The Bengals snapped their longest losing streak in history at 10 Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium by relying on the ball-hogging formula that brought them last season's AFC North title with a defense that suffocated Browns rookie quarterback Colt McCoy on four sacks and a running game that chewed a season-high 38:08 off the clock during running back Cedric Benson's 150 yards on 31 carries in a 19-17 victory.
But the Bengals needed to stave off the Browns at the end when the defense faltered for the first time all day with 2:13 left when cornerback Keiwan Ratliff, signed just on Wednesday, gambled for the interception on the sideline and gave up a 46-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Brian Robiske that cut the lead to 19-17.
But Bengals wide receiver Quan Cosby recovered the onside kick at the Cleveland 44 and on third-and-three Benson mashed four more yards into the left side to end the agony.
The Bengals claimed their first win since Sept. 26 with the help of rookie Clint Stitser's four field goals, two more sacks by rookie left end Carlos Dunlap and by the time they punted for the first time Sunday, there was just 4:06 left when Kevin Huber's kick rolled to the Cleveland 12 and the Bengals leading, 19-10. At that point the Bengals had run it 39 times to 23 throws with quarterback Carson Palmer connecting for 14 of them for 209 yards.
Stitster's final field goal, a 20-yarder with 9:58 left in the game, was set up by a 53-yard screen pass to wide receiver Andre Caldwell that was sprung by left tackle Andrew Whitworth's pancake block on safety Abram Elam.
The defense made a terrific stand on the first play of the fourth quarter on third-and-one from the Bengals 5 when defensive tackle Pat Sims and rookie linebacker Roddrick Muckelroy stacked up red-hot Browns back Peyton Hillis on his bread-and-butter on a play up the middle that forced Phil Dawson' 23-yard field goal that cut the Bengals lead to 16-10. Hillis, averaging 4.5 yards for the season was held to 4.2 with his longest carry going for 18 yards on a draw play on a 59-yard day. For the second straight game, the Bengals defense didn't allow a 20-yard run.
The Bengals did everything in the second half but score touchdowns. On the second half's first series Palmer got the Bengals out of another second-and-20 caused by their second holding call of the day (center Kyle Cook) when he lasered a 20-yarder into double coverage to Caldwell on the sideline. Palmer then converted a third-and-seven when he stepped up in the pocket and found wide open running back Brian Leonard for a 20-yard play that Leonard finished off with "The Leap" over safety T.J. Ward. That set up Stitser's 39-yard field goal for a 13-7 Bengals lead less than four minutes into the second half.
After another superb three-and-out by the defense (with a sack by Sims on second down), Benson realized his season-long dream and carried the ball on the first eight plays of the next drive for 37 yards as the Bengals bulled it to the Cleveland 16. On the ninth play of the drive, a third-and-6, Palmer tried to hit wide receiver Jerome Simpson on a corner route in the end zone, but the timing was off and the ball went wide to bring on Stitser for a 34-yarder that made it 16-7 with 3:33 left in the third quarter.
Palmer had an efficient first half on 10-of-15 passing for 100 yards and Benson woke up the echoes of '09 with 75 yards on just 12 carries to stake the Bengals to a 10-7 halftime lead. But after the Bengals gave up a touchdown on the opening drive, the first half belonged to the defense when they then forced three straight punts to end the half.
Ratliff made a first-down saving tackle on wide receiver Chansi Stuckey on third down, left end Robert Geathers worked an inside stunt to tip a McCoy pass on third down, and with the Browns driving late in the half, Dunlap sacked McCoy to drive the Browns out of field-goal range.
Just like they did back in October, the Browns took advantage of an unnecessary roughness call and this one on the first drive of the game led to a touchdown. As Bengals WILL linebacker Keith Rivers broke up a pass in the flat on second-and-seven from the Bengals 35, middle linebacker Dhani Jones hit McCoy in the helmet as he came down from leaping to try and bat the ball.
The penalty moved the ball to the Bengals 20 and McCoy wasted no time lofting a 20-yard touchdown pass to tight end Robert Royal running past a secondary transfixed by the formation on the other side. The Browns bunched tight end Benjamin Watson, wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi, and right tackle John St. Clair wide to the right and McCoy appeared to fake a screen that way before going up top to the other side just three minutes into the game.
The Bengals didn't wait to get a penalty on their first snap. Linebacker Dan Skuta's holding call wiped out running back Bernard Scott's kick return to the Cleveland 17. But the officials, reacting to last week's memo about coaches standing clear on the sidelines, flagged the Browns when an official and assistant coached bumped into each other and the Bengals got the ball at the 50. But when they went for it on fourth-and-10 from the Browns 28, the Bengals were penalized for the third straight game for not having enough men on the line of scrimmage.
But their next drive was perfection, a 10-play, 91-yard march of five passes, five runs and no penalties. With leading wide receiver Terrell Owens going to the sidelines for the rest of the game during the first series when his knee injury flared, the Bengals turned to the two little-used receivers from the 2008 draft.
Jerome Simpson caught the second ball of his career and first in two years in front of cornerback Sheldon Brown on the sideline for a 15-yard gain. Palmer then hit Caldwell for a six-yard gain on third-and-three in front of cornerback Eric Wright. With the Bengals on the Cleveland 18 against a stingy red-zone defense ranked eighth in touchdown percentage, Caldwell got a good block on Elam, and Benson, showing good patience on the left perimeter with hesitation followed Caldwell for a touchdown that tied the game at seven with 12:52 left in the second quarter.
The Bengals flexed their muscles in the running game early. Benson picked up 64 yards on his first nine carries, but they took the lead, 10-7, on their next series by overcoming a second-and-20 after a holding call on tight end Reggie Kelly in a 10-play sojourn that took 7:27 off the clock.
Chad Ochocinco, hobbled by a bad ankle himself, got 16 of it back over the middle and Palmer converted the third down on an 11-yarder over the middle to another forgotten receiver, Cosby, for his second catch of the season.
Ochocinco then got the Bengals into the red zone when he cut inside Browns rookie cornerback Joe Haden for a 20-yard gain to the 12 for his second and last catch of the game. Benson got five yards on two carries and on third-and-five the Browns dropped eight and rushed three. When Palmer tried to get it to tight end Jermaine Gresham in back of the end zone, Gresham was called for pushing off on cornerback Mike Adams and the Bengals settled for the 10-7 lead when Stitser hit a 25-yard field goal with 4:19 left in the first half.
PREGAME NOTES: With starting wide receivers Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens active but gimpy, the Bengals activated backup Jerome Simpson for just the fourth time this season and sat down tight end Chase Coffman. Cornerback Jonathan Wade (knee) was also inactive and left the Bengals with just four corners, one of them the newly-signed Keiwan Ratliff.
Owens, who missed two practices this week with a knee injury, came out early to run some routes with quarterback Carson Palmer as head coach Marvin Lewis watched. Both Owens and Lewis gave the thumbs-up. The Ocho (foot) didn't come out until after Owens went in.
But Owens had to leave during the first series and it was announced early in the second half he wouldn't return.
Cleveland regulars Scott Fujita, a linebacker, and tight end Evan Moore were out because of injury.
Also down for the Bengals were the usual suspects: Running back Cedric Peerman, linebacker Vincent Rey, offensive linemen Reggie Stephens and Kirk Chambers, and defensive end Victor Adeyanju.
The Bengals were supposed to wear black jerseys and white pants but emerged in their all black ensemble in which they have compiled an 8-6-1 record. Lewis announced his defensive starters (no changes) and the Browns won the toss and took the ball under sunny skies, 28 degrees, and little wind.