Posted: 6 a.m.
What would a last-ditch Bengals comeback be without a spectacular first down from third-down back Brian Leonard?
"That's all the guy does," said Keith Rivers as he looked over at Leonard's locker after the 17-10 thriller. "He just gets first downs."
Leonard is already embedded in Bengals lore with his dive earlier this year at the end of a fourth-and-10 pass from Carson Palmer that got the extra yard for a first down at the Steelers 4 to set up the winning touchdown two snaps later.
"That guy is the unsung hero of the team," said right guard Bobbie Williams. "He's a great a guy. He's an excellent player. He just gets it done."
This one came in the infant stages of Sunday's winning 98-yard drive when the Bengals faced a third-and-seven from their own 5 with 8:05 left and dangerously close to giving away field position in a 10-10 game.
"On third down, my job is to know where I have to go to get the first down," he said. "I always go out and look at the first line past the first down. That way, I know if I get to that line for sure, I got it."
So this time Leonard was looking at the 15 because he had to get to the 12. The call was the shovel pass with quarterback Carson Palmer taking the snap in the shotgun and then under-handing it to Leonard cutting in front of him from left to right. Leonard was looking for left guard Evan Mathis because he was pulling in front of him.
"He's looking to take out the end and I'm seeing if he's going to seal him or kick him out," Leonard said. "He kicked him out."
And just like Pittsburgh, Leonard got one more yard than he needed and the Bengals were off on the winning drive. It was also the first of Palmer's four third-down throws to four different receivers. The next two went to the receivers with Andre Caldwell (nine yards on a third-and-three out route) and Laveranues Coles (12 yards on a spinning-after-catch-third-and-six) answering critics that have questioned their ability to get open against man-to-man. Chad Ochocinco converted the big one, the six-yard touchdown on third-and-goal, but it was Leonard that had the Chiefs muttering.
"They made a good call. The back ran for the first down. We will look at the film and find out what happened," said linebacker Mike Vrabel. "It's one of those things that you have to rally to stop. You're not counting on a shovel pass on third-and-eight."
MORE MIKE: One rookie went down when SAM linebacker Rey Maualuga broke his ankle but another stepped in when right end Michael Johnson came up with another huge deflection to set up the winning drive. It was the 6-7 Johnson's tipped pass that led to the Bengals go-ahead touchdown three weeks ago at PBS against Detroit and this time it was his knockdown at the line of scrimmage on third-and-seven from the Chiefs 49 with 9:40 left that blunted any Kansas City field-goal hopes and got the ball back for the final monstrous drive.
"I need to pick one of those off and stop playing," he said with a laugh. "We always work on that stuff in the individual period. (Jon) Fanene got good penetration and I was able to come off him."
Johnson checks in on passing downs and usually plays end, which is where he got also got a sack in the first half Sunday to give him three for the season. He also plays games with Fanene, the right end in the base defense. A lot of times Fanene goes inside on pass downs, but sometimes Johnson goes inside. From wherever he comes from, his 6-7 wingspan is a huge obstacle. It was his fifth pass defensed of the season.
Johnson was being enough of a pain that later in the game, left tackle Branden Albert, a recent No. 1 pick, needed help from running back Jamaal Charles to block him.
LJ FIGHTS BACK: Larry Johnson, one of the great backs in Chiefs history, only got four shots to carry the ball against his old mates for 11 yards as he watched Cedric Benson set the Bengals record with six 100-yard rushing games in a season.
But he took it in stride. Except when linebacker Demorrio Williams rode him enthusiastically out of bounds while yapping in the second quarter after a six-yard gain and Johnson jawed and pushed him back.
"I saw everybody before and after the game," Johnson said. "A lot of guys were all smiles that we got to see each other again. I wouldn't even say anything until he started talking first. I love all those guys on the defensive side of the ball and offense. I wasn't really going to turn on anything until I was going to get that. He gave it to me the first couple of times and I said I was going to take mine right now because I knew I wasn't going to get that many carries. It's all competitive. We're all friends. It's heat of the moment. That's what football is about."
The Chiefs came in with the NFL's next-to-worst run defense after allowing three straight 200-yard rushing games, but they bottled up Benson a lot of the day. He had 66 of his 133 yards on three runs as the Chiefs sent their linebackers run-blitzing nearly every play.
"They did what they had to do," Johnson said. "They were exposed last week (351 rushing yards allowed to Cleveland), so they knew we were going to come in and try to run the ball on them and they did the best job they could to try and stop Ced. At the end of the day in the second half we just started to hit things perfectly."