Old Chad spices rout

Posted: 10:15 p.m.

It was such a picture-perfect day Sunday for Bengals wide receiver Chad Johnson that nobody got mad at his penalty-marred end-zone celebration.

"I told him to keep it up," said defensive captain John Thornton. "It was that kind of day where everybody was playing well. If he needs to get a penalty to get going, I think that's good. It didn't hurt us that bad."

It's funny what qualifies as a distraction during a loss and what is considered a lift during a win. In the NFL, take a picture because it can be the same thing.

After his 10-yard touchdown catch ended his eight-game scoring drought, Johnson clambered aboard a platform and grabbed the camera to pan a public that has been panning him for the past month and put him in a funk.

But in the 35-6 victory over Tennessee at Paul Brown Stadium, Johnson not only became the Bengals all-time receptions leader, he also set his own personal record with 12 catches, and his 103 yards broke his four-game game skein without a 100-yard day.

Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis defended Johnson on Friday, talking about how he helps the team during the week with his outgoing personality and how that had returned this week because he knew the team needed him with injuries at the receiver spot.

Lewis also said the selfishness and distraction tags have hurt Johnson because the criticism hurt his family, particularly his grandmother.

That's maybe why on Sunday, Lewis gave Johnson a pass on the penalty and hugged him even as the flag lay on the turf, to be enforced on the kickoff.

You can't use a prop to celebrate a touchdown.

"When I saw him move on to the camera pedestal, I knew the flag was coming," said Lewis and when asked what he said to him, Lewis said, "I understand."

His teammates seemed to understand, too.

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Palmer

"Chad just doesn't want anyone not to like him. He's been through a lot this year," quarterback Carson Palmer said. "There have been a lot of people saying a lot of bad things about him. He just wants to make everyone happy. His teammates, coaches, the media, and the fans, whoever it is.

"He took it hard when people were talking about him. He took it personally when people said things about him. He kept practicing. He kept working. It showed up. He worked his butt off this week. He's been banged up. He caught a bunch of balls. He tried to run over linebackers. He played fierce today, and ran phenomenal routes. He made some great catches and just had an all-around great game."


BENGALS ALL-TIME TOP RECEIVERS

  • Chad Johnson: 537 catches, 7,966 yards, 14.8 average, 47 TDs; 2001-present Carl Pickens: 530, 6887, 13.0, 63 TDs; 1992-99 Cris Collinsworth: 417, 6698, 16.1, 36; 1981-88 Isaac Curtis: 416, 7101, 17.1, 53; 1973-84 T.J. Houshmandzadeh: 386, 4607, 11.9, 32; 2001-present Darnay Scott: 386, 5975, 15.5, 36; 1994-01 Eddie Brown: 363, 6134, 16.9, 41; 1985-91 Rodney Holman: 318, 4329, 13.6, 34; 1982-92 Tony McGee: 299, 3795, 12.7, 20; 1993-01 Bob Trumpy: 298, 4600, 15.4, 35; 1968-77 James Brooks: 29, 3012, 10.1, 27; 1984-91 Tim McGee: 282, 4703, 16.7, 25; 1986-91, 94-95

Johnson toned it down on the next two scores, opting to point to the crowd, jump into the arms of a few linemen, and do the midair chest bump with Palmer.

More Chad? With 1,041 yards on the season, this is his sixth straight 1,000-yard year.

"He's as good as everyone thinks he is. He deserves credit because he's that good," Palmer said. "He should have been in the end zone a lot more than he has this year. He played great, and we did a great job around him getting him open. I think he had a bunch of catches. Those (defensive backs) definitely respected him and worried about him and weren't going to let him run over the top and get behind him. We were able to get him the ball other ways, running out routes and slants"

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Johnson

But Johnson still isn't talking to the media, a stretch of 33 days that is now longer than his touchdown drought. All he would offer is that he gave the ball he caught for his 531st reception to pass Carl Pickens on the Bengals all-time list to assistant equipment manager Jeff Brickner.

The record was classic Chad. He caught a quick out on the sideline on third-and-seven just inside the first down stick at the Tennessee 8 and then a minute later gave the Bengals the 14-3 lead.

"I don't think he cares too much about that. It's just something for you guys to talk about and write about," said T.J. Houshmandzadeh, his close friend and fellow receiver. "He'll probably reflect on it later but not now."

So Houshmandzadeh wasn't choked up about his own seven catches for 66 yards that gave him 386 career catches, tying him with Darnay Scott for fifth all-time. Or the fact he widened his lead to nine catches over Baltimore's Derrick Mason for the NFL receiving title with 83 catches.

"It doesn't matter," Houshmandzadeh said. "You might look at what you've done later on, but not now."

What did matter is that Johnson put on a memorable show in scoring three touchdowns for the third time in his career (the last time was 17 games ago in New Orleans) in doubling this season's output.

"About time," Houshmandzadeh said. "That's what he told me."

Two of the touchdowns came on third down, when Palmer was golden in converting 13 of the first 15 on a day the Bengals hit 14-for-18 helped by Johnson's five third-down catches. All his scores came from 10 yards and in, and Palmer says it's no coincidence that two of them came after red-zone touchdown runs by running backs Rudi Johnson (five) and Kenny Watson (six) as the Bengals ran the ball for 4.1 yards per carry after the last three games they averaged 2.4.

"They came out and they were going to play zone and not let us throw the ball down there," Palmer said. "Rudi had a touchdown, Kenny had a touchdown. (Then) they tried to get in some man-to-man and Chad did a great job."

Johnson's first touchdown bailed the Bengals out of a third-and-10 from the 10 after the Bengals tried to replay last week in the red zone when they got a false start on center Eric Ghiaciuc and a hold on tight end Reggie Kelly.

Cornerback Nick Harper gravitated toward the slot and Houshmandzadeh on the third-down play and Johnson was left open in the right corner of the end zone for a 14-3 lead with 4:20 left in the first half.

Johnson's second touchdown came in the third quarter and even though it was just two yards out, Palmer was left shaking his head after Johnson screwed cornerback Cortland Finnegan into the ground like a sprinkler.

"No receiver in the league could have run that route," said Palmer after Johnson started to slant inside, then went back outside, and Johnson was wide open because Finnegan fell down.

"Man to man coverage. I got nervous. He was open," Palmer said. "It was one of those that you'd rather have the corner right there because it's easier to throw it in a tight spot. I saw that the corner basically fell, 10 yards away from his man. From the (2)-yard line. Not many receivers can do that."

Then Johnson scored his third touchdown on a scintillating third-down catch from three yards out. For a split second he was Gumby, running along the back line of the end zone, then stretching high to pull the pass back down, then getting both feet down before falling out of the end zone for his last catch and the Bengals' final score with 12:58 left in the game.

"Well, I'm not sure there's another receiver in the league that could make the catch," Palmer said, and left guard Andrew Whitworth simply said, "That was unbelievable."

Houshmandzadeh shrugged.

"Routine," he said. "If it's not one-handed, it's routine around here."

But what was not routine was that not only did Johnson seem relieved, but so did his teammates. Guys like the non-glitzy tight end Reggie Kelly and Thornton, the captain of the defense, were some of the first to greet him on the sidelines.

"I'm happy for him," Kelly said. "Chad works hard in practice, Chad works hard in the game. I was happy to see all that hard work pay off and I think it will pay off the rest of the year."

Palmer was asked if the Bengals feed off Johnson and he said no, it's more like the Bengals feed off each other.

"All I know," Palmer said, "is that Chad shows up every day for practice and for every game."

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