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Benson leads Bengals, NFL

Benson rushed for 120 yards on Sunday. (AP Photo)

Posted: 6:15 a.m.

BALTIMORE - Ladies and gentlemen, the NFL's leading rusher:

Bengals running back Cedric Benson.

After Sunday's historic 120-yard effort in the 17-14 win over the Ravens, Benson has 487 yards and a six-yard lead over Minnesota's Adrian Peterson.

Numbers were also on the mind of Marvin Lewis, now the Bengals head coach, and architect of the Ravens' fierce pride in their ability to stop the run at the turn of the century.

In the visitors locker room at M&T Bank Stadium, Lewis leered at public relations man Jack Brennan, pointed at Benson and asked, "How many did he get?" Told 120 yards, Lewis lit up and walked over to Benson to give him a high five.

"That's what I'm talking about," Lewis said. "That's what I'm talking about."

Benson's 120 yards on 27 carries stopped the Ravens streak at 39 of games they hadn't allowed a 100-yard rusher. The 50-game streak Lewis built from '98-'01 lives. It also means the Bengals running game is officially back after failing to average four yards per carry for the past three seasons.

Benson's quarterback, Carson Palmer, reiterated Sunday that his offense continues to feed off Benson.

"That's what we do," Palmer said. "He's as physical a runner as there is. He's fast. There was some explosion on the touchdown. He can do it all. We need to keep him healthy and follow his lead."

On Sunday against the NFL's top run defense giving up just 2.6 yards per carry, the Bengals banged out 4.2, including Benson's runs of 17 and 28 yards late in the third quarter that were the longest against Baltimore this season.

"It's nice to see the runner and blockers on the same page," said offensive line coach Paul Alexander. "We've really had some good technical plays. Yeah, Cedric is great for the scheme. He's tough and he's got speed. And both groups, the runner and the blocker, are really finishing."

In fact, Bengals radio analyst Dave Lapham is saying that Benson is quickly approaching the level of one of the best he ever saw at finishing runs:

Corey Dillon, the man that broke the 50-game streak.

Benson flashed it with a minute left in the third quarter and the Bengals trailing, 7-3. He ran a zone play behind left tackle Andrew Whitworth and when he saw SAM linebacker Jarret Johnson looking to cut him off on the outside, he squeezed through Whitworth and left guard Evan Mathis before spinning out of linebacker Jameel McClain's grasp and running away for the 28-yard touchdown that put the Bengals up, 10-7.

Benson said it was similar to a play earlier where Johnson had stepped inside and tagged him for a loss, so he adjusted.

"(Johnson) was doing a good job, I must say," Benson said. "He stepped inside and when I stepped outside, he did a great job stepping back outside. So I was able to kind of get in between him and the tackle and the guard through a small crease and put the pedal to the metal."

The Bengals not only took the Ravens by surprise, but Benson was a little stunned when he first saw the "super unbalanced" offensive line the Bengals deployed about five times Sunday. At times, Mathis and a wide receiver were the only players to the left of center Kyle Cook. On his right were right guard Bobbie Williams, both tackles and both tight ends, and sometimes one of the tight ends would come back in motion.

"You see that and you say, 'Those are some of the craziest looks I've ever seen,' " Benson said. "In practice it looks one way, but in a game you see it set up against the defense and you say, 'Wow, I wonder how this is going to work.' But we were able to execute those things in practice throughout the week with the offensive line and fullback making those things happen and creating some room. I don't know how much the unbalanced line threw them off, but we made it work."

The running game gets funkier and funkier. Alexander says they're basically putting in a new playbook every week and "the players kind of come in every Wednesday excited to see what they're going to see next."

The offense is also getting some new blood. After the third series, Lewis opted to replace right tackle Anthony Collins with Dennis Roland and the 6-9, 330-pounder did a solid job using his technique to slow down not only Johnson, but Defensive Player of the Year candidate Terrell Suggs. Suggs didn't get a sack and Johnson had the Ravens' only one as the Bengals put up 400 yards (403) for the first time since the '07 finale.

"They do a good job of reading the zone," Benson said of the Ravens. "Their linebackers are real good. They're trying to take away the cutback. We run our zone different than most teams. We were able to stretch the guys to give us some room and make some gaps. The offensive line did a good job being on their man. When the linebackers fell back to take away the cutback I was able to read it and take advantage of what I saw."

Benson, his career left for dead until the Bengals signed him off the street a year and a week ago, was emotional after this one.

"Doing that against a defense like this, coming into an atmosphere like this, the type of game it was, what was on the line, what was at stake," Benson said, "you can't express how motivational it is to move the ball with the running game. We work so hard on being consistent, persistent and finishing plays, that when we do achieve those things, it's hard to put into words how much it gives us a boost."

With Palmer's sprained left thumb forcing him to hand off with his right hand in the fourth quarter, Benson said he had to concentrate on having a grip on the ball knowing how well the Ravens cause turnovers. When he was on the bench during the winning hurry-up drive he wondered briefly if he had broken the streak, but didn't ask Brennan until it was over.

"I was a little emotional on the road that we traveled to where we are today," Benson said. "The competitiveness that was going on out there today, I'm a little emotional and very grateful. I can't express how neat of an accomplishment to go against the No. 1 defense, and kudos to those guys for being the No. 1 defense and kudos to our guys to overcome that."

If anyone knows how much the accomplishment meant to his team on this day in this game, it was the streak-starter himself.

"This is a team that doesn't give up 100-yard rushers. Believe me, I know that. It's a tradition, and it's prideful," Lewis said. "What our offensive group and Cedric did today has been unmatched for a long time. It was a big game."

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