Bengals do it the hard way

Updated: 7:10 p.m.

The stat sheet looks like a Ripley's Believe it Or Not exhibit.

The Bengals beat the Rams on Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium, 19-10, in an intermittent rain even though Carson Palmer (60.8) nearly had the same passer rating as someone named Brock Berlin (60.6), the Bengals' season-high 192 rushing yards were nearly as many as the combined yards of these teams' much ballyhooed receiving duos, and Bengals running back Rudi Johnson was booed until the final drive.

"This was a win that had its moments of brilliance at times and the opposite at other times," said head coach Marvin Lewis, his team at 5-8 with back-to-back wins at home for the first time this season.

For the fifth straight week, the defense played winning football and for the second time in three weeks it didn't allow a touchdown. On this day it was sparked by what defensive tackle John Thornton called a "Defensive Player of the Week" performance from strong safety Dexter Jackson.

Jackson had four tackles, two behind the line of scrimmage, a forced fumble recovered by Thornton in a 10-0 game that answered a Rams turnover, and the clinching interception with 1:38 left in the game at the Bengals 26.

"The game plan didn't change," said Jackson when news reached Cincinnati of Berlin's first NFL start. "This team feeds off Steven Jackson. The running game gets it started. I can go play quarterback and turn around and hand it off to big bruising back. We tried to take the run away and make them throw the ball. That's not their strength."

For the fourth time in five weeks the Bengals held their foe under 100 yards rushing with Jackson getting 54 of his 91 yards on one run that came off a missed tackle in the backfield by of all people, Dexter Jackson. It was not lost on the latter Jackson that Steven bounced up talking.

"He should. He made a long run," Dexter said. "After that play I didn't want it to happen again."

The Bengals offense also stuck to its game plan and that was to keep mashing it against the Rams' inexhaustible supply of stunts and blitzes designed to take Palmer off his passing game.

But it wore down in the running game. Johnson, saddled since the third game with an injured hamstring, entered the final drive with 44 yards on 17 carries and the Bengals leading, 16-10 with 5:08 left.

"We felt like we could be a more physical team up front. We went out and did it, and we proved it when it was really sloppy and wet, and pouring down rain.," Palmer said of the first-quarter rain that eventually slowed down.

"They knew it was coming, and we were still finding ways to get yardage. I think we almost ended up with 200 yards (rushing). And they knew the run was coming, and we just kept plugging away."

The number was 192 on 36 carries for 5.3 yards a pop, the most on the ground this season and the most in three years since that 253-yard day against the Browns on Nov. 28, 2004.

On the final drive's first four carries and the clock ticking under five minutes, Johnson ripped off runs of six, 10, nine, and 22 yards. The last one, with 2:36 left, marked Johnson's longest run of a season he has been hampered by an injured hamstring.

Johnson, who also scored the Bengals' only touchdown, sheared off nearly three minutes to set up Shayne Graham's fourth field goal of the day on a 46-yarder with 2:22 left.

Graham, booting on his 30th birthday, proves at least one thing will start after 30. He's three away from Doug Pelfrey's 1995 season club record of 29 field goals and two from his personal best of 28 set in '05.

Johnson, who admitted last week he's 75 percent, finished the drive and the game with 92 yards on 23 carries, his best day since the second game of the season (118 yards against the Browns), which came a week before he injured his hamstring in Seattle.

"We ran some more 'Rudi' style runs, which helped us out," Lewis said.

That meant more "power," with 340-pound left guard Andrew Whitworth pulling and helping the massive 700-pound double-team of right guard Bobbie Williams and right tackle Stacy Andrews. The Bengals rolled that out for Johnson's 88-yard day against Tennessee two weeks ago, but had a hard time doing it last week against Pittsburgh's 3-4 defense.

"It works better against a 4-3," Williams said.

Asked if he heard the boos, Johnson said, "Doesn't bother me. I play for the people in here (the locker room)."

The intimate gathering because of the rain (announced attendance 65,143) was actually calling for second-year running back DeDe Dorsey after he touched the ball three times in the first half for 78 yards. He only ran it one more time for three yards and when asked if he's going to give Dorsey more time Lewis said, "I'm not going to tell you that now ... DeDe has his sets of runs. Rudi has his and Kenny Watson has his."

Dorsey shrugged. He did say he was pleased the statisticians ruled his 45-yard run off a screen pass in the backfield a running play, making it the longest run by a Bengal since Johnson went for a 33-yarder Dec. 18, 2005 in Detroit. It would have been a two-yard gain, but Dorsey froze Rams corner Ronnie Bartell with a stutter step before breezing up the sideline.

"I trust the coaches," said Dorsey, who played his college ball at NAIA Lindenwood in suburban St. Louis.

Yes, he recalled that the Rams invited him to Rams Park, four Brock Berlin throws from campus, to check him out before the 2006 draft. But they didn't draft him or sign him. The Bengals did sign him after the draft.

"A little bit. A little bit," said Dorsey, asked if that visit was on his mind, putting his fingers close together.

Defense plays well

The defense did exactly what it was supposed to do in Berlin's first NFL action ever. It kept the Rams out of the end zone, allowing only Jeff Wilkins' 50-yard field goal with 5:08 left in the game, and to that point had given them just 222 yards on the way to allowing 241.

Berlin went into the two-minute drill 16-of-25 for 140 yards and finished 17-of-28 for 153. Before Wilkins' field goal, rookie safety Chinedum Ndukwe tipped Berlin's pass and it was nearly picked off by defensive tackle Jonathan Fanene.

The Bengals, unable to put away the Rams in the first half, saw their 10-0 halftime lead cut to 10-7 in the second half's first 54 seconds with a killing turnover.

Even when they had the ball for virtually the rest of the quarter, the Bengals couldn't get that score that would give them a 10-point lead and they had to settle for two Graham field goals that gave them a 16-7 lead heading into the fourth quarter.

A 15-play drive ended in Graham's 38-yarder that made it 13-7 with 4:41 left in the third, and Bengals wide receiver Chad Johnson's 52-yard catch set up Graham's 32-yarder with 19 seconds left in the quarter. Johnson had just one catch for eight yards before that play on a yards-less day.

The offense rustled briefly in the first drive when Palmer found wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh twice on third down. But the Rams harassed Palmer all day and on the drive's 15th play, defensive tackle La'Roi Glover worked a stunt on the interior of the offensive line and it freed defensive end Eric Moore's unimpeded sack.

After Chad Johnson's big play, the longest catch by him and the team since the 56-yarder against the Jets Oct. 21, the Bengals couldn't get the running game unhinged in the red zone with Rudi Johnson grabbing just 39 yards on his first 16 carries, and Palmer was forced to overthrow Chad Johnson into the end zone on third down to bring on Graham for the 32-yarder that made it 16-7.

On the second play of the second half, Palmer tried to hit Houshmandzadeh in the slot, but Rams cornerback Fakhir Brown came off his coverage of Chad Johnson, stepped in front of Houshmandzadeh, and went 41 yards for a touchdown.

The Bengals offense couldn't put in the 17-0 dagger in the second quarter after Dexter Jackson's perfectly-timed blitz forced Steven Jackson's fumble that was recovered by Thornton at the Bengals 41.

The Rams promptly penetrated in the backfield over the offensive line's left side to drop Rudi Johnson for a one-yard loss and then on third down they caved the pocket quickly to prevent Palmer from getting time to convert a third down.

Except for Dorsey and Steven Jackson, the first half was dearth of offense. Palmer (12-for-16, 87 yards) didn't get much time in the rain and his longest completion came on the half's last play, a 25-yard dump to running back Kenny Watson with half the Rams draped on him in the pocket.

Houshmandzadeh, the NFL's leading receiver ending the day with eight catches, 96 on the season and 399 for his career, dropped one ball that turned into Bartell's interception and fumbled away another when he couldn't secure it over the middle.

"I tried to catch it with my body because it was wet," Houshmandzadeh said. "No excuse because no one else was putting it on the ground."

Watson recovered the fumble and it went as a catch, one of Houshmandzadeh's five in a half he had just 29 yards. Chad Johnson had just one catch for eight yards.

With quarterbacks Marc Bulger (concussion) and Gus Frerotte (shoulder) sidelined, the Rams struggled in Berlin's NFL debut. He ended the half 6-of-11 for 45 yards with several curious throws.

On Cincinnati's first drive of the second half, which began at its own 7, Dorsey took a screen pass in the backfield and bolted up the sidelines for a 45-yard play. Then on third-and-one, with left guard Andrew Whitworth pulling and fullback Jeremi Johnson taking on the secondary, Dorsey stepped through a hole for a 14-yard gain he finished off with a stiff arm of safety Corey Chavous on the sideline.

But Bartell dropped an end-zone interception when Palmer went for Chad Johnson on third down, and the Bengals needed Graham's 27-yard field goal to make it 10-0 with 9:50 left in the first half.

Rudi gives Bengals lead

As the sun gave a little blink and brightened up a dreary stadium, Rudi Johnson bucked over from the 1-yard-line to give the Bengals a 7-0 lead about 10 minutes into the game.

The Bengals survived false starts by Bobbie Williams and center Eric Ghiaciuc, but the Rams couldn't survive middle linebacker Will Witherspoon's 18-yard interference penalty working against wide receiver Antonio Chatman on third-and-11 that put the ball on the 1.

And they couldn't dodge cornerback Brown's missed tackle on Dorsey that resulted in a 19-yard run. Brown had Dorsey wrapped up after about three yards, but Dorsey wriggled to the outside.

Bengals defensive end Justin Smith popped Berlin on his first NFL pass that sent a nine-yard popup caught by wide receiver Torry Holt. But Berlin then got his feet tangled on an offensive lineman for a six-yard loss and misfired on a ball that was almost picked by rookie safety Marvin White. White got the start ahead of fellow rookie Ndukwe.

Ndukwe checked in on the next play, and looked to be playing on passing downs while White played on first and second downs.

But the Bengals countered with a first series just as brutal. Bobbie Williams false-started before the first snap and on third-and-two Glover blew up the middle of the line and dropped Rudi Johnson for a six-yard loss.

Berlin's miseries continued. Dexter Jackson dropped Steven Jackson for a four-yard loss on the Rams 1, and facing a third-and-five Berlin took a shot at Holt on the sideline. Cornerback Johnathan Joseph climbed the ladder and knocked the ball out of Holt's hands.

That set up a 32-yard punt, which in turn set up the first score when the Bengals started from the Rams 42.

The sun quickly went away, but it seemed to keep the rain away for a game that began in 38-degree weather. The first play of the second quarter summed up the Rams' struggles. On third-and-seven Rams wide receiver Isaac Bruce was in front of cornerback Leon Hall going across the field, but Berlin hit Hall in the foot for the incompletion.

The Bengals' young corners, along with a solid game from Deltha O'Neal, held Bruce to no catches for the first time since the 2003 finale. Holt, another Hall of Famer, was eight for 90 while Chad Johnson (two for 60) and Houshmandzadeh (8-52) had 112 yards.

PREGAME NOTES: Two guys got their first NFL start Sunday and the Bengals hoped it worked to their advantage when they gave rookie safety Chinedum Ndukwe the nod on a day the Rams opted to rest Marc Bulger and start Brock Berlin at quarterback.

The changes were announced as a dark downpour cascaded on Paul Brown Stadium, a weather pattern matching the bleak records of the 4-8 Bengals and 3-9 Rams. The FieldTurf, covered by a tarp until the officials ordered it off at 10 a.m., looked good with no puddles.

Ndukwe, a seventh-rounder out of Notre Dame, starts in place of free safety Madieu Williams. It's the first game Williams (quad) has missed since he injured his shoulder in '05 and couldn't get through the sixth game and had to be placed on injured reserve.

Ndukwe has seen a lot of time in the dime package and came into the game with two sacks, a forced fumble, and 18 tackles.

But Berlin has no stats because he has yet to throw an NFL pass or play in a regular-season game. Bulger (concussion) was inactive and his backup, Gus Frerotte (shoulder) was listed as the No. 3 despite spraining his shoulder last week. The Rams backup QB is Todd Bouman, signed Thursday with one practice under his belt.

Bengals tight end Daniel Coats, down last week, is dressed this week with tight end Nate Lawrie down. Among the other inactives are defensive end Frostee Rucker and right tackle Willie Anderson. Also down are wide receiver Marcus Maxwell, cornerback David Jones and linebacker Jim Maxwell.

The Bengals specialists saw an old friend Sunday as they took the field in all black, an ensemble in which they have a 5-4 record.

Al Roberts, the long-time Bengals special teams coach who left with the 2003 arrival of Marvin Lewis, just doesn't drop into a town, coach, and then pack up his briefcase.

He returned in the same capacity with the Rams, but he has never really left Cincinnati.

Roberts is forever attached to the Tri-State when he lost his house in Sycamore Township in the killer tornado of 1999. The fact that Bengals president Mike Brown helped him get back on his feet has never been lost on Roberts.

"They're still my Bengals, but for 60 minutes it's going to be a tough, hard-fought game everyone wants to win," Roberts said Thursday night from his office in Rams Park.

Roberts became active in church life during his stay here and when a seven-year-old girl asked him to be her grandfather, he didn't say no. She's now 14 and he came back to Cincy for a visit during the Rams bye week last month.

"Along with my granddaughter, we've got a lot of friends there in the church and we get back once or twice a year," he said. "It's a great town with a lot of great people."

People have a hard time letting Roberts go. He didn't get back into the NFL until this season, when Rams head coach Scott Linehan went back to Garfield High School in Seattle to get another answer.

That's the inner-city school where Roberts was coaching when Linehan, a colleague from the 1996 University of Washington staff, called back in 2005 when he got the Rams head coaching job.

"But the kids asked me to stay and these are kids that don't have much and they need somebody in their lives," Roberts said. "I couldn't leave them. I didn't want to leave them."

They went 1-9, but his mission of keeping the team and lives together was accomplished and he was able to give Linehan a yes for 2006.

He's happy to be back in the NFL but there are always challenges. Roberts hasn't had kick returner Dante Hall for much of the season and lost him to IR this week, but not before he returned an 85-yard punt for a touchdown. He won't have his backup, Brandon Williams, either, on Sunday. So Marques Hagans, who has one kickoff return this year, figures to return both.

"The Bengals are solid," Roberts said. "You know how I like to do it, I like to use numbers and I like the looks of 51 (linebacker Corey Mays), 95 (linebacker Roy Manning after he played his first game last week), 41 (Ndukwe), and the kick returner (Glenn) Holt has been giving them solid play. (Kicker) Shayne Graham makes his kickoffs hard to catch."

Injuries often impact special teams the most and first, and the Rams are no different. Roberts is keeping an eye on Holt because St. Louis is next-to-last in the NFL covering kicks and the Bengals are 13th returning them. They went in 12th last week, but Holt lost his second fumble of the season in Pittsburgh.

Holt had to wait because the Bengals lost the toss and kicked to St. Louis in a 38-degree rain.

Joining Carson Palmer, John Thornton, and Dhani Jones were tight end Reggie Kelly and safety Dexter Jackson.

The Bengals honored the Division II state champions from Anderson High School and lined them up on the goal line, a familiar spot for them. They beat Harrison High School at PBS the past two seasons.

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