Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who had just willed the Bengals to a win with savvy and patience, had a big smile for defensive tackle Domata Peko as he left the locker room following Sunday's 20-13 win over the Redskins.
Peko, of course, had lined up as a fullback on Fitzpatrick's one-yard touchdown off a naked bootleg to break the Bengals skein of not scoring a touchdown in 11 straight quarters just 4:30 into the game.
"He's such a weapon out of the backfield," Fitzpatrick said, "that the defense has to put multiple guys on him."
But as if to signify the Bengals' simple and smashmouth approach to the game, it was a run all the way. Backup center Andrew Crummey came in as a tight end "but there were no receivers going out," he said. Last week on the goal line, Fitzpatrick faked a handoff to Cedric Benson and he threw a dropped pass to fullback Dan Coats. This time after another fake to Benson, it was a run with no option.
Fitzpatrick made the most of his openings. He threw for 209 yards (his second most of the season) and a touchdown, and the touchdown he scored he set up on a gutty 14-yard scramble in which he stretched out to take a hit but didn't get the spot.
He also flashed his NFL arm strength with some sideline lasers (Ocho meet Clinton) as well as his Harvard Yard cool on the fourth-and-one with 6:02 left. He calmly waited in the no-huddle to get the word from head coach Marvin Lewis before getting two yards on a sneak.
"That's usually a call from the bench," Fitzpatrick said. "In the Jets game earlier this year when we scored, that was a call by me, and the linemen up front. But this was a situation where I was going to let Marvin handle it, and he gave us the green light."
But the play that signified how crisply the Bengals came out Sunday was the 79-yard screen pass to Benson for the longest play of the season and the first 50-yard plus pass of the year. It came with 4:48 left in the first quarter off a second-and-19 from the Bengals 8.
"Execution," said right guard Bobbie Williams. "It makes all the difference. We worked hard (on the screen) this week and we got the right look at the right time. We get on our blocks and just let the back do his thing."
It hasn't been an easy thing for a new running back with a new offensive line. Sometimes Benson has left too early on the screen, leaving the guards behind, and sometimes the guards have left too early and stranded Benson. This time Williams buried the WILL linebacker as Benson started up the right sideline and he broke into the clear about 10 yards into the run as center Eric Ghiaciuc flattened the middle linebacker.
(For the Ghiaciuc bashers, this is a game where he showed his wares. He's a good player in space and there was plenty of it against the 'Skins 4-3 if they took the time to find it.)
The only guy who took down Benson was his own blocker, wide receiver Chris Henry, who hustled all the way from the opposite side of the field to try and get in the way of cornerback Carlos Rogers.
The Bengals were also effective sticking with pretty much their zone plays as Benson racked up 55 yards on his first 10 carries on the way to finishing with 73 on 21, his second-best day behind the 104-yarder against Jacksonville. The old basic 14 and 15 plays came in handy against a Washington defense ranked 10th against the run. head coach Marvin Lewis praised Benson for "staying on his tracks" on a play that is designed at the tackle's back before the back makes his read.
"They like to pinch it in there, so we were able to get some stuff on some pitches wide," Benson said.
Or, as Williams said, "We felt like we had no pressure this week and that we could go out there and push these guys around. We had a week of practice and we went out there loose with the idea we were going to push them around."
The tone was set on the Bengals' first snap, when tight end Reggie Kelly blew up the right edge and Benson got eight yards. But the momentum slowed in the running game as Fitzpatrick actually threw one more pass (15) in the second half than he did in the first half.
"Sometimes I wish we didn't come in here at halftime," Benson said. "I wish we just stayed out on the field. That's been a challenge for us. Not going back out the same way we started. Guys have to learn how to finish. And that's something you really can't teach."
If there is a great finisher in the lot, it is wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh. He made just three catches Sunday, but two came in the final drive on third down that kept the clock humming for 7:15. The last one was on a third-and-eight as he beat cornerback Fred Smoot across the middle, but he had to steady himself with a hand on the ground to get the final yard when Smoot clicked his heels.
"It was a typical T.J. play," Fitzpatrick said. "He didn't have a lot of balls thrown to him today, but he helps us out in so many other ways. He stayed in the game today even though it was probably frustrating at times not getting the ball. That was a huge play that extends the drive and takes some more time off the clock."
And while wide receiver Chad Ocho Cinco had just three catches for 33 yards, Bengals radio analyst Dave Lapham observed on the broadcast that he played the most physical game of his season in taking and doling some hits over the middle with his dislocated shoulder.
"I'm not a naturally physical player," The Ocho said. "I was (today). As guys get down to the end of your career, you turn into a physical player. I enjoyed it. It feels really good to win. I want to go out and eat at the restaurant and not have to hear the questions."
The Ocho and everyone else played like they were listening to the head coach.
"That was the whole mindset this week," said Ocho Cinco of Lewis' call to get the last three games. "Usually the focus is on one game at a time, but we put all three into a bunch and said this is how it's going to be. Finish it off the right way."