The momentum had shifted totally in Green Bay’s favor.
After Cincinnati had grabbed a quick 14-0 lead Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium, its offense turned the ball over four possessions in a row, the Packers scored 30 straight points and it looked as if the Bengals had reawakened the ghosts of those Bungle days thought to be in the past.
It was during a break in the action late in the third quarter when Bengals linebacker Rey Maualuga claims he had something of a vision about his 35-year-old teammate, cornerback Terence Newman.
“Honest, I’m not kidding you, I told him that HE had to make a play to win this game.” Maualuga said as he stood at his locker after the game.
And sure enough, soon after Newman jumped in front of Packers receiver James Jones and picked off an Aaron Rodgers’ pass.
That was the play that began to stem the Packer tide and it made you ask Maualuga if thinks he’s psychic or something.
“Naah” he laughed, “I just anticipate good players making good plays.”
And he suspected Newman had more left in him after that: “I congratulated him and said, ‘You got another one in you?’ And he was like, ‘I got it, Bro.’”
And Newman was right.
With just under four minutes left in the game, Green Bay was still up 30-27 and had the ball in a fourth-and one situation on the Bengals’ 29-yard line. Rookie Johnathan Franklin — who had averaged 8 yards a carry in what would be a 100-yard rushing day — just had to leap 1 yard to get the first down and try to cement the game away.
But as he hurtled himself skyward, Bengals defensive end Michael Johnson – who had a huge day as did fellow end Carlos Dunlap – slapped the ball from his grasp. Bengals free safety Reggie Nelson picked it up and, in grinning retrospect, said he had one thought, “I thought I was going to the house.”
Although Newman was nearby yelling “Pitch it …Pitch it,” Nelson spun to get away from Rodgers and that’s when a Packer knocked the ball away from him.
And then it was just as Newman had promised: “I got it, Bro.”
He picked the ball up on a perfect bounce, said he felt teammate Vontaze Burfict push him in the back — a signal that “I got you covered back here” — and he began to run.
“I looked to my left and saw Leon (Hall) get a great block on (Packers’ receiver) Jordy Nelson and knew I just had to open it up, run in a straight line and get to the end zone.
He did and that 58-yard fumble return for a score put Cincinnati up 34-30 with 3:47 left. Green Bay still had plenty of time, but the Bengals defense rose up yet again. Dunlap slapped down two Rodgers passes and Johnson batted the final fourth-down attempt with the ball on the Cincinnati 20 and just 85 seconds left.
The Bengals took over, used a pair of final genuflections to run out the clock and had the wild 34-30 victory.
Almost to a man, the Packers were stunned afterward.
The Bengals defenders were not.
“On the sidelines (during that 30-point swing) I looked in the guys’ faces — looked at them in the eyes — and there was no quit,” Newman said. “Everybody talked about ‘We still got a chance.’ A lot of times when things go bad, guys on the sidelines are bickering and yelling at each other. There was none of that today… We believed in each other.”
That kind of conviction has served him well here since he was cut loose by the Dallas Cowboys 18 months ago.
He had played nine seasons there — started 131 of 133 games — and had 32 career interceptions.
But the Cowboys suddenly felt he was no longer worth their investment. He would soon turn 34, he had had a subpar season in 2011 and he was due to get over $8 million in salary in 2012.
Dallas cut him and the Bengals — at defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer’s urging — picked him up for a bargain basement 1-year, $1 million contract.
“A lot of people doubted me then and for a while I got into that and kind of doubted myself,” Newman admitted. “When I came here to visit, (Zimmer) told me I had played like horse manure last year and I couldn’t say anything but, ‘You’re right.’
“It starts with a guy believing in you and I wouldn’t be here if Mr. (Mike) Brown or Coach Zim didn’t believe in me. (Zimmer) got me doing things that I knew I could do and he knew I could do. … I started to do things again that I did early in my career.”
He took that to the extreme at the end of his TD run Sunday when he ran straight through the end zone and toward the steep stadium wall, over which giddy Bengals fans were reaching down and yelling for him.
“I think I had this crazy moment that I thought I was 25 again,” he said with a grin. “I don’t know what came over me. I know (Green Bay) is a big Lambeau Leap team and I just saw the fans going crazy and thought, ‘Let’s have some fun’. It was probably pretty stupid by me, but I was so excited so I leaped up there.
“Then they wouldn’t let me go for a second, so I was alright, ‘Got any food or anything?’ ”