BENGALS GAMEDAY: Photos, analysis, video highlights, stats* * *
Updated: 5:25 p.m.
Kevin Kaesviharn records one of his two sacks of Saints QB Drew Brees. (AP Photo/Judi Bottoni)
Sunday's utterly necessary 31-16 win over the Saints evened the Bengals record at 5-5 and ended a three-game losing streak. A week after setting a Bengals mark with 260 receiving yards, Johnson busted out again with 190 yards on six catches. His 60-yard touchdown reception and 48-yard catch that set up his four-yard score came within three minutes of each other and broke a 10-10 scrum.
"Even though they double-covered us, we were aggressive," Johnson said. "We dictated to them what we were going to do even though they double-covered us. When we're aggressive like that, we have a chance to make big plays."
Johnson's 450 receiving yards in back-to-back games is an NFL record, bettering the 448 yards by San Francisco's John Taylor, who recorded 162 yards at Atlanta on Dec. 3, 1989 and 286 vs. the L.A. Rams on Dec. 11, 1989. The previous Bengals mark was 324 yards by Carl Pickens, who had 120 yards on Sept. 27, 1998 at Baltimore and 204 yards on October 11, 1998 vs. Pittsburgh.
"This was a win from 2005," Bengals running back Rudi Johnson said. "We ran the ball and that set up the big plays to Chad. The defense got a bunch of tunrovers and our special teams played well, too. And that's what we did all last year."
Rookie safety Ethan Kilmer secured the game with another big-play stunner when the third-string safety, playing for injured backup Keiwan Ratliff, stepped in front of running back Aaron Stecker and returned it 52 yards for a touchdown that made it 31-10 with 6:14 left. Brees was forced to make a quick throw on the play as a result of blitz pressure applied by Bengals linebacker Landon Johnson. Kilmer made the play on his first series and fourth snap from scrimmage as an NFL defensive player.
Kilmer, a seventh-round pick out of Penn State, was drafted mainly as a special teams ace. He's only in his fourth year of football after walking on for the Nittany Lions, and is playing his first year at safety. He played wide receiver at Penn State and with the spate of injuries at receiver, he's also been working there for the past month.
"Whenever they need me on offense, I go to the offense. Whenever they need me on defense, I go to the defense," Kilmer said. "Wherever they need me I go."
The Kilmer pick was Saints quarterback Drew Brees's third interception of the day and his offense's fourth turnover, which is how the Bengals beat his 510-yard day with a big day from a defense that didn't break in holding down the NFL's sixth highest scoring team.
The 510 yards passing by Brees is the second most against the Bengals. The New York Giants' Phil Simms had 513 on October 13, 1985, that was also a Bengals victory, 35-30, at Riverfront Stadium.
The Bengals also beat Brees because Rudi Johnson went over 100 yards with 111 on 27 carries, making Cincinnati 15-0 when he carries at least 25 times.
"There was no Jekyll and Hyde today," Bengals defensive tackle John Thornton said. "I really felt we had that focus. When I talked to my wife this morning I told her we were going to win. She said 'you never say that.' That's what I felt; it was like that all week because of our focus."
Defense sets tone
A funny thing happened on the way to the shootout when the beleaguered Bengals secondary came up with two end-zone interceptions of Brees in taking a 10-7 lead into halftime.
But with about five minutes left in the third quarter Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer gave it back, suffering his first red-zone interception of the season when he went for wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh over the middle and linebacker Mark Simoneau leaped in front of him and snatched it. It was just the second time this season the Bengals had been blanked on a red-zone trip.
It was a red-zone game, and the Bengals defense responded on the first play of the fourth quarter when defensive tackle Sam Adams and defensive end Justin Smith stuffed Saints running back Deuce McAllister on third-and-one to force John Carney's 24-yard field goal that tied it at 10.
The Bengals then tried to end their third-down miseries that followed them from last week, when they went 0-for-6 in the second half and then went 1-for-7 in the first three quarters Sunday.
And this is where the game changed as Palmer regrouped with some big-time throws in finishing with 275 yards on 14-of-22 passing.
In the fourth quarter Palmer and Houshmandzadeh hooked up to convert a third-and-seven by a link in the chains, and then on third-and-two Palmer stepped up in the pocket, avoided the rush, threw moving to his left when he saw Chad Johnson break off his route and get behind cornerback Fred Thomas for a 60-yard touchdown with 10:23 left in the game that gave the Bengals a 17-10 lead. It was Johnson's second long touchdown of the game and fourth in the last two games of at least 41 yards in his first back-to-back 100-yard games since 2004.
On the play Johnson pulled up with a cramp in his hamstring but he didn't miss a snap.
"I knew he'd be back," Palmer said. "He hasn't missed a game in a long time."
Johnson offered a quick dance to celebrate his first score, what he called a tribute to New Orleans singing artist Joesphine Johnny.
"I didn't have anything to do for the second one and on the third one I was hurting," he said.
Stepping in for the injured Dexter Jackson and playing for the first time since his own knee injury sustained three weeks ago, strong safety Kevin Kaesviharn had one of the team's three picks and added two sacks. The second one came in the middle of the third quarter (matching his career total in 80 previous games) and blew up a Saints drive that was hexed from the start on New Orleans' estimated sixth drop of the game, this one by Devery Henderson, and a holding call after a good run by Reggie Bush.
Free safety Madieu Williams snapped the Bengals' string of 13 straight quarters without generating a turnover on a leaping, one-handed interception four yards deep in his own end zone on the third play of the second quarter and Kaesviharn ended the half on another one with 13 seconds left.
When it rains it pours, right? The Bengals added a fumble recovery by middle linebacker Caleb Miller in the quarter in bailing out a defense that surrendered 294 yards to Brees's aerial show. Brees riddled the Bengals for 249 yards on 16-of-25 passing in the first half alone.
Williams's interception came a play after Henderson crossed the middle of the field and scorched a zone for 44 yards to give the Saints a first down at the Bengals 8.
Kaesviharn spoiled Brees's hurry-up drive that began with 3:28 left in the half that wheeled to the Bengals 6 when Brees converted two third downs and hit a wide-open Henderson in the middle of a zone for 23 yards.
Bengals grab early lead
The Bengals wasted no time – exactly 1:52 – in their attempt to quiet the raucous indoor crowd here when Palmer lofted a textbook 41-yard touchdown pass to Chad Johnson on the game's fourth play to give the Bengals a 7-0 lead.
Brees responded five minutes later off a throwback handoff to running back Deuce McAllister. Despite the trickery, cornerbacks Tory James and Johnathan Joseph, and Madieu Williams were all in position on wide receiver Joe Horn down the middle of the field but couldn't make a play on the ball in what ended up as a 72-yard touchdown pass and 7-7 game.
But Williams rebounded with the pick that broke Brees's skein of 102 straight passes without throwing a pick as well as the Bengals' string of 103 without getting one.
The interception was just like Cincinnati's last one, a red-zone pick by Kaesviharn that ended the Carolina game back on Oct. 22 as the Bengals and Saints traded disappointing trips inside the 20.
The Bengals got there on the strength of tight end Reggie Kelly's longest play as a Bengal, a wide-open 32-yarder as Palmer looked off the other way as long as possible. But on third-and goal, Palmer tried a quarterback draw and was stoned by defensive tackle Rodney Leisle and the Bengals had to settle for Shayne Graham's 21-yard field goal and a 10-7 lead with 7:30 left in the first half.
On the Saints next series, after allowing a first-down catch to wide receiver Terrance Cooper, the Bengals got a big play from linebacker Rashad Jeanty when he poked the ball from him and middle linebacker Caleb Miller secured Cincinnati's first fumble recovery since tight end Tony Stewart jumped on Ricardo Colclough's fumbled punt back on Sept. 24 in Pittsburgh.
But starting from their own 43, the Bengals couldn't take advantage. Palmer couldn't get on the same page with Chad Johnson on the vintage first-down-long-ball after a turnover, and Johnson suffered his second third-down drop, although it was unclear if he could have gotten the first down.
After starting the game with two runs of six yards by Rudi Johnson, Palmer connected with leaping wide receiver Chris Henry on an 18-yard slant over the middle on third-and-two. His play-action pass then froze cornerback Fred Thomas and Johnson, off his club-record 260 yards last week, just ran right past him for his third touchdown in two games.
Henry, a New Orleans native, had a good start. But left tackle Andrew Whitworth, the LSU grad who has played a dozen high school and college games in this building, gave up a sack to defensive end Will Smith that ended Cincinnati's second series.
The Bengals' third drive ended when Chad Johnson dropped a third-and-seven pass that would have gone for about a 20-yard gain at around midfield.
PREGAME NOTES: The problem with the 4-5 Bengals is not that they don't have an identity but that they have too many.
At least one too many.
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
"With us, it's no telling," mused defensive tackle John Thornton before Friday's practice. "That's the bad part. Like Dr. Jekyll, Mr. Hyde. You never know what you're going to get. A box of chocolates I guess."
The Bengals offered another surprise before the game when Caleb Miller drew the start at middle linebacker over rookie Ahmad Brooks. With Deltha O'Neal (shoulder) and strong safety Dexter Jackson (Achilles) inactive, rookie Johnathan Joseph and Kevin Kaesviharn got the starts at their respective spots.
There has been the sweet 3-0 start and the current three-game losing streak. There have been the stalwart defensive outings in Tampa Bay and Baltimore timed with offensive no-shows. There have been the good-enough-to-win offensive outings at home against Atlanta and San Diego lost in defensive meltdowns.
There was the defense's streak of six straight games with an interception followed by the last three without one. There were the pass-protection struggles allowing 17 sacks in the first five games and just eight in the last four.
And, of course, Sunday's microcosm of it all, the Chargers' one-for-the-ages 42-point second half that erased a 28-7 lead.
"It's not a good thing; we all know about it," said Thornton, who remembers defensive end Bryan Robinson mentioning the bad doctor before the second half last week and saying this is where the team couldn't let it turn.
"We understood, (but) we had the big lead and let up," Thornton said.
The Bengals certainly understand what Sunday means. Defensive end Justin Smith called it their Super Bowl and wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh is on record saying they pretty much have to win out to make it.
"You can't worry about a stretch run if you can't win what's in front of you," Houshmandzadeh said. "We're good, as you can see."
Houshmandzadeh was talking about the light locker room Friday that soaked in some music and banter just before practice. They were loose.
Although he's had a quiet week, Chad Johnson confirmed his political party affiliation ("Whatever Bill Clinton is") and on Saturday evening he could be seen in a New Orleans restaurant watching the Ohio State-Michigan game with a group of Bengals reporters waiting to meet his two daughters.
"We'll be all right," Houshmandzadeh said.
Asked about the possibility of losing four straight for the first time under head coach Marvin Lewis, Houshmandzadeh asked, "We've lost three in a row?"
"Every game has been close," Houshmandzadeh said. "We're not out of the playoff picture. As of now, we just have to worry about ourselves and just play.
And that seems to be the club's solution to finding that rock-ribbed consistency that marked last year's playoff run.
"What we've got to do is get back to playing and not worry about what streak we're on and when is the last game we won," Thornton said. "Losing four in a row is tough. It's tough to do. It hard to lose four in a row. You've got to be playing like crap."
Cincinnati's bid to stop Saints quarterback Drew Brees and his NFL-leading passing yards was put in jeopardy with injuries to the secondary. With O'Neal down, Joseph, the club's first-round pick, got his third start and Kaesviharn (knee) returned to the lineup after a two-game absence.
The move to the smaller, faster Miller in the middle may have been a nod to the New Orleans passing game that frequently uses running backs Deuce McAllister and rookie Reggie Bush out of the backfield.
Brooks, the third-round pick in the supplemental draft, has received pretty good reviews in his first five starts and has moved to fifth on the team in tackles with 44. But he has looked more comfortable against the run, and Miller has been active with 59 tackles, good for third on the team behind weak-side linebacker Landon Johnson and defensive end Justin Smith.
Plus, Brooks surfaced on the injury report with a groin problem last week, but he did work Friday after missing Thursday.
It's another move that points to the instability of the linebacker corps because of injuries. It was the seventh different combination of starting backers in the 10 games this season.
The key injury has been the lingering neck stinger suffered by middle linebacker Brian Simmons, the dean of the defense in his ninth season and their most experienced backer. It's the third straight game Simmons has missed since injuring it after the fourth game of the season. He's barely played since and has now missed four games after missing just one in the previous five seasons.
As Bengals public relations director Jack Brennan noted before the game, "You could put an All-Star team together from our inactive list."
Certainly a starting lineup with Simmons, O'Neal, Jackson, center Rich Braham (knee), left tackle Levi Jones (knee), and right guard Bobbie Williams (appendix). Lewis also deactivated wide receiver Kelley Washington (hamstring) for the fifth straight game.
The Bengals appeared in their all-black uniforms, bringing in a 4-3 mark with that combination.
Lewis sent out for his game captains cornerback Tory James, a New Orleans native, as well as Chad Johnson, Geathers, left guard Eric Steinbach, and linebacker Andre Frazier.