Cedric Benson managed just 60 yards on 15 carries. (AP photo)
CLEVELAND - The Bengals eight-game AFC North winning streak ended Sunday here at Cleveland Browns Stadium when the winless Browns pounded them with their own medicine of a power running game and stingy rush defense to take a 23-20 victory.
But a wide-open game ensued as the Bengals scrambled to get back. With quarterback Carson Palmer running the no-huddle, the Bengals cut the lead to 23-20 with 10:44 left in the game on a three-yard shovel pass to running back Brian Leonard. With wide receiver Terrell Owens reaching the 200-yard mark for the third time in his career with 209 on two big catches in the drive, Palmer also hit rookie wide receiver Jordan Shipley on a 20-yard pass.
But he wouldn't have him much longer. Shipley left with a concussion when Browns cornerback T.J. Ward drilled him in the head and the ensuing penalty gave the Bengals life at the 3.
After a three-and-out by the Bengals defense, the Bengals got the ball at their own 14 with 9:34 left and started to move again. Palmer, who hit 25 of 36 passes for 371 yards, found Owens again on a big third-and-2 over the middle as he hit 222 receiving yards, the second most of his career and 61 yards shy of his career-high 283.
But faced with another third-and-two from the Cleveland 42, the Bengals opted to take out running back Cedric Benson and on the pass to wide receiver Chad Ochocinco, The Ocho was called for offensive pass interference. That made it third-and-13 and when Browns outside linebacker Matt Roth beat right tackle Dennis Roland on the back side for a sack, the Bengals had to punt as the clock ticked under five minutes.
Then the Bengals used up their two remaining timeouts when the defense couldn't hold. Defensive tackle Pat Sims was called for a hold and Hillis pounded them again. He mashed for a first down on third-and-one and then broke off his longest run of the day right before the two-minute warning on a 24-yard run where WILL linebacker Keith Rivers couldn't chase him down. That gave Hillis 102 yards.
Cleveland exposed the Bengals' continuing problem on the offensive line. After Hillis gouged out two 250-pound runs of seven and eight yards in the red zone as well as a one-yard touchdown run to make it 20-13 with 8:54 left in the third quarter, the Bengals gave up a costly sack.
Left guard Nate Livings didn't pick up a stunt and linebacker Scott Fujita banged into Palmer as he pumped once and the ball came loose at the Cincinnati 13, where it was recovered by Browns defensive end Kenyon Coleman. That translated into Phil Dawson's 22-yard field goal that made it 23-10 with 6:32 left in the third quarter.
The Bengals cut it to 23-13 late in the third quarter on Mike Nugent's 25-yard field goal, but the Bengals again couldn't get home in the red zone. Palmer took a coverage sack in there to blunt a fairly crisp drive out of the no-huddle.
The Bengals brought the long ball out of the basement when Owens scored his first touchdown as a Bengal on the longest pass of Palmer's career. But the Browns did what the Bengals couldn't do and secured a late first-half field goal to take a 13-10 lead into the locker room.
With 3:30 left in the first half, Palmer hit Owens on a 78-yarder down the left sideline on second-and-long as Owens made cornerback Sheldon Brown stumble and fall one play after left tackle Andrew Whitworth was called for holding.
Then, after cornerback Leon Hall caught a deflection off the hands of wide receiver Chansi Stuckey for his third interception in as many games, Palmer hooked up with Owens again for a 25-yarder on the sideline that Owens caught and ran past rookie cornerback Joe Haden. The catch gave Owens four catches for 128 yards and moved him into second place on the NFL's all-time receiving yards list ahead of Isaac Bruce and behind Jerry Rice.
But with 1:39 left, Nugent missed his first field goal as a Bengal when linebacker Scott Fujita knifed between tackles Dennis Roland and Andre Smith and blocked the 44-yard attempt, Nugent's first miss in 10 tries.
Backup quarterback Seneca Wallace then spread out the Bengals and wheeled them down the field with the help of an unnecessary roughness call on safety Chinedum Ndukwe when he went in the air to tackle tight end Benjamin Watson at the Bengals 30. Phil Dawson then hit a 31-yard field goal to give the Browns the 13-10 lead as the first half ran out.
Wallace and his no-name receivers had a successful first half as he hit 14 of 21 passes for 54 yards. Palmer countered with a 12-of-19 half for 212 yards.
The Bengals dug themselves a 10-0 hole in the first 19 minutes when their defense fell victim to Wallace's 24-yard touchdown pass to tight end Evan Moore with 11:04 left in the second quarter.
The Bengals answered on the next snap when Palmer hit Ochocinco on a 42-yard bomb down the sideline working on cornerback Eric Wright. Palmer then converted a third down scrambling to hit Owens over the middle. Wright bounced back on the next third down when Palmer tried to hit Owens in the corner of the end zone and Wright knocked it away before Nugent was called on to cut the lead to 10-3 with 7:16 left in the second quarter.
Moore, a second-year player from Stanford, scored his first NFL touchdown when Wallace found him cutting inside safety Chris Crocker. Wallace hurt the Bengals on throws to wide receivers Josh Cribbs and Stuckey and Hillis rode some missed tackles to 34 yards on his first eight carries.
With the Bengals turning to running back Bernard Scott, the Bengals failed to score a touchdown for the seventh time in 11 red-zone trips.
As soon as the Bengals offense looked crisp on its second possession, it suffered a fumble at midfield that the Browns turned into a 3-0 lead on Dawson's 30-yard field goal with 2:28 left in the first quarter.
The Bengals forced the field goal when SAM linebacker Rey Maualuga stayed home on a short run by Cribbs in the Wildcat and Wallace had nowhere to go on third-and-seven when Cribbs was covered.
Facing a second-and-three from the Cleveland 47 after a 17-yard throw to Owens and a seven-yard flip to Gresham, Palmer turned to hand off to running back Cedric Benson as Wright came blitzing off the edge. Benson never got control of it and the Browns got it back.
The Bengals came into the game 10-4 against the Browns under head coach Marvin Lewis, a margin pretty much hammed out between the tackles with their running game. In the last four wins against the Browns dating back to Kenny Watson's 30 carries late in the 2007 season, they've attacked the Browns with four different running backs that have combined for at least 24 carries.
With Andre Smith active after not getting the call last week, that could have meant the Bengals planned to pound it out on the ground. They went at the Panthers last Sunday with a bit of a wide-open attack. On their first four third downs of two yards or less, they opted to pass until Benson lost two yards on a third-and-one.
On Sunday the Bengals faced their first third-and-two from the Browns 42 in their first series and for the third time on third down they went four wides. They had gotten first downs on quick throws against a blitz to Gresham and wide receiver Andre Caldwell, but this throw to Ochocinco was batted down by leaping linebacker David Bowens at the line.
The Bengals forced a punt on the Browns' first third down of the game when cornerback Adam Jones jumped a route to the sideline headed to wide receiver Mohamd Massaquoi.
The offense went back to struggling on its third series of the game. Smith came in at right tackle for Roland and when Palmer stepped up in the pocket, left end Kenyon Coleman came off Smith and got a sack. On the following snap, a third down, Palmer was forced to go to running back Brian Leonard short of the first down and it was high.
Cornerback Johnathan Joseph injured his right forearm late in the second quarter and he did not play in the second half. Safety Roy Williams also left the game with an injury in tyhe second half and did not return. With the interception, Hall's fifth against Cleveland, he moved into a tie for sixth on the Bengals all-time list with Tommy Casanova with 16.
PREGAME NOTES: Also active Sunday was wide receiver Jordan Shipley, limited all week in practice with a shoulder injury. The Browns made Jake Delhomme (ankle) the third quarterback and started Seneca Wallace.
In order to get Smith back in uniform, the Bengals put down offensive linemen Anthony Collins and Reggie Stephens. Benching Collins, down for the first time this season and just the third time in the past two seasons, entails some risk in that he backs up both tackle spots. Also inactive for the Bengals were cornerback Brandon Ghee, running back Cedric Peerman, defensive lineman Jon Fanene (hamstring), wide receiver Jerome Simpson, and defensive end Carlos Dunap.
Injuries forced the Browns to make moves at other spots besides quarterback. Kick returner Josh Cribbs got the start in place of inactive wide receiver Brian Robiskie and Tony Pashos went at right tackle in place of the inactive John St. Clair. Nose tackle Shaun Rogers, hounded by injuries, didn't start but was expected to play.
The possibility of rain leaped in the 24 hours before the game, but when the lineups were announced 90 minutes before kickoff the sun peeked out of partly cloudy skies. The temperatures still felt like the predicted mid-50s and wind forecasted to get up to 17 miles per hour rustled, but the grass field appeared dry.
When the Eagles took on the Jeff Garcia-led Browns here in 2004 and beat them in overtime, Bengals wide receiver Terrell Owens scored on two touchdown passes early and the way Cleveland Plain-Dealer beat reporter Tony Grossi remembers it, on the second one Owens ripped down a sign on the end zone wall that said, "T.O. has B.O."
He may get another chance. Now the sign reads "T.O. and C.O. have B.O" in reference, it seems, to wide receiver Chad Ochocinco.
The Bengals came out looking to even their record at 11-12 in their white jerseys and black plants get up. The skies darkened as the captains gathered for the coin toss. The Bengals won the toss and took the ball and sent back running back Bernard Scott and Quan Cosby to return.