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TDBH: NFL sked makes Bengals ready for prime-time players

Posted Apr 13, 2018

This Day in Bengals History - April 14, 2004


The final reward for the NFL's best turnaround in 2003 under head coach Marvin Lewis has turned the Bengals from America’s 1 p.m. team into a network attraction. When the NFL releases the 2004 schedule today, Cincinnati gets its first prime-time double-header in history when Paul Brown Stadium hosts its first two regular-season night games ever. The league re-discovers the Bengals with the help of their charismatic coach and a former No. 1 draft pick playing quarterback. The Bengals break their 12-year drought on Monday Night Football with an Oct. 25 game against the Broncos at PBS at 9 p.m. on ABC. They open their home schedule on the second week of the season in a Sunday night game against another team that won 10 games last year in the Dolphins on Sept. 19 at 8:30 p.m. on ESPN.  "Huge. Absolutely huge," says right tackle Willie Anderson, the dean who is destined to play his first Monday night game in his Bengals-leading 132nd game. "It's one of the things that players look for during the season. It's a big opportunity. Now everyone wants to see how much we've improved. I'm happier for the organization. People are going to get to see that Bengals' logo a lot."

The last time two prime-time audiences in the same season saw it was two logos ago when the Bengals lost to the Steelers on Sunday night in Pittsburgh, but beat the Bears in a Soldier Field overtime, 31-28, on Nov. 8, 1992 in their last Monday Nighter. The last time the Bengals played on Monday Night at home is when Anderson was in junior high in Mobile, Ala., and the Bengals beat the Browns, 21-14, on Sept. 25, 1989 at Riverfront Stadium. “This is the national spotlight, and we're excited about the opportunity," Lewis says. "If you're in the NFL, you want to be playing on Monday and Sunday night."  How long ago is it? The last time the Bengals had a prime-time home game it was Riverfront Stadium, the Titans were called the Oilers even though they were playing in Tennessee, and running back Corey Dillon wrested away the NFL’s 40-year-old single-game rookie rushing record from the great Jim Brown in a Thursday ESPN game in 1997. "Playing the Dolphins on Sunday night is beautiful. I can't wait. I know all the Dolphins so that is going to be really fun," says Pro Bowl wide receiver Chad Johnson, a Miami native. "I don't need the exposure. I've already got enough. But it's going to be great for the fans.”

And it turns out to be a beautiful, 2-0 thing. In his first PBS start quarterback Carson Palmer earns his first NFL win on his first game-winning drive, courtesy of Shayne Graham’s 39-yard field goal with two seconds left for a 16-13 Sunday night win over the Dolphins. The old pro, linebacker Brian Simmons, is on the phone Sunday morning with 1998 draft mate Takeo Spikes with both in late games. Spikes, whose Bills are in Oakland, wishes him luck and urges Simmons to show what he can do on national TV. Simmons obliges, scoring the Bengals’ only TD on a 50-yard pick-six of A.J. Feely on the opening drive of the second half. Then the next month in the rollicking Monday nighter the Bengals stun Denver, 23-10, when Chad Johnson schools future Hall-of-Fame cornerback Champ Bailey in one-on-one coverage on two 50-yard bombs, one for a TD, on his way to a monster 149-yard night. And two former cornerbacks drafted by Broncos head coach Mike Shanahan have a day at night.  Deltha O’Neal, acquired from Denver in a trade five days before the sked is released, resents Shanahan for not only benching him last year, but for also playing him at receiver for a few weeks. His only response is sticking his index finger in the air as he begins to return his first pick as a Bengal 29 yards. O’Neal also races past Shanahan on a 17-yard punt return up the Denver sideline while James nabs his NFL-leading fourth interception with a stupendous one-handed grab midway through the fourth quarter on Jake Plummer's high throw. "I can't imagine it being any more electric than it was tonight," Palmer says. "This was a huge game for the city and our fans. It was nice to be able to have their intensity. We really fed off them tonight."

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