10-18-04, 12:30 a.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
CLEVELAND _ Chad Johnson bottled his pride Sunday, chugged a dose of humility from Browns cornerback Anthony Henry, and took the blame for the Bengals' 34-17 loss.
Johnson dropped two drive-killing passes on third down and got outwrestled for an interception during the pivotal third quarter the Bengals blew a chance to erase a 21-17 half-time deficit with three three-and-outs.
Johnson, who finished with just three catches for 37 yards, ended up taking the Pepto-Bismol Game on his Head and Shoulders. He said it was his worst game since he used his drops at Indianapolis two years ago as a springboard to last season's Pro Bowl selection.
"After that point, I shot up from there and I'm going to take this one the way I took that one," said a crestfallen Johnson. "My play today is the reason we lost."
After issuing his now famous Pepto Proclamation by sending each of the Browns secondary starters a bottle of Pepto-Bismol because they would get sick covering him, Johnson knew he opened himself up to get grilled.
And the Browns wasted no time in their post-game locker room doing the grilling. Such as this Quote of the Day on clevelandbrowns.com from right tackle Ryan Tucker.
"Every time I saw that guy drop a ball I was laughing. When you step up to the plate and you call people out you better perform. I hope they dog him out. It takes a lot of guts to have a big mouth. You got to back it up."
Safety Chris Crocker didn't mince any words. He said the Browns knew if Chad and running back Rudi Johnson couldn't make plays, the Bengals didn't have a chance to win. He said the Browns knew if Chad didn't get going early in the game, it would affect him and he would be frustrated the rest of the way.
"That's why you never get caught up with trash talking and talking because that can always come back to bite you in the butt," Browns tight end Aaron Shea said. "And it did today."
Chad Johnson wasn't the only Bengal to drop a ball during a game in which quarterback Carson Palmer was victimized by an estimated 10 dropped passes. Kelley Washington probably had the biggest drop of the day in the second quarter on a touchdown that would have given the Bengals a 21-14 lead. And each of the three tight ends got their hands on balls that weren't caught in a curious performance by a receiving corps that had a bye week to get sharp.
But it was Johnson's three drops, particularly two on third down in the third quarter that had Browns Town all over him.
With the Bengals getting the Browns off the field on a three-and-out to start the second half, the Bengals couldn't get that touchdown drive going that would give them a 24-21 lead. Instead, Johnson immediately dropped a slant pass on third-and-three.
"It's nothing they did," Johnson said. "They didn't stop me, I stopped myself. It was easy plays. A slant route. I was trying too hard. I don't know what it was. I have to look at the film and see."
What he'll see is Henry primarily covering one-on-one with a safety occasionally rolling over to help. At times, it looked like Johnson beat Henry one-on-one, but Palmer couldn't get him the ball. Other times, Johnson didn't get open. Or he dropped it.
Or, on the next series, Palmer tried to hook up with Johnson on a bomb that has now failed to tick in four straight games and has only worked in the opener. Since catching a 53-yard touchdown pass against the Jets, Johnson's longest grab is 24 yards. Against the Browns, his longest catch was 18 yards and that was on basically a running play on pretty much a long lateral to the sideline.
Although Palmer underthrew the bomb at the Cleveland 9, Johnson said he should have come back and taken it away from Henry.
"I still should have had it," Johnson said. "I tried to run back to it, but I couldn't get back to it enough in time. He jumped to it and played it. He made a good play."
With the Bengals defense forcing their third straight punt to open the second half, the offense still had that shot to take the lead. But Palmer never could get a fourth play when Johnson dropped another quick hitter that would have gone for a first down on third-and-four from the Bengals 14 with 4:13 left in a scoreless third quarter.
Lewis made it known he wasn't enthralled with Johnson's prank, and Sunday he let it be known why.
"Chad puts too much pressure on himself, and then he comes here and when you don't get things done the way you need to, then you feel like you're struggling," Lewis said. "He dropped a lot of passes just like everybody else did."
Washington says he didn't drop that touchdown pass, a marvelous play by Palmer delivering the nine-yard throw on third-and-nine even though he had Browns draped all over his person. It was low, but Washington knows he should have made a cleaner play as he went to the ground.
"It was a bad play by me," Washington said. "I tried to roll over and get up too fast and the ball came out. The perception was the ball came out. You've got to secure the ball and that's something I didn't do.
"We had a tough day today as far as the receiving corps," Washington said. "We never dropped this many passes as far as this group has been together. We just had a tough day as far as concentration on the ball, and penalties really killed us, too. It was just one of those games we had trouble catching the ball. Not just one person, a couple of guys."
The primary reason the Bengals made the move to Palmer from Jon Kitna was because of the long ball. But since Palmer threw the 53-yarder to Johnson and a 30-yarder to Peter Warrick in the opener, his longest pass has been 24 yards in the last four games.
Palmer pointed to a running game that had its fits and starts Sunday, allowing Rudi Johnson just 3.6 yards per his 16 carries as just one of the reasons.
Palmer threw twice as many passes as handing it off again (36-18), and when they trailed by just 21-17, they opened the first two drives of the second half with passes. The other three-and-out had two passes. That may or may not get the they're-throwing-too-many-passes debate going again.
"The opportunity to throw the long ball is something you get when other things are going well, like the running game," Palmer said. "If you just take the ball and throw it long into coverage like we saw today, you just throw it over everybody's head and it's like a foul ball. You come back second and 10. Before you can get those opportunities to throw long, you've got to do other things right."
The Browns did everything right when it came to covering Johnson Sunday. Browns strong safety Robert Griffith told Johnson after the game not to send him any more packages.
"Maybe I'm a little old school," Griffith said. "I take it as a challenge. You can't just be sending me stuff and saying what you want in the paper. I'm at the end of that era when we used to put bounties on guys."
Johnson said he would have done it all over again, and that he made sure he congratulated all four of them after on "playing a good game," and came away from it thinking that none of them took it personally.
"Regardless of what I do during the week, you still have to come out and perform," Johnson said. "It wouldn't have been any different. I wouldn't have played any different. I just wasn't making the plays I was supposed to. I dropped two passes that could have kept drives going. That resulted in the loss, so it's on my shoulders.
Two years ago, Johnson dropped a fourth-down pass against the Colts in the last 25 seconds at about the Indy 25 as the Bengals drove for the tying touchdown.
That was the day Johnson vowed to jack up his game, and he finished the season with the first five 100-yard games of his career. It was the game he recalled Sunday when asked if he had ever had a similar disappointing afternoon, and the one he said he used like he's going to use this one to fuel his comeback.
Like Sunday, that was the fifth game of the season.