BENGALS GAMEDAY: Photos, analysis, video highlights, stats, quotes* * *
Updated: 5:35 p.m.
Chad is back.
Not to mention the Bengals power game in the red zone on both sides of the ball as Cincinnati took a 35-6 victory before a festive 65,489 at Paul Brown Stadium that head coach Marvin Lewis called the team's best game of a season that is now 4-7.
The day may have belonged to wide receiver Chad Johnson's three touchdowns, but it was typified by running back Rudi Johnson's first rushing touchdown of the season, a five-yard run that gave the Bengals the lead for good at 7-0 eight minutes into the game behind a revamped running game focused on power plays.
Johnson then threw the ball as hard as he could, but he missed the end-zone wall and sent it into the stands, where a heads-up fan made the catch.
Told he'd get fined for that, Johnson said, "He's got to feel me on that. He's got to understand. I had so much pent up inside me, I just had to let it all out."
So did everybody else on an offense that finally found balance with Carson Palmer's 283 passing yards and 148 rushing yards doled out among Johnson, Kenny Watson and DeDe Dorsey. Wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh, who quietly slipped into fifth place on the Bengals' all-time receiving list with seven more catches for 66 yards, called it "the most complete game by the whole team," after he upped his NFL-best catches to 83.
The relentless third-down conversion rate of 14-for-18 allowed the Bengals to keep the ball for 38:40, their biggest hog job in 41 games since they kept it 38:30 in the win over Minnesota in the second game of the 2005 season.
While the Bengals scored five touchdowns on six red-zone trips with Palmer's three touchdown passes giving him 99 for his career, the defense gave the Titans no touchdowns on five red-zone forays.
"Last week was tough for me because I felt like I lost the game for the team. It was a long week for me," Palmer said after rebounding from the first four-interception game of his career. "I'm over it now, we're over it as a team, and we can start worrying about Pittsburgh on Sunday night."
When Chad Johnson tight-roped along the back line of the end zone to haul down Palmer's three-yard pass, it was his third touchdown on a day he broke his eight-game scoring drought and became the Bengals all-time receiver. It was also his career-best 12th catch in a game he had 103 yards.
After Palmer found Johnson (and saluted him with a midair bump), he was 32-of-37 for 283 yards and had led the Bengals to a blistering 13 third-down conversions on their first 15 tries. Palmer finished 32-of-38 (his highest completion rate ever in a game) and with the admiration of Titans head coach Jeff Fisher after the Bengals lanced his defense ranked fourth in the NFL against the run at 4.1 yards pr carry.
"They did a nice job with their run-check passes," Fisher said after his team's playoff bid took a severe dive to 6-5. "Carson managed this game very well. I don't think I've ever seen a quarterback manage a game as well as he did."
But no one needed it more than Chad Johnson, who extended his streak of not talking to the media to 33 days. On a day he passed Carl Pickens, he made everyone remember why he's now at the top of the list.
"I gave it to Brick," is all Johnson would allow, saying he gave the 531st ball to Bengals assistant equipment manager Jeff Brickner.
This is the kind of day it was. Johnson's first celebration since leaping into the Dawg Pound back on Sept. 16 drew a 15-yard penalty when he grabbed the end-zone camera for a crowd shot. But instead of biting his head off, Lewis still embraced him after a month Johnson feels he has been wrongly criticized for his selfishness and distractions.
"I understand," is what Lewis told him.
Lost in the offensive sauce missing for so long was the defense's third straight solid game as it kept Tennessee out of the end zone. The Bengals stuffed the Titans' No. 4 running game on 61 yards and were successful eight out of 10 times on third down and on both fourth-down tries.
"Chuck has done a great job of making it simple and just using the stuff that everyone knows," said defensive end Justin Smith of defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan. "This is what happens when everyone knows what they're doing."
With 7:39 left in the game, the Bengals forced Titans quarterback Vince Young's fourth-down incomplete pass on the Bengals 1 a snap after Smith and linebacker Rashad Jeanty swarmed Titans running back LenDale White at the 1. And that came a play after Lewis successfully challenged Titans running back Chris Brown's one-yard touchdown.
"I don't know what the reason is," said Thornton after their first no-touchdown game 364 days following the shutout of Cleveland. "When you start playing together, having fun, and guys stop complaining about what's called."
After Johnson gave his team a 14-6 halftime lead, the Bengals opened the second half with an 11-play touchdown drive that reeled five minutes off the clock and gave them a 21-6 lead 5:01 into the third quarter.
Matching Rudi Johnson's five-yard touchdown run that started the scoring, running back Kenny Watson walked in from six yards out behind left guard Andrew Whitworth and left tackle Levi Jones.
Chad Johnson had the big gainer in the drive, a 22-yarder that was his longest grab of the game.
Then Johnson caught his 10th pass of the day on the next series , a two-yard pass on a route that Palmer said no other receiver in the NFL could have done.
But after getting flagged in the first half for celebrating with a prop, Johnson toned it down by jumping into the arms of some of his linemen and doing the bump with Palmer.
Dorsey joined in the fun on that series when his 21-yarder marked the longest Bengals run of the season.
Johnson became the Bengals all-time-leading receiver when he caught a third-and-seven pass just inside the first down stick inside the Tennessee 8 and then a minute later gave the Bengals a 14-3 lead when he caught a 10-yard fade on third down with 4:20 left in the first half.
It not only broke his eight-game scoring drought, but he celebrated for the first time, too. But when he grabbed the end-zone camera for a crowd shot, it resulted in a 15-yard penalty for celebrating with a prop and the Titans parlayed it into Rib Bironas' 23-yard field goal with three seconds left in the half that cut the Bengals lead to 14-6.
Johnson's penalty allowed the Titans to start their drive at their 42, but as they did all half the Bengals had an answer on third down. On third-and-goal from the Cincinnati 4 with 12 seconds left, Young's flip to White out of the backfield got stoned by Dhani Jones and cornerback Deltha O'Neal to force the field goal.
The Bengals dodged another crushing penalty when rookie safety Marvin White was called for a late hit on the play, but White's kick in the direction of a fallen Bengal drew another flag that made the penalties offset.
When Palmer hit Johnson for the touchdown, he finished off the drive 8-for-8 for 81 yards (including tight end Reggie Kelly's season-long 26-yarder) and served notice last week's memories of the first four-interception game of his life were just that. Palmer went into halftime 18-of-21 for 164 yards.
Even though Tennessee deactivated 10 if its 24 sacks before Sunday's game, the Titans pressured Palmer enough to force an interception that led to a 28-yard field goal with 9:40 left in the second quarter for the Titans first score in a game the Bengals led, 7-3.
A few snaps after Palmer got blown up by tackle Demetrin Veal that forced him to underthrow open wide receiver Chris Henry, Palmer had more guys in his face when he rushed a ball to Henry over the middle that got deflected and then caught by safety Calvin Lowry at the Bengals 18.
But after Young had to reach for a low snap on third down, Thornton knocked down his pass to force the field goal.
It was the Bengals' second huge play in the red zone. After Titans wide receiver Justin Gage scalded strong safety Dexter Jackson for a 73-yard pass to put the ball at the Bengals 7, the Bengals blitzed and Jones forced a fumble when he climbed all over Young's back and Jeanty recovered the ball at the 5.
Palmer hit Houshmandzadeh twice for 28 yards and connected with Chad Johnson for a seven-yarder on a third-and-one in the first drive, capped off by Rudi running behind the double team of right guard Bobbie Williams and right tackle Stacy Andrews.
The Bengals defense then responded with its second big third-down play in the first 10 minutes when cornerback Johnathan Joseph stayed in front of Titans tight end Bo Scaife on Young's third-and-seven pass on the sideline. Joseph got his second interception of the season when he reached in, batted the ball and caught his own tip at the Bengals 46 with 5:01 left in the first quarter.
But the Bengals came up empty in uncharacteristic fashion when they got in the red zone. They couldn't get anyone open on a third and goal from the Tennessee 4. and Titans defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch had enough time to sack Palmer. Shayne Graham hooked a 26-yard field goal to the left, ending his streak of 21 straight field goals on his first miss of this season inside 50.
Thornton, the former Titan, made the first big play of Sunday 's game for the Bengals against his old team when he beat perennial Pro Bowl center Kevin Mawae on third-and-one and submarined White in the backfield to force the punt that led to the first scoring drive.
The Bengals got Dorsey two early carries and he responded with a 10-yarder and seven-yarder up the middle.
Rudi Johnson had 30 yards on nine carries in the first half and Chad had seven catches for 50 with Houshmandzadeh adding four for 47. The Titans had 40 yards on 10 rushes while Young completed eight of 12 passes for 124 yards.
Jackson (shoulder) and Landon Johnson (laceration) left in the first half with injuries but returned in the second half. Johnson played with 12 stitches in his forearm.
PREGAME NOTES: The Titans' decision to deactivate defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth is going to have a major impact on Sunday's game at Paul Brown Stadium. At least according to the numbers.
In the last two games without him, Tennessee has given up 166 yards each to Jacksonville and Denver in losses that have dropped the Titans to 6-4. In the previous eight games Tennessee's fourth-ranked defense allowed just an average of 66 yards per game on the ground.
Plus, the Titans were without the services of defensive end Travis LaBoy. Like Haynesworth, he's also got five sacks, so the Titans went into the game without 10 of their 24 sacks.
But the Bengals special teams, one of the few strong suits in November, took a hit when leading tackler Herana-Daze Jones was put on the inactive list. Jones, a safety whose 17 tackles double his closest pursuers, has been battling a knee problem for the past month.
The Bengals have absorbed two losses in November despite special-teams firsts in the Marvin Lewis era. Three weeks ago in Buffalo wide receiver Glenn Holt returned a kick for a touchdown and last week at PBS running back DeDe Dorsey blocked a punt for a touchdown.
The Bengals also put down right tackle Willie Anderson, defensive end Frostee Rucker, tight end Nate Lawrie, cornerback David Jones, linebacker Roy Manning, and center Dan Santucci.
Rookie Leon Hall got his third start at cornerback, as did Dhani Jones at weakside linebacker. With Robert Geathers back at left defensive end and Rashad Jeanty at strong-side backer and Landon Johnson at middle linebacker, the Bengals are trying to string together their third straight solid defensive effort.
The Bengals came up with their season-low 247 yards last Sunday against the Cardinals a week after giving the Ravens the previous low at 272. It's the first time since wins over the Browns and Lions on Dec. 11-18, 2005 the defense has held foes to less than 300 yards in two straight games.
Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis sent his team out in the rare orange jerseys and white pants combo that had a record of 3-1. The offense got introduced en masse as it tried to bounce back from last Sunday's five-turnover game. Joining Carson Palmer, John Thornton and Dhani Jones as captains were running back Kenny Watson and defensive linemen Bryan Robinson, but the Bengals lost the toss and had to kick off.