Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Chad Johnson called Terrence McGee and Jabari Greer two of the best cornerbacks in the NFL early last week. Whether Johnson was serious or not, his words proved prophetic Sunday.
McGee, Greer and nickel corner Kiwaukee Thomas led a secondary that shut down Johnson and fellow Bengals wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh during the Bills' 33-21 victory.
Johnson and Houshmandzadeh are one of the NFL's most explosive receiving tandems. Johnson entered the game with 44 catches and a league-best 104.4-yard average per game. Houshmandzadeh led the NFL with 58 receptions to go with 639 yards and nine touchdowns before Sunday.
However, neither was much of a factor against the Bills.
Johnson was held to three catches for 48 yards and dropped a critical third-down pass he might have scored on in the fourth quarter. He later left the game with a neck injury.
Houshmandzadeh was just as invisible. While he extended his streak of at least one touchdown catch to eight games, he had only four catches for 45 yards.
"It was a good day for us," McGee said. "Those guys are great receivers, so we knew it would be a challenge."
It was a challenge that McGee and Greer had no choice but to meet head on.
"It was time for us to step up and be men today," Greer said. "No matter the adversity, no matter the opponent. We really just made it happen. We continued to fight and fortunately we came out with the win."
The game didn't start out so well for the Bills' secondary as the Bengals drove 70 yards for a tying touchdown on their first possession.
The drive began with a 24-yard strike to Johnson, who beat McGee on a deep in route, and ended with Carson Palmer throwing a 15-yard touchdown to Houshmandzadeh, who used his body to shield Greer at the goal line.
"They had come out pretty strong, so I'm thinking, 'It's going to be a long day,' " McGee said. "But we settled down and focused on our technique."
"I knew it was an opportunity for us to step up and see what we were made of," Greer said. "Guys responded wonderfully. We came out, played really hard and left it all out on the field."
Playing more physical was a key to the Bills' success. McGee, Greer and Thomas tried to jam the Bengals' receivers as much as possible to disrupt the timing of their routes. As a result, Palmer didn't have time to wait for his top targets to get open and had to dump the ball off to running backs and tight ends.
When Johnson and Houshmandzadeh did get their hands on the ball, they paid a painful price. No one felt the Bills' defensive wrath more than Johnson, who was carried off the field on a stretcher late in the fourth quarter after being hit by strong safety Donte Whitner. It was a clean hit and; Whitner warned Johnson beforehand that it was coming.
"[Earlier in the quarter] we were in a coverage and I took a bad angle. I should have had a shot on him," Whitner said. "That's the ball that he dropped. I said to him, 'Hey, you better watch out.' And he said, 'Well, bring it.' He came across the middle again, we were in a Cover-2, he tried to hit me with a double move and that's pretty much all I remember. It goes so fast it was like, 'Here he is. Hit him. Bam! Play's over.' "
Whitner didn't try to hurt Johnson. Whither said he had a job to do and he did it.
"We want to be a physical defense," he said. "We want to show people that if you catch that football you're going to get hit."