Cedric Benson rumbled for 169 yards. (AP photo)
Posted: 6:45 a.m.
Next to Dan Ross catching 11 passes in Super Bowl XVI, running back Cedric Benson staged the singular greatest performance in Bengals postseason history Saturday with 169 yards on 21 carries that kept the Bengals afloat in their 24-14 AFC Wild Card loss to the Jets.
Now is there any question he is the team's MVP for 2009? He did it even though the Jets had no regard for the passing game that deserted them again.
If you had handed him the stat sheet before the game that included a 47-yard touchdown run, he would have been shocked it would have been a loss. In his 10th 100-yard game as a Bengal, it was his first loss. It was the first touchdown by a Bengals running back since Nov. 8, the 17-7 win over Baltimore. It was the best effort ever by a back in the Bengals postseason, breaking the 126 yards Ickey Woods got against Seattle in an AFC semifinal on Dec. 31, 1988.
"Anytime you move the ball like that on the ground and we kind of managed to score some points and get ahead and the fact that didn't happen today ... usually when you get 100 yards on the ground, score and things like that, usually it contributes to a win," Benson said. It's just as tough as any loss. In particular it being a playoff game. We did a lot of good things today. We didn't do enough."
The Bengals offense did so little that his breathtaking 47-yard touchdown run over right tackle that suddenly gave the Bengals hope with 11:04 left in the game turned out to be the last time he ran the ball this season. When the Jets responded with a 20-yard field goal after a 43-yard pass to Dustin Keller with 5:47 left to give them a two-score lead, the Bengals had to hurry up and quarterback Carson Palmer had to throw 14 straight passes before he got sacked on the last two plays.
It was fitting, almost, that the last Bengals drive had a holding call and an illegal shift after a season of devastating penalties.
But it couldn't hide the brilliance of Benson. He even had the Jets impressed even though they've been looking in the mirror admiring themselves for the last week.
"We had a couple of breakdowns on that (TD) play and to his credit, he earned everything," said Jets head coach Rex Ryan. "If we made a mistake he took advantage of it. The kid really ran hard."
"Cedric Benson ran the ball well. Earlier in the week, I said I didn't think he was good for 37 points, and he wasn't," said safety Kerry Rhodes, referring to Sunday's 37-0 win. "But he was great."
Benson was great enough to second effort and gash the NFL's No. 1 defense. At one point he got an astounding five yards after he was seemingly down at scrimmage, but he bounded to his feet when his knee touched a body and not the ground. His 27-yard run with the help of a Chad Ochocinco block set up the 7-0 lead.
Another thing that surprised Benson is that the passing game didn't take off with the running game, particularly since it looked like the Jets were daring the Bengals to throw with extra men in the box of the line of scrimmage.
"When they fill the box like that, it's natural to assume," he said. "They had a lot of guys in the box. I don't know if we were that obvious or if they knew our calls, but they were kind of prone to running when we were going to run it. Nevertheless, it doesn't matter. Your guys still have to beat their guys. You make a play and the rest is history."
Benson certainly made one play. The 47-yarder that broke Woods' franchise-record 30-yard run in the postseason back in that AFC semi of 1988.
Benson's longest run as a Bengal drew the Bengals to within 21-14 with 11:04 left in the game. It came when Palmer checked out of a flea-flicker against a pass-defense front loaded to one side. He handed off over the right side and Benson got a great block from Caldwell working on a DB.
"Carson made a great call and we just stretched it," Benson said. "The defensive end widened, there was a lane and there was only one safety to beat. Once I got past them it was just a matter of me showing whether I had speed or not."
He had enough that when he knelt in the end zone he flashed back to the first Pittsburgh game, when his 23-yard TD run with 9:14 left in the game cut the Steelers lead to 20-15 in a game the Bengals won, 23-20 with 14 seconds left.
"Here we are, not scoring any points and we're down by quite a large margin and I get a nice run for a touchdown," Benson said. "I thought that's exactly what was going to happen. The offense got a great drive down the field in some of the spread looks, but we couldn't finish. We didn't get the field goal."
The votes are already in, but it is another case for Benson being named Comeback Player of the Year. At the beginning of the 2008 season he was sitting at home after getting drummed out of Chicago for on and off-field problems. But the last season has been a reinvention as he set the club record with six 100-yard games and added another one in the biggest game on an offense everyone knew he was getting the ball.
"I'm very proud of myself," he said. "Road traveled. Lessons learned (from) sticky situations I put myself in all contributed to this day. I'm very proud of myself. I want to just give a big round of applause to the guys that helped me. My offensive line, coaches, the Bengals giving me an opportunity to be here. I can't say enough about that because all this wouldn't be possible without that."
Now there is only one thing left.
Texas, his home.
"It's important to get away, relax, and get over it," he said.