Posted: 11-14-04, 7:15 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
LANDOVER, Md. - The Bengals turned to their defense at the start of the day to silence the NFL's biggest stadium Sunday and then called on it again in the second half when their offense stalled during a 17-10 victory over the Redskins at FedExField.
The Bengals' flirtation with their first shutout in 15 years (Dec. 3, 1989 in Cleveland) and 237 games, ended with 5:46 left in the game on Ola Kimrin's 33-yard field goal. And then backup quarterback Patrick Ramsey made it more than interesting when his nine-yard touchdown pass to running back Chris Cooley cut it to 17-10 with 2:22 left in the game.
"Were we on the road? I didn't notice," said Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis after the team's first away win since last Nov. 30 in Pittsburgh. "The big thing was staying consistent with it. Going one play at a time. And then finishing the game off."
But Kimrin's onside kick bounced to Bengals linebacker Marcus Wilkins at the Washington 40, and after the Bengals had to punt again in their scoreless second half, rookie Kyle Larson pinned Washington at its own 11.
Ramsey, who hit 16 of his first 33 passes in relief of the dreadful Mark Brunell, then ended it all when he heaved the Bengals' third interception of the game to safety Kim Herring at the Cincinnati 15 with five seconds left.
It was another strong stand by the Bengals secondary. To force the field goal, safety Kevin Kaesviharn defended wide receiver Laveranues Coles in the end zone on a pass from Rod Gardner after a lateral.
Bengals cornerback Tory James added his NFL-leading sixth interception for one of Cincinnati's three turnovers on a day the Bengals came up with a season-high five sacks from five different players.
Defense holds on
In front of the biggest crowd ever to see the Bengals play in a regular-season game at 87,736, the Bengals forged their first road victory of the season against another 3-5 team by taking a 17-0 lead in the first 23 minutes against the NFL's top-ranked defense.
Then they held on for dear life when the Bengals offense couldn't finish it off in the second half. Running back Rudi Johnson, on his way to his third 100-yard day of the season, (he smashed to 102 yards on 31 carries) fumbled away one possession in the third quarter and got stopped on a third-and-one to end another.
He found the going much tougher in the second half even though the Redskins were without their best defensive lineman, the injured Cornelius Griffin. Johnson had 39 of his 102 yards on 15 carries in the second half.
"They really came out and tried to stop the run in the second half," Johnson said. "They put a fourth linebacker in there, but we kept trying to pound it. They didn't want us running."
After a blistering first half, Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer finished 24-of-39 for 217 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions.
Palmer leads offense
Palmer began the first half throwing an interception and ended it throwing an interception. But in between he completed 18 of 27 passes for 165 yards to give the Bengals a 17-0 halftime lead and a 50-3 edge in their last seven quarters.
The Bengals got what they wanted early - a turnover. They ended up with three, giving them 24 for the season and tying last year's total with seven games left.
Early enough so that it fueled Cincinnati's 17 points in the game's first 23 minutes as the Bengals drove quarterback Brunell to the bench and head coach Joe Gibbs into the arms of Ramsey by holding their old Jaguars nemesis to just one completion on eight throws.
After getting picked off on his first throw, underthrowing his second throw, and overthrowing his third, Palmer rebounded to hit 13 of his next 14 passes, including a one-yard touchdown pass to tight end Tony Stewart off play-action for the 14-0 lead with 12:23 left in the first half.
And the one incompletion came when wide receiver Chad Johnson juggled the ball as he tried to run before he had a quick throw across the line of scrimmage. But Johnson recovered on the next snap to go down and get a nine-yard pass on third-and-seven to set up Stewart's touchdown.
Palmer would go on to steer the Bengals to 8-of-17 third-down conversions (47 percent) against the NFL's best third-down defense.
Playing in the stadium where his Maryland high school team used to sell concessions, Bengals rookie safety Madieu Williams treated the home crowd to a tipped third-and-four pass by Brunell that ended up in the arms of weakside linebacker Brian Simmons for his second interception of the season.
That put the ball on the Washington 47 and Palmer started his run by hitting T.J. Houshmandzadeh for a 12-yard gain when the wide receiver stopped in the seam to convert the third-and-six. It was just the 15th time the Redskins had allowed a team inside their 20-yard line.
The Bengals, the worst team in the league scoring touchdowns in the red zone, turned the tables when running back Rudi Johnson scored from one yard out to give the Bengals a 7-0 lead with 5:37 left in the first quarter.
The Bengals went right back into the red zone on the next drive with Palmer hitting four different receivers, two on third down, and Rudi Johnson ran for 13 of his 62 first-half yards in a 13-play drive that chewed nearly six minutes and ended in Stewart's first touchdown of the season.
Palmer went at it again when he converted a third-and-13 on a 34-yard pass to Chad Johnson running past cornerback Fred Smoot to set up Shayne Graham's 41-yard field goal to make it 17-0 with 7:28 left in the first half.
"Nobody had gone after them all year," said Chad Johnson, who finished with six catches for 89 yards. "So we went after them. We ran right at them and I was running right by them, and I'm sure that destroyed what they wanted to do defensively."
Defense steps up
The Bengals ran their no-touchdown skein to seven straight quarters by giving running back Clinton Portis no room at the line of scrimmage with 37 yards on eight carries and allowing Washington just 25 snaps and three first downs in the first half.
Defensive ends Justin Smith and Robert Geathers each chipped in a sack and rookie middle linebacker Landon Johnson led them with four tackles.
Chad Johnson (five catches for 78 yards in the first half) and Houshmandzadeh (two of his first-half six catches came on third down) had plenty of room to roam, but Palmer got careless on third-and-10 from the Washington 32 with 1:05 left in the half and threw the ball too far inside for Chad Johnson near the sideline and it was picked off by cornerback Walt Harris.
But Gibbs eschewed a field-goal try, and Geathers' second sack in as many weeks kept Washington off the board as Ramsey fared little better than Burnell on 2-of-5 passing in his first appearance since the second game of the season.
Palmer came out shaky, gunning his first interception in five quarters on the first snap of the game when he hung up a long one down the sideline to Chad Johnson into double coverage and the underthrown ball got intercepted by Redskins rookie free safety Sean Taylor.
Looking for first road win (pregame notes)
The Kings Island Bengals rolled into the FedEx funhouse Sunday trying get off a roller coaster that has careened them to 0-4 on the road and 3-1 at home.
The Bengals looked to their defense to play like it has in the cozy confines of Paul Brown Stadium against a Redskins offense that relies on Portis. In home games, the Bengals allow teams an average of 12.2 points and 128 yards rushing. On the road, they get back on The Beast to the tune of 30 and 172, respectively.
"It's tough on the road for everyone in the NFL, but ours is a little extreme," admitted Simmons last week. "If we come out with the same energy we do at home, we'll be all right. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to figure out we're playing better at home than on the road."
And it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out it might be about as easy as a moon landing Sunday in front of an estimated 90,000. Defensive tackle John Thornton hates to use youth as an excuse (they have first-year players at each the defensive line, linebackers, and secondary), but he prefers to look at the critical points of the game.
"Something has to go good early," Thornton said. "If we can make something happen in the first couple of minutes and get some confidence, it's going to mean a lot."
Head coach Marvin Lewis is also looking at key points of the game. He thinks if two plays on the road - those last-play touchdowns of the first half in Cleveland and Tennessee - had gone the other way the Bengals could very well be 5-3.
"It could be a different record. But you don't get to do that," Lewis said. "You pay the price for those plays. It's part of our history. We have to gain and grow from them because they hurt. They were painful. It's a seven-point swing that makes it a whole different complexion."
Lewis is encouraged by the way the defense played fast and aggressively in coming up with a season-high five turnovers last week against Dallas, and says it's a sign that the first-year players such as Williams, Landon Johnson, and tackle Langston Moore are becoming more comfortable.
He's also encouraged by how the defense has shut off the big play in the last three games. Coming into last month's Monday night game against Denver, the Bengals had allowed five runs of at least 20 yards and had allowed four touchdown passes of at least 30 yards.
But in the last three weeks against Denver, Tennessee, and Dallas, they didn't allow a run longer than 19 yards, or a touchdown pass longer than 13.
"Take 10 plays away and we'd be in the top five on defense," Lewis said. "Take away 10 snaps and we're in the top five, buy you can't do that."
SUNDAY INACTIVES: Rookie running back Chris Perry will sit out his seventh game of the season Sunday with a strained abdominal muscle that put him on the inactive list for the fourth straight week.
Former Redskins Carl Powell, a defensive lineman with an injured knee, and Rashad Bauman, a cornerback with a sore Achilles, couldn't get on the field against their old teammates at FedExField. Also inactive for the Bengals are rookie middle linebacker Caleb Miller, cornerback Terrell Roberts, and offensive linemen Alex Sulfsted and Stacy Andrews.
Safeties Kevin Kaesviharn and Kim Herring won't start but are active. Head coach Marvin Lewis is going with the same tandem - Rogers Beckett and Madieu Williams - that started last week's 26-3 win over Dallas.