Bengals' D-line blossoms into one of best


Bengals' D-line blossoms into one of best

CINCINNATI (AP) Michael Johnson towers over blockers at 6-foot-7. At 6-foot-1, Geno Atkins often gets dwarfed on the line. Domata Peko is gregarious. Carlos Dunlap tends to cut off interviews after a few questions.

The Bengals' defensive line is an eclectic mix of players from far different backgrounds with very different personalities and body types. Together, they formed one of the NFL's best units this season, one of the main reasons Cincinnati is in the playoffs again.

The Bengals set a club record with 51 sacks this season, 40 of them coming from a line that is more of a melting pot than anything else.

``We're very different,'' Dunlap said. ``Mike's from Selma, Ala. I'm from Charleston, S.C. Geno's from Fort Lauderdale. You've got a whole bunch of guys from miles and miles away from each other, probably a 10-hour drive to get to each destination.

``But when we're in this locker room, we're a few feet away as we are on the field and in sync with one another. I hope this young group can stay together and go on for a long time and be part of something special.''

They're having a special season, one of the main reasons the Bengals have reached the playoffs as a wild card for the second straight season. It's also one of the main reasons they think they can knock off the Texans on Saturday in Houston and get their first playoff win since 1990.

These guys know how to get to the quarterback.

Atkins led all interior NFL linemen with 12 1/2 sacks and was voted a Pro Bowl starter for the first time. Johnson had 11 1/2 sacks, giving Cincinnati its first pair of players with double-digit sacks totals since 1981, when the Bengals reached the Super Bowl for the first time.

The reserves have done well, too. Wallace Gilberry has 6 1/2 sacks. Robert Geathers has 3.

The Texans' offense struggled down the stretch, contributing to three losses in the last four games. Houston scored 16 or fewer points in those losses. If the Texans can't slow Cincinnati's front four, they're in trouble.

``They've been so good because they're very talented up front,'' Houston offensive coordinator Rick Dennison said. ``They can pressure well with the four guys or adding any number of guys to it. It's a unique challenge for us.''

It starts with four linemen who seem to have little in common except a commitment to getting to the quarterback.

Two of them arrived together. Dunlap was a second-round pick in 2010, while Atkins slipped to the fourth round because of his lack of stature. Atkins quickly developed into one of the league's best, able to use his low center of gravity to push his way into the backfield.

Dunlap was more of a project, known for wanting to do things his way. Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer made him understand the need to change.

``I figured one of us was going to lose the fight and it wasn't going to be me,'' Zimmer said. ``They're much easier to mold the way you want them molded when they're young rookies. Michael was not as bad as Carlos. Carlos was a guy that had to be pushed, confronted, threatened at times, not let play at times.

``Either they figure it out or they don't figure it out, one way or the other. Both those two guys are smart guys. I do think they understand that you're trying to help them as opposed to trying to ridicule them or something like that.''

Johnson, a third-round pick in 2009, had a reputation for not playing hard the entire time. The Bengals moved him between end and linebacker earlier in this career. Once they decided to use his quickness and height at end, he began to blossom in his role.

It helps to have Dunlap on the other end, Atkins getting a push up the middle and reserves who can spell them during the game and keep them fresh.

``It's not just one guy,'' Johnson said. ``It's a collective effort of us being in our pass-rush lanes and being in the right place, and it just comes to you like that. And it comes in bunches. Let's see if we can set some sort of playoff record for sacks. (We'll) work on that next.''

Peko is the oldest member of the line, finishing his seventh season. He's also the leader - Peko organized voluntary workouts for the defense during the NFL lockout before last season.

The defense has given Cincinnati a chance to go back to Houston for the second year in a row. The Bengals lost 31-10 in the wild card round last year in Houston. Zimmer thinks his crew is better this time.

The defense has scored a touchdown in each of the last three games on fumble or interception returns. Cincinnati has held opponents to 13 points or fewer in six of the last eight games.

``Boy, that's incredible in the National Football League,'' Texans coach Gary Kubiak said.

Dunlap likes to think they're just getting started after taking a few years to come together.

``It can't be sunny days all the time,'' Dunlap said. ``After the rain is the rainbow - that's what my mom would tell you. Right now, we're on the better side of the rain and we want to keep that going and try to find that gold at the end of the rainbow.''


NOTES: K Josh Brown was chosen as the AFC's special teams player of the month. He was signed on Dec. 6 to replace the injured Mike Nugent and made 11 of his 12 field goal tries, the only miss on a 56-yarder in Pittsburgh. ... S Chris Crocker didn't participate in practice on Thursday. He's got a bruised thigh.


AP Sports Writer Kristie Rieken in Houston contributed to this report.


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Eagles' Michael Bennett allegedly injured elderly worker; arrest warrant issued

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Eagles' Michael Bennett allegedly injured elderly worker; arrest warrant issued

Philadelphia Eagles lineman Michael Bennett has been indicted on felony abuse for allegedly pushing an elderly NRG Stadium worker during Super Bowl LI.

Bennett was indicted by the Harris County, Texas district attorney's office for injury to the elderly — which is intentionally and knowingly causing injury to a person 65 years or older, according to a press release from the Harris County Sheriffs' Office.

A warrant has been issued for Bennett's arrest.

The 66-year-old paraplegic stadium worker was attempting to control field access when Bennett allegedly pushed her. 

The maximum penalty Bennett faces is ten years in prison in addition to a $10,000 fine.


Bennett — whose brother Martellus played in that Super Bowl for New England — was a member of the Seattle Seahawks during the incident and was in attendance as a noncompetitive player.

The NFL has been made aware of the situation and is looking into the matter, according to Pro Football Talk.

The 32-year-old 10-year NFL veteran could potentially face NFL discipline under the league's personal conduct policy. 


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Wizards host students from Stoneman Douglas High School ahead of 'March For Our Lives'

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Wizards host students from Stoneman Douglas High School ahead of 'March For Our Lives'

With a march on Washington planned for this weekend following the mass shooting in Parkland, FL, students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School were invited by the Wizards to attend their Friday morning practice at Capital One Arena.

About 20 of the kids showed up to watch the Wizards practice, took pictures with players, got a tour of the facilities and walked away with Wizards hats and gear. It was a small break away from what has been a tumultous time ever since the massacre at their school on Feb. 14.

Wizards majority owner Ted Leonsis was on hand to speak with the students, who are set to lead the 'March For Our Lives' through downtown Washington on Saturday.


Wizards guard Bradley Beal met with the media after taking photos with the students.

"For us to be able to take their mind off of it for just a few minutes is always a great feeling," Beal said. "At the end of the day, we're all human beings regardless of our careers are and what our jobs are. A lot of us have families, kids, brothers and sisters. The last thing that you want to happen is what happened to several of those families. You can never imagine."

Beal went to college in Florida and has participated in his own forms of activism. He has found inspiration in the efforts by Stoneman Douglas students. They have taken what happened to their school as a catalyst for what they hope produces change in the ability to protect similar attacks from happening again.


Beal, 24, finds that admirable.

"It's amazing sometimes to learn from the youth on how to do things," Beal said. "It's a testament to where our world needs to lead to, to where we need to get to and to come together as a society. It starts with us as the younger generation. We've gotta come together with love and do things like this. I think what they're doing is awesome. It's spreading positive vibes and it's true humanitarian work that they're doing."

The Stoneman Douglas students are expected to attend Friday night's Wizards-Nuggets game as well.

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