Posted: 7:25 p.m.
Chad Johnson hauls in a 38-yard reception in the second half. (Bengals photo)
In a rollicking, wild finish at Paul Brown Stadium on Sunday, the Bengals finished the first half of the NFL season alone in first place in the AFC North at 6-2 by staving off Brett Favre's endless repertoire of Hall of Fame throws in a 21-14 victory over his 1-6 Packers.
"Scared to death," said Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer when he gave the ball to Favre at his own 10 with 56 seconds left in the game. "I'm not going to lie."
The Bengals didn't secure their earliest sixth win since the 1988 AFC championship season until Favre ended the game forced to throw an illegal (not to mention underhand) pass as he crossed over the line of scrimmage at the Bengals 30 as time expired.
Cincinnati is tied for Denver with the second best record in the AFC behind the 7-0 Colts, and has a two-game lead over the 4-4 Chargers, a 1.5-game lead over the 4-3 Jaguars, Chiefs, and Patriots, and a one-game lead over the 4-2 Steelers before their Monday night game with Baltimore.
"First place. It's on us," said cornerback Tory James after the historic Bengals secondary put Favre through his first five-interception game in the regular season. "It's in our hands. We don't have to worry about anybody else. It's all on us."
But not before Favre had the Bengals, their quarterback, and the second biggest crowd ever at PBS (65,940) worried sick. He cut the lead to 21-14 with 3:11 left on a touchdown drive in which he bobbed and weaved away from the pass rush while throwing for 87of the 88 yards in the drive. As the Bengals defense went on the field for the last drive with 56 seconds left to face Favre's 34 fourth-quarter victories, cornerback Deltha O'Neal reminded his teammates that Favre is the NFL's "Comeback King."
Idiocy on the side of the Bengals
Favre didn't disappoint. He careened the Packers to the Bengals 28 on a vintage Favrian 19-yard bullet that somehow banged off wide receiver Donald Driver to wide receiver Antonio Chatman as the clock ticked under 30 seconds. Since Favre had no timeouts left, he raced to the line of scrimmage to get another play off, but it was blown dead as a fan ran onto the field. As Favre turned around to see the reason for the whistle after he took the snap, the fan stole the ball from him and raced down the field about 50 yards before he got tackled by security.
Some of the Bengals, including head coach Marvin Lewis, thought the fan might as well have grabbed the momentum. On the next play, defensive end Duane Clemons sacked Favre back to the 30 for the only Bengals sack, and then Favre faked a spike and couldn't get the final pass off.
Although they all frowned on the biggest no-no in sports, the Bengals couldn't help see how it affected the game.
"I think it broke theirs," said Lewis of Green Bay's concentration. "It was good."
Strong safety Ifeanyi Ohalete, who only seconds before had been called for a controversial 48-yard pass interference penalty that he and Lewis disputed on Favre's fling from his own 5, noted the sure tackling of the security guard. Even Bengals defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan wondered tongue in cheek about showing it to his guys to emphasize form tackling.
"That was crazy. Good timing for us, though," Ohalete said. "That kind of took them out of their flow."
"Whatever it takes to win," said defensive tackle Bryan Robinson. "We even get our fans involved."
The Lone Ranger
In the midst of the most trying season of his career, the 36-year-old Favre looked to be on the verge of tears after the worst outing of his career next to his six-interception game in the 2001 playoffs against the Rams.
Without his two top running backs and two top wide receivers, he went down gunning on 26-of-39 passing for 279 yards as he moved into second place behind Dan Marino on the NFL's all-time passing yardage list.
"I don't think the situation helped us," Favre said of the fan. "I am not going to sit here and make excuses. I am a firm believer that you make your own breaks - your own luck - to a certain extent. I will say we have not had a whole lot of breaks this season, especially injury breaks, and they are not in our favor. We have had a chance to win every game we have played in, and we have only won one of those."
Favre, who came into the game with a league-leading 14 touchdown passes, also lost the lead when Palmer jacked his TD total to 16 on scoring passes to running back Chris Perry (four yards for a 7-0 lead), to wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh (eight yards for a 14-7 lead), and a 27-yarder to fullback Jeremi Johnson for what proved to be the winner with 13:17 left in the game for a 21-7 lead.
It only took Palmer a week to get back in the 100 passer rating column again after the Steelers kept him out of it for the first time all year. He hit 22 of 34 passes for 237 yards, three touchdowns and an interception, which computes to 102.2, and saw his astounding completion percentage dip barely under 70 percent for the first time this season to 69.7.
"We can't be happy about this at all as an offense," said right tackle Willie Anderson after the Bengals converted just one of the five interceptions into points. "The reason this game was so close was because the offense didn't put it together for four quarters. We won because the defense played its tail off."
The Bengals said their security department is reviewing tapes of the fan running onto the field in an effort to see if some procedures have to be changed. The club has felt the height of the nine-foot wall has been a deterrent, but it believes the fan got on the field by jumping on a cart parked next to the wall behind the Packers sideline.
Opportunistic 'D' strikes again>
One play after rookie middle linebacker Odell Thurman rung up the Bengals' fifth interception of the day, Palmer hit that 27-yarder to Jeremi Johnson to give the Bengals a two-score pad at 21-7 with just more than 13 minutes left.
After watching Packers tight end Donald Lee drop the tying touchdown pass despite a perfect throw from Favre on the first series of the second half, the Bengals responded by picking off Favre to end four straight series in upping their season interception total to 20 in becoming the first Bengals team in history to record three five-interception games. They are the first NFL team to do it since the 1970 Chiefs had four games of at least five interceptions
But the Bengals couldn't get any points off their turnovers to blow open the 14-7 halftime lead until Palmer found Jeremi Johnson down the middle after a play-action fake to now give them 84 of their 189 points off turnovers. Old friend Mark Roman, now a Packers safety, missed the tackle on Johnson after he caught the ball at about the 10.
O'Neal came up with back-to-back picks of Favre to start the parade.
The first one came on a sliding catching in front of Driver at the Bengals 2, and the second came when Favre thought Driver was going to run a comeback route but his receiver kept going. O'Neal stayed with it for his sixth interception of the season, which could put him into the NFL lead by the end of the day.
That put the ball on the Packers 42, but the Bengals could get nothing out of it. A second-and-10 bomb to Chris Henry got negated when Henry came down with one foot out of bounds at about the Green Bay 15. Palmer then couldn't get a ball through double coverage to wide receiver Chad Johnson on third-and 10 (a common occurrence on a day he caught five passes for 62 yards), and the Bengals had to punt.
But on his next snap, Favre threw an interception to the other cornerback, James. After getting flushed out of the pocket, Favre fired it up to running back Tony Fisher down the sideline. But James reached his long arms over and plucked the ball away at the Bengals 34.
Still no points. Running back Rudi Johnson, who found it tough going with just 72 yards on 22 carries, pounded twice for five yards and Palmer couldn't get the ball to Chad Johnson again on third down. The Bengals, 7-for-8 on third down in the first half, whiffed on all five third-down tries in the second.
The Packers ended up with more yards than the Bengals' fourth-ranked offense, 353-317, in a performance Anderson said, "wasn't acceptable ... it was terrible."
Palmer puts Bengals up early
With Favre proving as dangerous as ever, Palmer passed him for the NFL lead with two touchdown passes in the first half that staked the Bengals to a 14-7 halftime lead.
The Bengals did exactly what they didn't do in last week's loss to the Steelers when they converted all but one third down and scored touchdowns on both red-zone possessions.
But they blew a huge chance to get three more points at the end of the half when they took an illegal substitution penalty on the Green Bay 30 and then wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh failed to get out of bounds at the 20-yard line, allowing the clock to expire with no chance for a field goal.
"Big mistake," Houshmandzadeh said. "I'm just glad we won."
The Bengals got that chance to score late in the half when Thurman blew up Favre's two-minute drill for the first of his two interceptions when he caught a deflected pass from defensive linemen Robert Geathers and John Thornton at his own 43 with 1:21 left in the half.
Thurman and James now have four interceptions with Thurman closing in on Al Beauchamp's club record for linebacker interceptions with six in 1971 and James on pace to match last year's Pro Bowl eight picks.
Thurman is also one shy of the club rookie record for interceptions shared by safety Tommy Casanova in 1972 and cornerback Ray Horton in 1983.
Both of Palmer's 14th and 15th touchdown passes, which put him one ahead of Favre, came on third down. It's been a category where the Bengals have struggled lately and they came into the game with the NFL's third worst third-down percentage.
Chad Johnson took a hellacious hit from Roman in converting one of those third downs when he caught a nine-yard dart from Palmer at the Packers 8. Then on third-and-eight from the eight, Palmer burned Roman when he couldn't cover Houshmandzadeh on a slant that made it 14-7 with 3:07 left in the half.
Chad Johnson left for the locker room after that drive to get his left shoulder examined, but he returned to catch a six-yard ball in the last minute and finished the half with four catches for 24 yards. He hurt the shoulder making a diving catch out of bounds in the end zone two plays before the Houshmandzadeh touchdown, and said he was concerned because it was the same side of the collarbone he broke as a rookie but said after the game it was only aggravated.
Houshmandzadeh, who had 77 yards on five catches, also had a great catch in the last drive of the half before his blunder when he converted Palmer's pretty sideline throw for 21 yards.
Working against a Cover 2 defense that drops its safeties deep to prevent the long pass, the Bengals knew they had alignment that gave up a little bit of its run defense. So running back Rudi Johnson, miffed about last week's 12 carries, got 11 shots in the first half for 39 yards.
Rudi sees early action
The Bengals went to Rudi right away on that first drive with five carries for 19 yards, and Palmer hit three of four passes for 28 yards. The key was all three completions came on third-and-fours (a 12-yard pass to wide receiver Kevin Walter, a 12-yarder to tight end Matt Schobel, and a four-yarder to Perry for the touchdown) as the Bengals finished seven of eight on third downs in the first half.
Favre's offense may have been undermanned, but that didn't stop him from engaging in a shootout with the Bengals defense. Favre matched the Bengals 11-play drive with one of 66 yards that ended on running back Tony Fisher's one-yard run that tied it at seven with 9:35 left in the second quarter.
Favre completed eight of his first 11 passes for 81 yards and finished the half 10-of-14 passing for 101 yards even though the Packers had just 25 yards rushing. The touchdown drive was a Canton clinic, which began when Favre drilled a nine-yarder to Chatman as he backpedaled away from the rush. Favre then lofted a perfect 21-yard ball to tight end Bubba Franks, just over the leaping Thurman and right in front of Ohalete, to put Green Bay on the Bengals 7.
Chris Perry capped the game's first crucial play when the Bengals matched him up on linebacker Paris Lenon on third-and-goal from the four and Palmer, going to six receivers in the half, found him.
In the pregame moves, Bengals rookie linebacker David Pollack missed his first NFL game when Lewis filled out his 45-man active list. But rookie wide receiver Tab Perry got the call despite a back injury that prevented him from practicing last week until Friday, and he returned the opening kickoff 36 yards. He returned another kick for 19, but O'Neal returnerd the last kick of the day for 14 yards.
Pollack, the No. 1 draft pick, sprained his knee in the second quarter of last Sunday's 27-13 loss to the Steelers and was replaced in the starting lineup at left outside linebacker by Landon Johnson who responded with eight tackles, trailing only safety Kevin Kaesviharn's 10. Perry, a sixth-rounder, has become one of the Bengals special teams staples in returning all 23 kickoffs for a 24.3-yard average.
Although the Steelers rolled up 221 yards rushing last week, the Bengals opted for the second straight game not to dress their biggest defensive tackle, 320-pound Shaun Smith. That meant Carl Powell again worked as both an end and a tackle in what was a six-man rotation on the line without Pollack in passing situations. The Packers, who came in with the third worst rushing attack in the NFL, averaged just 3.5 yards per their 22 runs.
Defensive linemen Matthias Askew and Jonathan Fanene were also inactive, as were fullback Nick Luchey, backup center Eric Ghiaciuc, and free safety Madieu Williams. Ghiaciuc has been nursing a nicked ankle and Williams is expected to go on season-ending injured reserve after undergoing shoulder surgery last week.
The Bengals got another break from the injured Packers when David Martin surfaced on Green Bay's inactive list. Martin, probably their best downfield threat from the tight end spot, showed up on the injury report late last week. With their top two receivers out of the game, Green Bay still ran a lot of two tight end sets.
The Packers also took a hit when left outside linebacker Na'il Diggs went on the inactive list, giving a promotion to Lenon. Lenon came into the game sixth on the club with 27 tackles. Green Bay's second-leading tackler is Roman, the former Bengals second-rounder. Although Roman got beat for two of the touchdowns, he was all over the place with seven tackles. Lenon ended up with two tackles.
The Bengals were scheduled to wear black pants with their orange jerseys, but they showed up in white pants.
Among the Bengals game captains were Powell and Kaesviharn, a former Packers defensive back. The other captains were Schobel, Houshmandzadeh, and linebacker Larry Stevens.