12-15-03, 4:20 a.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
This team now has the mentality of Rudi Johnson and Marvin Lewis and these new go-for-it Bengals went after the 49ers Sunday instead of waiting around for that ever elusive eighth victory here at Paul Brown Stadium, 41-38.
Even though the Bengals were at midfield on the first series of the second half and clinging to a 21-17 lead, Lewis considered it two-down territory and was rewarded with a 49-yard touchdown run on fourth-and-one.
"Let's go get a first down," Lewis said.
Then, with 1:13 left in the game
and the 49ers trying an on-side kick, Johnson went for the ball instead of waiting for something bad to happen. It bounced once, twice, and Johnson didn't wait for it to go 10 yards.
"I was going to make a play on it if I could," Johnson said. "The main thing was not to just grab it. But grab it and tuck it."
Johnson then got drilled by linebacker Saleem Rasheed and cornerback Terry Jackson, and admitted it was the toughest hit he took all day. But he held on, just like he let the Bengals get a hold in this rock-em-sock-em playoff race with 163 yards in the second half.
Johnson can now officially be called, "Clock Killer."
Two of the runs came on pretty much the same play, what the Bengals call "Power," and where the back-side guard basically pulls to the front side and the running back follows the fullback.
Simple, but it's always complex when 11 people have to do the right thing at the same time. Simple, but they came in a second half offensive line coach Paul Alexander said the Bengals adjusted the game plan, "quite a bit."
On Sunday, that was rookie left guard Eric Steinbach showing off that first-round athleticism with three crushing blocks on those two plays, and Rudi Johnson following another rookie in fullback Jeremi Johnson. The first one was the 49-yard touchdown run on fourth-and-one. The second came with 2:39 left in the game and the Bengals not having much success holding on to a 34-31 lead. But like he popped a 54-yard run against the Chiefs in a similar situation a month ago to kill the clock, Johnson broke a 47-yarder off the right side to set up the final, winning touchdown.
It was a bit of redemption for the offensive line. Those plays were pretty much the same idea of the plays that got stuffed on the goal line last year against Tennessee and Cleveland.
"Everyone has to read each other's blocks," Rudi Johnson said. "Steinbach has to read J.J.'s block. I've got to read J.J.'s block. Sometimes J.J. hooks him. Sometimes J.J. kicks him out. That's why everybody has to be on the same page."
From the 49, Jeremi Johnson saw Steinbach, "bury his man," and he hooked the back-side linebacker so Rudi could take it outside.
"I just went off of Steinbach's block," Jeremi Johnson said. "That gave me a big view to see who I had to block. Steinbach gave me the big window."
The adjustment to keep running the ball with the simpler runs might have been made at halftime, but Lewis and offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski talked about going on fourth-and-one just before the game.
"I said, 'Let me know when you feel like it's four-down territory around mid-field,''' Bratkowski said. "Because we had a shot where we felt we could get the ball down the field. He said, 'OK, I'll let you know.' Then he let me know as we got close to that situation. He said, 'Here's your shot.' So we took our shot and missed it, but fortunately we came back with the big run."
Bengals quarterback Jon Kitna overthrew wide receiver Chad Johnson on third-and-one down field. Now the run. Bratkowski said it was the "same concept," that sprung Johnson in the fourth quarter on the more regular down and distance of second-and-seven. It looked to be the same play, but true to his education at the knee of 49ers head coach Dennis Erickson, Bratkowski did it out of different formations. The touchdown run came out of two backs, two tight ends, and one receiver.
"You put a guy on the back-side guy. That's all that extra personnel does," Bratkowski said. "On short-yardage, you try to protect your back side. In regular situations, you can go ahead and do it with the regular personnel."
Erickson expressed amazement at the disparity in the running numbers of each half.
"They were running the power play and sealing down, kicking out," Erickson said. " They were running about what they wanted. They got some big runs, of course, one on fourth down where he broke the long one. We were trying to bring people inside, I think it was fourth-and-about-a-foot there early in the second half. And then, you know, it's hard to tell. We called everything we had in the playbook, and just couldn't stop them in the running game."
Rudi Johnson and right tackle Willie Anderson praised the coaches' work at halftime to revive the running game that had managed just 39 yards rushing in the first half.
"He (Johnson) did a good job," said 49ers Pro Bowl linebacker Julian Peterson. "He didn't have so much of a big space. He just got in a little gap, and jumped the gap and lifted his feet up and got up out of the little gap. That's when you'll see him getting those five- or six-yard (gains), or just explode. We did a good job of condensing the hole. He just did a good job of getting himself into the little hole, and getting himself a lot of yards out of it."
Kitna thought the Niners played the Bengals much like the Ravens did last week, but this time Cincinnati was able to attack the deep zone with the running game.
"You can play us like that," Kitna said. "But pick your poison."
When the dust settled, they had 225 yards to go over 200 yards for the fourth time in six games.
"We've got the kind of running game where if we just keep pounding and pounding and pounding it, we're going to get the back loose," Anderson said. "We did the same thing against Kansas City and Houston. We were pretty much just running the same play. And when Marvin went for it on fourth-and-one, that showed he had confidence in the offensive line and the defense. . .That's what good teams do."
Good teams also take guards high in the draft if they see a good one. The Bengals did that this past April when Steinbach was available at the top of the second round, and they have made use of his speed and athleticism ever since.
"The coaches were telling us to make sure we got off the ball and not get pushed back so we could make a path for Steinbach pulling," Anderson said. "If we don't get push and movement on it, he can't get around us to get to his block. He's the kind of guy you want on your offensive line. A big guy that can run and do a lot of things."
He is helping Rudi Johnson do a lot of things. He now has four 100-yard games and is 125 yards shy of 1,000 yards for the season. After gaining 67 yards in his first two seasons, Johnson is a game away from tying the Bengals' season record with five 100-yard games, last done by Corey Dillon in 1999, 2000, and 2002.
"As long as we win," Johnson said. "That's all that matters."
The Bengals are 4-0 in games Johnson rushes for 100. All at home.