Posted: 8:20 p.m.
Chad Johnson hauls in a one-yard TD recpetion. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
With Sunday's 41-17 victory over the shell-shocked Detroit Lions, the Bengals secured the AFC North division title and their first playoff appearance in 15 years.
"It's a great day to be a Bengal," Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer said. "Our fans are awesome. They always are. Bengals fans are great."
As the last two minutes counted down, an orange-clad crowd behind the Bengals bench chanted alternately, "Who Dey," and "Marvin, Marvin, Marvin" in honor of head coach Marvin Lewis.
"It means a lot but there's still a lot to do," Lewis said. "I'm excited about the opportunities. I know I sound too much like a coach, but I'm worrying about what's ahead."
Linebacker Brian Simmons, who has waited eight years for a playoff appearance, has a lot to look forward to. His wife gave birth to a boy Sunday morning, a day before she was supposed to be induced. But after 108 games, he now has a son and an AFC North title.
"By the time I would have gotten back (home), I would have missed (the birth)," Simmons said. "It certainly is a big day." But Simmons, like the rest of teammates, tempered the celebration. They did break out AFC North champion ball caps and grey AFC North T-shirts, and the coaches smoked cigars as they walked to the bus. There were reports that wide receiver Chad Johnson didn't come through on his "Who-Dey" beer celebration, but he did spray Wilie Anderson with a Mountain Dew.
It took Anderson, the Pro Bowl right tackle, 10 seasons and 156 games to reach the playoffs. As he walked off the field and was about to disappear into the runway, he waved to a group of Bengals fans chanting his name, and one said, "This one's for you Willie."
"I'd like to thank God," Anderson said. "I'm not getting that excited because the good teams win the division every year. If we win the Super Bowl, you might see me do a backflip."
Lewis's mantra for this season has been, "Do Your Job." He was still doing his job with 25 seconds left when Palmer and backup quarterback Jon Kitna doused him with a Gatorade bucket.
"He wasn't too happy," Palmer said. "He's got to learn to enjoy it. It doesn't happen all the time."
Home away from home
The game at Ford Field at times looked and sounded like an indoor version of Paul Brown Stadium. With chants of "Rudi, Rudi" mingled with cries of "Fire Millen," the Bengals finished off their fourth straight victory, sixth in the last seventh games, and the 11th win of their break-through season under head coach Marvin Lewis.
When running back Rudi Johnson ripped off a 33-yard run off the right side early in the fourth quarter to give him his fourth 100-yard game of the season, Lions fans were left to contemplate life with team chief Matt Millen while Bengaldom pondered its first home playoff game since Jan. 6, 1991.
Johnson finished with 117 yards rushing on 24 carries and two touchdowns, giving him his career-high 12th touchdown, and 10th in the last 12 games.
The only downer was an undetermined foot injury to wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh, which knocked him out of the second half. He said after the game, however, that he would play Saturday against Buffalo.
After the Bengals actually got a better reception than the Lions when the defense ran on the field in their all white uniforms as a unit during pregame introductions, the Bengals wasted no time jumping to a 17-0 lead in the first dozen minutes to the delight of a huge contingent of Bengals fans that made the four-hour drive up Interstate 75 North to hail the end of the drought.
In what suddenly became a frat party-like atmosphere in the first half, the Bengals ushered in their new era by saluting the fall of two of the club's oldest and prized records. The road-trippers were treated to Palmer's three first-half touchdown passes as he became the first Bengal to pass for 30 touchdowns in a season, breaking Ken Anderson's 1981 record of 29.
Moments later, cornerback Deltha O'Neal came up with his league-leading 10th interception of the year when he caught a deflection off the hands of Lions receiver Roy Williams, breaking cornerback Ken Riley's 1976 record.
The Bengals used the playbook they used all season. In the first half, they forced four turnovers (one was defensive tackle John Thornton's first career interception) to jack their NFL-leading total to 42 and used them to score 10 points in padding their league-leading total to 146 points off turnovers.
And, the Palmer-Chad Johnson scoring combo surfaced for the first time in three weeks seven plays after Thornton got his interception when tight end Sean McHugh juggled a Jeff Garcia pass at the Lions 45.
Palmer rolled out of the pocket at the Lions 1 and hit Johnson beating Pro Bowl cornerback Dre Bly to the corner to give the Bengals the 17-0 lead. Johnson drew boos from the surreal crowd for not doing a celebration and simply tossing the ball to the official. Johnson finished with a career-high 11 receptions for 99 yards and the score.
Like the Bengals have done all year, they responded to Lewis's moves and Sunday it was the deactivation of rookie wide receiver Chris Henry. Wide receiver Kelley Washington, inactive the last five weeks himself, caught a 12-yard pass on third-and-two to keep the first touchdown drive alive and he capped it with a leaping 18-yard catch over cornerback Andre Goodman at the goal line to give the Bengals a 10-0 lead just 7:08 into the game.
Rookie wide receiver Tab Perry wasted no time getting the crowd into the right mood when the Lions' R.W. McQuarters fumbled the opening kickoff and he recovered at the Lions 23.
The Bengals settled for Shayne Graham's 28-yard field goal when Palmer overthrew Houshmandzadeh working open in the end zone on third down, but the pair soon hooked up for Houshmandzadeh's fifth touchdown catch on third down this season.
With the Bengals holding a 17-7 lead in the second quarter and facing a third-and-goal from the Lions 7, Palmer sent Houshmandzadeh on an out pattern and he zipped it across the field to the sideline, where Houshmandzadeh made Goodman miss at the 2 and squirted into the end zone to give Cincinnati a 24-7 advantage.
It wasn't all pretty. Palmer also threw two interceptions in the half, the first time he's thrown more than one in a game since the Oct. 23 loss to Pittsburgh. Palmer narrowly missed out on recording his NFL-record 12th game of at least a 100 passer rating by posting a rating of 95.5 in Sunday's game.
Late in the half Palmer took a 15-yard shot at Chad Johnson on the sideline, but he couldn't overthrow double coverage and Bly jumped in front of Johnson at the Lions 38.
But Bengals cornerback Tory James returned the favor two snaps later when he ran down the middle with wide receiver Roy Williams, and reached back over his head to snare his fifth interception of the season and the team's NFL-leading 30th at the Bengals 19.
Washington, who came into the game with five catches for 49 yards, finished Sunday with four catches for 48.
The day Bengaldom has waited so long for began with Lewis making one of those decisions that has marked his three-year run at reviving the franchise.
Lewis deactivated Henry four days after his arrest on a possession of marijuana charge early Thursday morning. Also down because of injury was strong safety Ifeanyi Ohalete (ribs), giving Anthony Mitchell his first start in 25 games as a Bengal. Also out was defensive tackle Matthias Askew as Lewis countered the absence of injured Carl Powell (neck) with rookie Jonathan Fanene.
Washington took Henry's spot as the third receiver as the NFL's fourth-ranked offense didn't miss a beat in piling up 240 first-half yards. The Bengals came into the game winners of five of their last six and three in a row in racking up their first 10-win season since 1988, but with Pittsburgh winning in Minnesota the Bengals needed to win Sunday to take home their first title since 1990 and secure a home playoff game. They also are in a race with 11-3 Denver for the AFC's second seed and a first-week bye.
The Bengals came into their first game at Ford with a seven-game winning streak over the NFC that features victories this year over Minnesota, Chicago and Green Bay. They picked off each of those teams five times for 15 of their 27 NFL-leading interceptions and were at it again with three in the first half Sunday.
The victory gave the Bengals a 6-1 road record heading into the New Year's Day finale in Kansas City, marking the first time they've win road six games in a season since the 1981 AFC champions.
But it wasn't your typical road game as Ford Field also hosted a protest of irate Lions fans urged to wear orange.
Mitchell got the start in place of Ohalete, but cornerback Keiwan Ratliff also got some work there. Since Rashad Bauman became the nickel corner a few weeks ago, Ratliff has played some safety on passing downs, and Garcia didn't do much in the first half with nine-of-15 passing for 122 yards.
Askew, a fourth-round pick in 2004, has now been inactive in all 14 games this season. With Powell and starting left defensive tackle (foot) out, the Bengals rested starting tackles Thornton and Shaun Smith with ends Duane Clemons and Robert Geathers on passing downs. That opened the door for Fanene, in his second NFL game, to play some end.
The 290-pound Fanene, a seventh-rounder out of Utah, played well in his NFL debut in Pittsburgh two weeks ago. But Clemons's good work in practice last week, as well as getting over some nagging injuries, got him back on the sidelines for the Cleveland game. The Bengals have also talked about using Fanene inside on passing downs and when the Lions started the game with three wide receivers, Fanene started at tackle.
They didn't face the Lions' top running back with Kevin Jones out with an elbow injury and running back Artose Pinner was held to 15 yards on six carries in the first half.
Henry, arrested by Covington, KY police on the drug charge in the wee hours Thursday, made the trip but was inactive for the first time since the opener. Washington figured to get the bulk of the third-receiver snaps since the Bengals don't want to beat down Perry and Walter, each tied for second with 15 special tackles, one behind leader Marcus Wilkins. They got a break on special teams with Detroit Pro Bowl returner Eddie Drummond out with a bad knee.
The Bengals lost Henry's 30 catches and five touchdowns, although Tab Perry and Walter have each scored a touchdown this season. But Walter's 15 catches, Washington's five, and Perry's two still leave the trio eight shy of Henry's output.
A source outside the Bengals confirmed Sunday that Henry's arrest on the marijuana possession and several traffic infractions including speeding occurred on separate days. The drug case has been continued to Jan. 13, a few days after the opening weekend of the playoffs. Henry can only be suspended or fined if he's convicted or admits any kind of guilt.
Linebacker Nate Webster was also inactive Sunday, joining Henry, Ohalete, Chris Perry, Powell, Robinson and Askew.
Former Bengals safety Bracy Walker got the start in place of the injured Jon McGraw.
Lewis's game captains for what he hoped was the clincher: Clemons, Wilkins, linebacker Brian Simmons, running back Rudi Johnson, and tight end Reggie Kelly.