Updated: 4 p.m.
In front of a restless crowd at Paul Brown Stadium waiting for the Bengals to secure a winning season with their ninth victory, the Bengals played the 2009 script and didn't knock out the struggling Lions until about nine minutes left in a game they ended up winning, 23-13.
That's when running back Cedric Benson bulled for eight yards on a fourth-and-one from the Detroit 16 with the Bengals leading 20-7 and even though tight end Dan Coats dropped a touchdown pass, the drive consumed 9:58 and Shayne Graham's third field goal of the game gave them a 23-7 lead with 8:15 left.
It was Benson's 30th carry of the day and gave him 104 yards, allowing him to tie the Bengals team record for his fifth 100-yard day of the season. With Larry Johnson getting just two carries to that point, Benson answered any questions about the sore hip that took him out of the last 10 quarters.
It was also the first time in Bengals history the team had three different 100-yard rushers in three straight games and the first time it has happened in the NFL since the Packers did it in 2006 and the Seahawks in 1993.
But it was a bumpy offensive performance against the league's worst pass defense. It wasn't one of quarterback Carson Palmer's more accurate passing days. After safety Tom Nelson came up with his first NFL interception with about seven minutes left in the game, Palmer threw his second interception when he badly underthrew wide receiver Laveranues Coles on the sidelines, giving him 17-of-29 for 220 yards.
But as the game veered to the two-minute warning, the Bengals had allowed just 187 yards and following that second pick, the Bengals got a sack from rookie end Michael Johnson and on fourth-and-two from the Bengals 40 middle linebacker Dhani Jones blitzed rookie quarterback Matthew Stafford and hit him so hard that it was an incompletion and aggravated Stafford's AC joint in his non-throwing shoulder.
When the Lions got the ball back with about three minutes left, Daunte Culpepper was at quarterback.
The Bengals kept the ball for the first 6:54 of the second half, but couldn't get a first down for Benson on third-and-one from the Detroit 9 and had to settle for Graham's 39-yard field goal for the 20th point, their first time eclipsing 20 in the four games since Oct. 25. That was Graham's second shot at it because he had hit a 29-yarder, but right guard Bobbie Williams got called for a trip and they had to back up.
Following the field goal, the Bengals defense staged a three-and-out that featured an unblocked sack from left end Robert Geathers, and they got their best field position of the day near midfield but turned it over instead of cashing it in.
Lions cornerback Phillip Buchanon came flying off the edge on a backside blitz that Palmer never saw. Buchanon took the ball right out of his throwing hand for a fumble recovery at midfield.
But the Lions could do next to nothing against the Bengals. They got another three-and-out when cornerback Leon Hall climbed the ladder to knock away a pass headed to Stafford's main target, wide receiver Calvin Johnson. After three quarters, Johnson had just five catches and 54 of his 85 yards came on one play. He did make a 38-yard catch to set up the Lions last score with less than two minutes left.
The defense brought to life a tomb-like PBS, but the offense had it booing again even though Graham's 44-yard field goal with nine seconds left in the first half gave the Bengals a 17-7 lead.
Thanks to completions of 11 yards to wide receiver Laveranues Coles, 22 to wide receiver Chad Ochocinco, and Palmer's eight-yard feet-first scramble, the Bengals had the ball on the Lions 21 with 14 seconds left with Palmer preparing to throw it into the end zone. But they picked up their sixth penalty of the half on a head-shaking delay-of-game penalty and they opted to turn to Graham.
Palmer finished the half 9-of-16 passing for 129 yards and the Bengals' longest touchdown pass of the year on a 36-yarder to The Ocho. But his interception also set up a Lions score in a game the Bengals looked lackluster as the Lions put their 17-game road losing streak on the line.
The Ocho had 75 yards on four catches in the first half and then went over 100 yards on his first two catches of the second half for his first 100-yard game since Oct. 25. On his next catch he got drilled by cornerback Kevin Hobbs on a screen pass that put the ball at the Bengals 12 and had to be helped off the field but walked off on his own power and came back to end his day with 137 yards on nine catches, his biggest day since the '07 finale.
PBS came to life in the first three minutes of the second quarter when Michael Johnson tipped a pass by Stafford into the arms of defensive tackle Jon Fanene for a 45-yard interception return that tied the game at seven.
The Bengals rode the momentum to a 14-7 lead. Palmer finally solved the NFL's second-worst pass defense with the 36-yard touchdown pass to a sliding Ochocinco off a play-action fake with 5:55 left in the first half.
It was not only Palmer's longest touchdown pass of the season, but it was the first one by a Bengals wide receiver in 16 quarters. And it came courtesy of the running game.
With the Bengals offense committing the pre-snap penalties and holding calls that have plagued them all season, the Lions dominated the first quarter.
But the Fanene touchdown seemed to inspire the Bengals. They followed it up with a three-and-out when cornerback Johnathan Joseph followed wide receiver Bryant Johnson over the middle and knocked Stafford's third-down pass out of his hands.
Then with the clock ticking past the halfway mark of the second quarter, the Bengals went to what they do best and ran the ball. With left guard Evan Mathis playing in place of starter Nate Livings and rookie right tackle Andre Smith getting some snaps, the Bengals fed the ball to Benson.
Benson, who had 42 yards on 14 carries in the first half, ripped off nine yards when the Bengals went to an unbalanced line and put left tackle Andrew Whitworth next to Smith.
The only pass in the eight-play touchdown drive came when Palmer hit Benson out of the backfield for 10 yards as he got plenty of work in his first game back since leaving the Nov. 15 win over Pittsburgh with a sore hip.
The Bengals also got a gift 15 yards when defensive end Jason Hunter jawed at wide receiver Quan Cosby when they stuffed him on a reverse. Palmer found The Ocho on what looked to be a post pattern and he went into a slide to pick it off the ground.
Stafford needed just one snap to turn a Palmer interception into a 54-yard touchdown bomb to Calvin Johnson off a fake reverse. Johnson split safeties Chris Crocker and Chinedum Ndukwe to give Detroit a 7-0 lead with 3:27 left in the first quarter.
Palmer was supposed to rip through the Lions pass defense, but instead the Bengals came out in a fog as their passing problems widened. After Ochocinco was called for a false start, wide receiver Maurice Purify was called for a hold on a perimeter run by Benson. At that point the Bengals called timeout, but Coles couldn't get away from cornerback William James off the line and James picked it off.
The next series was almost as bad. Benson lost a yard on first down, Whitworth was called for a hold, and Palmer threw a high incompletion to tight end J.P. Foschi. The first quarter ended with Detroit up, 7-0, and the crowd booing.
Crocker suffered an ankle injury in the middle of the first quarter, but came back on the touchdown play, then came out for the next series with Tom Nelson in his place.
After blowing a coverage on the first snap of the game to allow Lions running back Kevin Smith a 12-yard catch in the flat, the Bengals defense shut down Detroit on the next three snaps to force a Nick Harris punt. Cosby responded with his longest return since September, a 26-yarder that put the ball on the Cincinnati 41.
But the Bengals couldn't convert even though Palmer had Ochocinco wide open twice. After opening his day with an 11-yard pass over the middle to Coles, Palmer had The Ocho open on the left sideline but he shortarmed the throw. After Benson lost four yards on a run to the left on second down, Palmer's throw to Ocho over the middle sailed on him for an incompletion.
PREGAME NOTES: As head coach Marvin Lewis said Friday, defensive tackle Domata Peko (knee) and running back/kick returner Bernard Scott (toe) won't play for the Bengals on Sunday against the Lions at Paul Brown Stadium and were on the inactive list. Pat Sims gets his fourth start of the season and 10th of his career in place of Peko and his skein of 43 straight starts. Also out is backup center Jonathan Luigs (back) for the second straight week.
With WILL linebacker Keith Rivers back in the starting lineup after missing three games with a calf injury, linebacker Dan Skuta is inactive. So are wide receiver Jerome Simpson, tight end Chase Coffman, and fullback Fui Vakapuna, a trio that has yet to be active this season.
The Lions deactivated starting outside linebacker Ernie Sims.
In chilly 40ish temperatures and little wind, the Bengals offense was introduced individually in their all black uniforms, an ensemble that has a 7-5-1 record. The Lions won the toss and the Bengals chose to defend the river.