BY GEOFF HOBSON
Bengals coach Dick LeBeau, the oldest rookie NFL coach ever, knows a thing or two about history.
So in the moments after his first head coaching victory here at Paul Brown Stadium and the Bengals' first win of the season Sunday before 61,603, he gathered his team for an old-time cheer of hip-hip-hooray, "because this was a game out of the '40s."
Actually, it was a game for the ages
as running back Corey Dillon broke Walter Payton's all-time NFL rushing record in a stunning 31-21 victory against Denver's heralded rush defense.
No, make that a game out of the '50s. Fitting, since it was their first win in a stadium named after the Bengals founder who made his name at mid-century. The Bengals won their first game of the season a week after scraping bottom in absorbing their third shutout of the year. With 407 rushing yards, the Bengals had the best running day in the league since the New York Giants rolled over the Detroit Lions in a 1950 game and the fifth best of all time.
Or maybe it was a game for the Ripley's Believe it or Not Museum. Cincinnati tamed one of the NFL's elite by completing just two passes for 14 yards, none in the last three quarters, and scoring 31 points after scoring 37 all season.
Even with Broncos like outside linebacker Bill Romanowski pointing at times to where the Bengals were running before the snap, the Bengals still averaged 11 yards on each of their 37 carries that included 90 yards from quicksilver rookie receiver Peter Warrick on three ESPN carries.
There was no sense of bedlam. The locker room mood was at once shocked and relieved.
"I haven't won since the Sugar Bowl," said Warrick of Florida State's win 10 month ago. "It's a relief."
"I can hold my head up a little, like this," said right tackle Willie Anderson. "Nothing can compare at any level what happened here today. I can't explain it. In high school, we were a running team, but something like this is ridiculous."
Dillon hit the record books when he hit the end zone at the end of a 41-yard run with 1:49 left in the game, giving him 278 yards on 22 carries, three more yards than Payton had in a 1977 game.
"It was a day of immortality," Anderson said.
It was also a once-in-a-lifetime game that left double-digit veterans Scott Mitchell and John Jackson shaking their heads.
In relief of the dazed Akili Smith, Mitchell, a 10-year player, didn't complete any of his five passes and still played in his first victory since 1997.
"Amazing. I've never done anything like that before or seen a game quite like it," Mitchell said.
Jackson, the 13-year hometown veteran making his first Bengals' start, made his own name with the great running Steelers teams of the mid-90s.
"But we never came close to anything like this ever in Pittsburgh," Jackson said. Asked if he ever played on a team that struggled so with the pass, Jackson said, "Yeah, but we lost."
LeBeau, who waited 42 years in the NFL for this win, was also left shaking his head.
"I don't think I've ever seen those kind of yards because I don't think they've ever been done in the National Football League, so it's safe to say that," LeBeau said "But one of the adages in any competitive athletics is reinforced strength and it was working and (Bengals offensive coordinator Anderson) Kenny just kept hammering away and the offensive line was calling for it, but it didn't look to me like Corey didn't mind getting it so we weren't leaving (our game plan)."
It may have been all unbelievable, but the defense and special teams brought it back to earth.
"Turnovers," said Bengals linebacker Takeo Spikes. "That was the one thing that was different this time around. We made them turn it over."
The Bengals, who came into the game with just seven takeaways, won the game when they made the Broncos turn it over on three of their first four possessions in the second half and turned them into 14 points.
Continued from Homepage
Strong safety Chris Carter, getting the start in place of Cory Hall, recovered running back Mike Anderson's fumble at the Bengals' 47 on Denver's first series of the half that led to Cincinnati taking the lead for good, 17-14, on backup running back Brandon Bennett's 19-yard touchdown run.
Then, with Denver looking to take the lead on the Broncos' next drive, rookie middle linebackerArmegis Spearman popped loose a pass from running back KaRon Coleman and Carter picked it off at the Bengals 5 for only the second interception of the season thrown by Denver quarterback Brian Griese.
"I was just trying to get a hand in there," Spearman said. "I got it that time. But I didn't get it another time. Just trying to make something happen."
Which is what outside linebacker Steve Foley was trying to do with the Bengals clinging to that 17-14 lead with 5:51 left in the game and Denver on the Bengals 29 facing third-and-9.
A few plays earlier, Foley pleaded with the line and secondary, "to just give me an extra second and I promise you I'll get to the quarterback. I guarantee it."
Two plays before, Foley saw left tackle Tony Jones limp off the field. On third down, he blew by Jones' backup, Cooper Carlisle, and forced Griese to fumble a ball recovered by Reinard Wilson at the Bengal 34.
Two plays later, Dillon went 65 yards for the killing touchdown.
It took the Broncos less than two minutes to get back to a field goal when Griese hit Rod Smith with a 28-yard touchdown pass to cut the lead to 24-21.
Yet with Smith knocked from the game after a sack early in the third quarter that numbed his left arm, the Bengals passing game was also numb. Still, Ken Anderson worked some magic on the Bengals last series.
On a third-and-eight with 3:20 left, Mitchell ran a naked bootleg for nine yards for a first down. Two plays later, Peter Warrick ran a sweep for 15 more that set up Dillon's final burst down the left sideline as he cut back against the grain one last time on his 41-yarder.
"I'm sure it's embarrassing," said Denver strong safety Billy Jenkins. "It's probably the most embarrassed Coach (Mike) Shanahan has ever been."
But it just wasn't Dillon . Bennett broke the tackles of two Denver safeties on a 19-yard touchdown run to give the Bengals a 17-14 lead with about eight minutes left in the quarter on the Bengals' first touchdown in the second half this season.
With a retooled line, the Bengals' defense turned in another solid effort against the NFL's No. 4 offense.
The Bengals also got a lift when Jason Elam missed two 48-yard field goal tries, the last one with 13:03 left in the game.
Warrick woke up the echoes and the offense on the ground instead of through the air when his 77-yard touchdown run off a reverse cut Denver's lead to 14-10 at halftime.
Warrick ended up giving the ball to Smith after he reached the end zone because Smith had as much to do with the offense's first touchdown in seven quarters, secured with 5:29 left in the second quarter.
On the first play after running back Mike Anderson gave Denver a 14-3 lead on a four-yard touchdown run, Warrick ran a sweep right behind a load of blockers.
With nowhere to go, Warrick cut it back left and with Denver overpursuing, it was just him and Smith against Denver cornerback Terrell Buckley. Smith hand checked Buckley all the way down the left sideline for the longest run by a Bengal receiver since Warren McVea went 80 yards in 1968.
The Bengals' offense broke its 120-minute scoring drought early in the second quarter, but they wished it was more when kicker Neil Rackers hit 24-yard field goal in the first three minutes of the second quarter. Rackers' kick cut Denver's lead to 7-3 and ended the Bengals' 12-play drive at the Denver six-yard line.
But moments earlier, a personal foul penalty on Romanowski had given the Bengals a first down on the Denver 3. Two runs to Corey Dillon pushed Cincinnati backward and on third down Smith collided with Dillon in the backfield to short-circuit Smith's rollout pass attempt.
Yet the Cincinnati pass offense showed signs of busting out of its dreadful slump. Smith and tight end Tony McGee converted a third-and-12 on a 25-yard play that put Cincinnati in the red zone for just the 10th time this season.
Then Warrick converted another long third down, when he made a diving catch on an inside slant.
Ironically, the game looked to turn to Denver on one of Dillon's bursts. Dillon ripped off 21 yards, but as he fell on the Denver 35 he fumbled when Romanowski punched the ball out.
The Broncos recovered and went on a nine-play drive that culminated in Anderson's touchdown and was highlighted by Griese's 35-yard pass to wide open tight end Dwayne Carswell against a first-and-20 blitz.
The Cincinnati defense recovered after another tough start. For the third straight game, the Bengals allowed points on the game's first possession. On Sunday, it was the Broncos' effortless 12-play, 80-yard drive consuming the game's first 6:47 that put the Bengals into a 7-0 hole.
Griese got the score when he found backup fullback Detron Smith for a one-yard touchdown pass. It was Smith's first run or catch of the season in place of the injured Howard Griffith.
It was also Griese's 15th touchdown pass of the season, one more than he had in all of '99.
Seeking to slow down the NFL's sixth-best running game, the Bengals changed up their defensive line, but the unit offered no resistance on Denver's first drive and allowed the Broncos to rush for 107 yards in the first half..
Griese hurt the Bengals on two eight-yard scrambles and Anderson ripped off 44 yards on six carries in the drive behind an offensive line that cleared out Cincinnati's front seven.
After 92 starts at end, John Copeland moved inside to tackle. Michael Bankston moved from left end to right and Vaughn Booker makes his first appearance since his fainting episode Sept. 17 in Jacksonville. Oliver Gibson, off a solid game against Steelers Pro Bowl center Dermontti Dawson, remained at tackle.
But the Bengals went into the game against the Broncos' relentless offensive line one defensive lineman short. Defensive line coach Tim Krumrie felt he had to deactivate tackle Tom Barndt to rest the injured shoulder that has nagged him since early in training camp.
The Bengals also deactivated fullback Nick Williams and cornerback Mark Roman. The Bengals had been alternating Roman and fellow rookie cornerback Robert Bean each game on the active list, but Bean is playing in the dime package and Roman is sitting for the second straight week.
The Bengals also like Bean's work on special teams. When the Bengals had to punt twice on their first series because of penalty, Bean downed the first kick on the Denver 4-yard line and the second on the Broncos' 8. Then early in the fourth quarter, Bean dragged down Denver punt returner Deltha O'Neal at the Denver 17 on Daniel Pope's 58-yard punt.