did the same in Pittsburgh earlier this month. He’ll close out the season with another session in Baltimore.
“It goes back to the offseason and what I saw happen to Gabriel Taye,” he said with some sobering reflection once the postgame media crowd had left his locker.
“It was so crazy. The kid had his whole life ahead of him, but he was bullied and felt all alone and died because of it.”
The 8-year-old Cincinnati boy hanged himself with his own necktie last January after continued bullying at his school, Carson Elementary. A security video even captured one of the incidents.
Gabriel’s death moved Dunlap to action.
“I felt somebody needed to say something, to do something about it,” he said. “And with it happening right here in Cincinnati it hit home even more.”
Dunlap met with Gabriel’s family and then took the cause into the community.
The son of an educator, he has an affinity for schools: “I try to get out into the community and talk to schools anyway, so I felt this was another topic that needed to be addressed.
“Gabriel’s death was senseless. There are too many people in a school who can help you. He felt he was alone at that moment and I don’t want that to happen again.
“And the thing is, it’s happening everywhere. Not just here. With social media there’s bullying going on every place. We want everybody to be more aware of it. We want people to have hope and know what to do in those moments.”
Before he meets students, Dunlap sends them a book, ‘’ Malik the Difference Maker,” to read.
Then he comes in – often with other teammates, sometimes a player from that Sunday’s rival team, too – to talk about bullying. He gives out T-shirts and there’s pizza and always a heartfelt lesson.
When he held his session in Pittsburgh – the heated rival of the Bengals – he brought along teammate Michael Johnson and Pittsburgh safety Mike Mitchell.
That day kids also got a free bicycle thanks to a donation by FedEx.
“We didn’t talk football, we stayed on the topic so there wasn’t any problem (about Cincinnati versus Pittsburgh),” he said. “When you don’t bring up football, it’s pretty clear cut.
“They just enjoy the moment. They enjoy having a professional athlete – someone they dream of being – right there in front of them.”
And in Dunlap these kids are getting a real pro.
He’s been selected to the Pro Bowl the last two seasons. Two years ago he led the team with 13.5 sacks., Last season he led all defensive linemen in the NFL with 15 deflected passes.
His 59 career sacks are tied with Ross Browner for third most in Bengals history.
Sunday, he terrorized Brissett. He hit him twice, sacked him once and had the deflection and interception that won the game.
As for that bullying, he just shook his head:
“Getting the quarterback on the ground, that’s my job. I’m paid to do that.
“But the other – trying to stop the bullying of kids — I have to do that. No kid should ever feel so helpless and alone.”