Christmas Eve Bell Has Ringing Finish For Bengals; Steamy Joe Pulls Out His Coldest Game Ever

FOXBOROUGH Mass. _ “A little stab.”

That’s what strong safety Vonn Bell called his forced fumble for the ages from his own five-yard line Saturday, his Christmas Eve gift with 65 seconds left that saved the Bengals’ 22-18 victory over the Patriots at tumultuous Gillette Stadium.

“Big play Vonn Bell. He’s coming out before the playoffs this year,” said cornerback Eli Apple of the guy who made the overtime interception in last year’s win in the AFC title game.

This time the Bengals were desperately trying to hold on for their seventh straight win, one that would keep them in first place in the AFC North by a game and keep them a game behind Buffalo and Kansas City for the No. 1 seed with two to play.

Thanks to Bell and the ensuing recovery by tackles BJ Hill and Josh Tupou, they did. All the Pats had to do was pound it in from the 5 with a first down to complete a mind-numbing 0-22 comeback a week after the worst ending in franchise history.

But the Pats’ dead-last red-zone offense met the Bengals’ stone-cold No. 4 red-zone defense.

“We know we’re not going to give you seven points,” said nose tackle DJ Reader. “Maybe three. But not seven.”

Pats running back Rhamondre Stevenson is having a big year. But Bell sized him up.

“I always attack the ball. That’s the mindset,” Bell said. “I couldn’t see anything. They were running it. Just punch it out of there. A little stab.”

It cut to the heart of how much the defense dominated, yielding just 285 yards while sacking New England quarterback Mac Jones four times.

TED’S TALE: As expected, Bengals center Ted Karras was a game captain after playing in New England for five seasons. Also what was expected was a rock fight.

“Scary,” Karras said. “For two decades they’ve won games like that in here. I feel proud we pulled it out, but we don’t have to make it that hard on ourselves.

“Any time you get a win in December in Gillette, it’s as valuable as a win as you could ever hope to get.”

STEAMY JOE: Speaking of December, Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow has now won ten straight starts in December and January as the Bengals secured their first undefeated November and December in history.

And he threw for 375 yards in a game that started in 17-degree weather, his coldest game ever. He did it without gloves.

“I’m happy the way we threw the ball. We had close to 400 yards,” Burrow said. “I never have (worn gloves). I keep wearing them on the sidelines to keep warm, but never have.”

Burrow threw two interceptions, one a pick-six, but he also completed 77 percent of his 52 passes for his 16th career 300-yard game. But he admitted he wishes he and the offense could have put it away so they wouldn’t have needed Bell’s heroics. The 40 completions tied Ken Anderson’s 40-year-old club record set back on Dec. 20, 1982 in a 50-34 loss in San Diego.

“I try hard not to let it,” said Burrow of being bothered by being unable to cement that 22-0 halftime lead. “I’ve been in the league only three years, but I’ve been playing long enough to know how hard it is to win. Being upset when we go out and win and have almost 500 yards (442) of offense, you balance those. You get upset when you don’t feel like you did everything you could to score as many points as possible to make it easier on the team. But we also came out of it with a win, we have a long weekend. I I’m not going to let it bring me down. We’re going to watch the film and get better.”

MONEY MAC: It was a stunning day all the way around. It was only the second time in the 23 seasons of head coach Bill Belichick that his team was down by 22 points in the second half. Equally stunning is kicker Evan McPherson leaving five points off the board when, kicking in the coldest conditions of his life, he missed two extra points and yanked a 43-yard field goal try left.

“The wind and the cold definitely factored into it,” McPherson said. “It was kind of a weird day. I just didn’t hit it like I wanted to. With the wind blowing and the cold, if you don’t hit it well, the wind is going to take over… I think I was a little slow in the operation.”

SLANTS AND SCREENS: Right tackle La’el Collins went out with a knee injury, and the Bengals are going to know more Sunday about what it means. Hakeem Adeniji came off the bench and helped hold the Patriots to two sacks. They came in with the third most in the league and their edge tandem, of Matthew Judon and Josh Uche came in with a league-best 25. They each had one, but those were the only hits on Burrow. They haven’t allowed more than two sacks in a game in the seven-game winning streak…

Burrow’s 52 passes were one off his season-high set in the opener, when he last threw a pick-six before Saturday … .

The Bengals’ 442 yards were the most since their first game in the streak against Carolina.

It was Burrow’s most yards since game two of the streak in Pittsburgh …

The defense held the Mac Jones-led Pats to 285, the fewest since the first game of the streak …

Burrow saluted Bell: “That was a stressful situation. Obviously I feel like we shouldn’t have been in that situation if we took care of business, but we made the play when it counted. Vonn has continued to do that his entire career really . He’s a guy I feel like should have made the Pro Bowl with all the plays that he’s made this year.”

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