Palmer checks down to win

Posted: 4:50 a.m.

BALTIMORE - The return of wide receiver Chris Henry is supposed to mean touchdowns for a Bengals offense that has been unable to come up with a number to match its yards. So naturally in this season of the untrue, in Henry's first game back Sunday the Bengals went Woody Hayes in a button-down 21-7 victory over the unraveling Ravens.

With his defensive backs dropping like names in the tabloids and his offense turning it over six times, Baltimore defensive coordinator Rex Ryan backed off his signature blitzes and went into a protective shell that forced Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer to check down to seven red-zone field goals on a cautious and heady 23-of-34 passing for 271 yards.

Still, next to Palmer, Henry was the offensive star of the game despite playing for the first time this season following his eight-game suspension stemming from four arrests in 2005 and 2006. He had 99 yards on four catches, 50 coming on a vintage deep ball down the middle in the second quarter of a 3-0 game that marked just the Bengals' second 50-yard play of the season.

"It's like he didn't miss a rep," Palmer said.

Against the Ravens' third-ranked defense it's not how many touchdowns a quarterback throws but how many interceptions he doesn't. Palmer didn't have either Sunday, and on a day his defense forced three turnovers in a span of 4:40 in the fourth quarter, his 91.7 passer rating was as brilliant a performance as his six touchdown passes against Cleveland earlier this year.



"Against Baltimore and Pittsburgh, you don't want to turn the ball over because that's where they get their energy from; that's where their offense gets their momentum from," Palmer said. "They try to make you confused and make you throw the ball into certain areas and you just can't do it against them. How many times have you seen (safety) Ed Reed take an interception into the end zone?"

You didn't see it Sunday because Palmer rarely looked Reed's way as offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski made sure Palmer threw it as many times (34) as he ran it against that deep zone with the lead. Even though the Bengals got just a miserly 70 yards on those 34 carries.

"I'm always in Brat's ear a little bit to make sure the quarterback knows we've got the lead and that we've got to get points there," said head coach Marvin Lewis. "As we got to the two-score (lead), it was important each time we got the ball not to be careless. We were trying to score, but we don't want to be careless."

They didn't have to worry about that. On the 15 plays following the Ravens' three turnovers early in the fourth quarter, all inside the Baltimore 32, the Bengals ran it nine times for 13 yards and took Shayne Graham field goals each time.

"It was an incredible performance by the defense, given all the circumstances; incredible," said Ravens coach Brian Billick of his guys. "The fortitude they showed, what they had to do to adjust against an outstanding opponent. Obviously we didn't get enough done. The turnovers, you saw that. You'll comment on that obviously. What they did defensively was noteworthy."

Bengals wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh, who saw his touchdown skein stopped at eight games, shrugged after he caught six balls for just 45 yards. He had two more catches than Derrick Mason, his co-leader for the NFL receptions lead coming into the game, but he was glad just to get the win.

"Yeah, I thought we were," said Houshmandzadeh of the conservative nature. "But I'm not Coach Lew or Coach Brat. We won the game. That's all that matters."

With three cornerbacks already down when the game started, including their two starters, the Ravens were in deep when another one, Cory Ivy, got a concussion trying to stop 340-pound right guard Bobbie Williams on a recovered fumble at the end of Cincinnati's second series of the game.

At that point when the Bengals went with three wide receivers in the no-huddle, Ryan responded by putting his regular defense out there and guys like linebacker Jarret Johnson couldn't cover Houshmandzadeh in the slot, and inexperienced cornerbacks like Derrick Martin couldn't consistently cover Henry and Chad Johnson (four receptions for 73 yards). The Bengals stayed no-huddle all day and could have exploited the mismatches more, but, like Palmer said, they would have been more aggressive if the Ravens were putting any kind of points on the board.

"The game plan and the scoreboard dictated it," Palmer said.



Still, Henry showed why Palmer gives him all his support. Besides the 50-yarder, he caught an ice cold 11-yarder on third-and-two from the Ravens 19 and the Bengals leading, 6-0, in the middle of the third quarter. Henry kept both feet in as if he'd taken every snap of the season with the play holding up on a replay challenge.

"I'm just blessed to be able to come back and have no timing (problems) with Carson," Henry said. "The one I got my feet down, it was a tough catch, but I stretched and tried to make it happen."

Henry clearly felt relieved to be back playing. Particularly after another curious incident Tuesday night in a Newport on the Levee parking lot in which the police didn't charge him or arrest him after a he-said, he-said altercation.

"I stepped on the field before the game and I just looked around the stands," Henry said. "I'm not going to let this stuff bother me. I'm pretty used to it by now. I know that's not a good thing, but I'm just focusing on football."

Everyone in the stadium thought Palmer had overthrown Henry on that 50-yarder in which he blew by Reed and cornerback Derrick Martin and put the ball on the Baltimore 9. Including Henry when he first glanced up and saw it.

But Palmer knew.

"I can't think of any times I have overthrown him," Palmer said. "He's just got that extra gear. It looks like he's going full speed and then you just see a change in his stride. He just gets into that fourth or fifth gear that guys don't have. He's almost impossible to double-cover. You take that five-step drop and hitch once or twice, and he's going to end up getting it."

Henry saluted the man who suspended him, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.

"I didn't feel rusty at all," Henry said. "The commissioner letting me come back two weeks before I actually came back, that helped a lot."

Palmer admires what Henry has done the last eight weeks after he spent the spring camps and preseason practicing with the team.

"He couldn't have been in a tougher spot," Palmer said. "Everybody bad-mouthing him about all his problems, and to be able to stay out of trouble and lay low ... and just work out and show up to practices and show up to meetings, working for free really, because he was suspended, and then show up in his first game back and look like he never missed a rep."

Houshmandzadeh expected it from Henry.

"I knew he was going to play well," he said. "It's not like a running back that he has to get into a rhythm. He just has to run a route and catch the ball. It's not all that hard."

Palmer praised more than Henry. With the offense's key pass protector injured, tight end Reggie Kelly, it pretty much stayed away from using a lot of the tight end. The offense spread the field with three wides and used fullback Jeremi Johnson in a two-back set to help in pass pro.

"He was phenomenal. Two weeks in a row these are the two best games Jeremi has played in his career," Palmer said. "He's taking linebackers out. He's doing a lot of things in this league that other fullbacks can't do. He can block defensive linemen, but he's fast and athletic enough to get outside and beat linebackers in one-on-one coverage."

Chad Johnson had another quiet postgame, but he did confirm he's OK after he took some shots with his sore neck. One was one of those stunning leaping 23-yarders as he's falling on his back on third-and-long to get the Bengals out of an early hole.

"The guy's great," Palmer said. "Great body control."

Chad Johnson gave the Bengals the best chance to score a touchdown, but Palmer said he should have led him more on a third-down pass to the post that went over Johnson's head on the play before Graham's first field goal.

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