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Bengals, crowd band together

7:50 p.m.

Marvin Lewis called it the most complete team effort of the Marvin Lewis era. Before and after his Bengals broke to a 37-0 lead over the deer-in-the-headlights Vikings during a 37-8 victory in Sunday's Paul Brown Stadium opener.

And a few other eras, too.

Before the offense rolled up their most yards in four years (504), and before the defense rung up their most turnovers in 22 years (seven) and most interceptions in 29 years (five), the Bengals' offense ran on the field as one during the pregame introductions.

"It's something we do. It's something we started," said running back Rudi Johnson after he contributed 90 hard-bitten yards on 22 carries against Minnesota's revamped defensive front. "It's a thing we got going on now, so we're going to stick with it."

The thing the Bengals would like to stick with is 2-0. As they head to Chicago next week, they are 2-0 for just the third time since 1995 and for the first time under Lewis.

And for the first time since the Bengals didn't have a 53-player, 53-cab locker room.

"Marvin wants us to play like a band of brothers," said right tackle Willie Anderson, one of the principal architects of a gang lineup.

And, it's the second time at 2-0 for wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh, sore and happy after scoring on a sweep and a pass despite a bad shoulder that kept him out of one practice last week.

"We were 2-0 when I was a rookie, so we've already done that," said Houshmandzadeh of the 2001 season that ended 6-10. "Two and oh and then we went out to San Diego and lost. We can't lose. We've got to keep it going."


"All it means," said linebacker Brian Simmons, another 2001 veteran, "is that we've got more games to play than we've played."

The Bengals kept last week's Opening Day roll going by jumping on the Vikings in the game's first seven minutes for two touchdowns and a turnover as the crowd of 65,763 doused itself in orange and joy. The Bengals not only fed off the third biggest crowd in PBS history as they forced Vikings Pro Bowl quarterback Daunte Culpepper into a career-high five interceptions, but they also fed off each other.

"Give credit to the offense. They sparked it up with the long ball," said cornerback Deltha O'Neal, the first Bengal with three interceptions since David Fulcher in 1989. "From there, it was all downhill for us. We were just making plays left and right."

The defenders were even feeding off the defenders. On the second series of the second half, the desperate Culpepper, looking for Minnesota's first offensive touchdown of the season, went deep down the sideline. But there were two Bengals running with rookie wide receiver Troy Williamson and when O'Neal tipped it, strong safety Kevin Kaesviharn caught it behind him.

"Right after the play I told Deltha that one belonged to him. He could have had four," Kaesviharn said. "We just were where we were supposed to be, and we helped each other out."

The signature play of the game even took some team work, even though only quarterback Carson Palmer and wide receiver Chad Johnson are the only ones on the highlights with the 70-yard touchdown straight down the field on a deep post that singed veteran cornerback Antoine Winfield and free safety Darren Sharper. But in the background is Houshmandzadeh running across the field.

Houshmandzadeh had been talking about the play all week. Either he or Johnson was going to get it and, "We said we hope he throws it right and it was right there.

"The safety jumped me and Chad ran by him," Houshmandzadeh said. "It's hard to cover that play play. Either he's going to sit back on Chad or jump me, and he jumped me and Chad was behind him. You could see the corner, you can see him expecting (the safety) to be there."

Plus, the offensive line, as it did all day, kept Palmer immaculate on that play. And the Vikings' ballyhooed defensive line had no sacks all day.

"A lot of people were disrespecting our offensive line, saying that we weren't going to be able to handle their defensive line, which is one of the best defensive lines in the league," Palmer said. "I went back there and hitched three or four times with no one around me and I stepped into the ball. Chad just did a great job beating the guy."

Palmer has been ripped for underthrowing the deep ball all summer but, like Johnson said, "He didn't underthrow that one," although he jokingly took credit for it.

"Me and Carson worked in the weight room all week on his right arm," Johnson said. "Just arm curls."

But the Bengals had some strength up front in hammering out 4.3 yards per rush against two of the best tackles they'll play all year.

"If our line doesn't play well, we don't play well," said Houshmandzadeh. "You guys come and talk to us, but if they don't play well, we don't win. It's not basketball, where you say, 'Kobie, we're down 10 with three minutes left, bring us back.' This is football."

Which is music to the ears of Anderson. It was Anderson who went to his line back in the preseason with the idea of announcing the line together during intros. Then offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski mentioned it in a meeting in the preseason and asked them if they knew that the Patriots are always announced together. Then, not long ago, defensive tackle John Thornton came to Anderson to talk about it.

Then, at the beginning of last week, Lewis sat down with Anderson, and the plan was set.

"It was crazy. Bratkowski, J.T., me and Marvin were all thinking about it at about the same time," Anderson said. "I'm glad Marvin had us do it that way. That's the first step in taking that field. That tells the fans that we're not playing as individuals; we're playing as a team. That we're taking the field not thinking about playing for ourselves, but playing how Marvin wants us to be. Marvin wants us to play like a band and of brothers."

Even Lewis grudgingly had to say it was his team's best all-around game in 34 Marvin games.

"Yes," he said. "I have to give in."

But he won't let them give in to the idea of 2-0. He will no doubt remind them the last Bengals team that went 3-0 went to the playoffs in 1990. And he has already warned them about the media getting them "over exuberant," at 2-0.

But he won't stop at 3-0.

"We get to write the script," he said of a fast start. "We're going to keep writing it one day at a time. One game at a time."

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