10-27-03, 1 a.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
Everyone from Bengals radio analyst Dave Lapham on their first touchdown to cornerback Artrell Hawkins in the post-game locker room chanted it at some point Sunday at Paul Brown Stadum..
"Ru-uudi. Ru-uuudi. Ru-uudi."
And when Bengals public relations director Jack Brennan announced to the media in the locker room, "Rudi Johnson in the interview room," right tackle Willie Anderson had his biggest smile of the day.
"Rudi got an interview room. That's good right there. That is huge right there," Anderson said.
No bigger than the 101 yards Johnson mashed out on 27 carries in place of the inactive Corey Dillon to help the Bengals to a huge 27-24 victory over NFC West-leading Seattle. Johnson put the Bengals on the board with an 18-yard touchdown run that tied the game at seven late in the first quarter, and then he hammered out 36 yards on seven carries in the game's final 5:53 with the Bengals protecting the lead.
"Yeah, it was nice," Johnson said of being in the spotlight after the first 100-yard game of his career in his second NFL start. "But it feels better because we won. It's all good because we won."
It was as much a triumph for his offensive line as it was Johnson. And, it was not only an important game because they beat a division leader and won two straight games for the first time in two years, but it was the way they won it with Johnson chipping away at Seattle for 3.7 yards a carry in typifying head coach Marvin Lewis' Keep-Sawing-Wood perseverance as the Bengals overcame more distractions than a Reality TV show cast.
Dillon fueled a media circus in the middle of the week with his take on the Trade-Me-Or-Play-Me rant with a non-traditional Maybe-Trade-Me-But-Give-Me-The-Ball-More-And-We'll-Talk vent sparked by the frustration over his injured groin.
Then, over the weekend, several players and coaches attended services for Mark Vanskee, a former PBS employee who took care of the locker room before succumbing to brain cancer. Then, Dillon had the wreck.
But, unlike past years, the Bengals didn't let events control them. Instead, the offensive line chose to break out of its slump in the running game and produced 180 yards on 33 carries, their most since 240 in last year's win over New Orleans nine games ago.
Johnson got the ball 27 times and Dillon hasn't got the ball 27 times for 364 days, or since he had 30 carries Oct. 27 against Tennessee. But to be fair, Dillon was headed to 30 in Oakland in the second game of this season, but ended up with just 19 after he hyperextended his knee.
"We knew what we had to do as a group. The pressure was on us to get better numbers," said Anderson of the offensive line's role in the running game. "The coaching staff did a good job getting us ready. Our Wednesdays and Thursdays are so physical that once the games get going, the games are easy. The games are fun. We take pride in the way we practice on Wednesday and Thursday. We work so hard on 9-on-7 and putting pads on in the middle of the season, we've been hitting and hitting and hitting and working too hard not to get results on Sunday.
"Marvin has been preaching to have a 100-yard game, you don't need 30 and 40 (yard runs)," Anderson said. "You can do it with four and five a pop."
The unassuming Johnson runs like his unvarnished personality. No-frills and to the point. His effort, which stands as the Bengals' first 100-yard day of the season and their first by anyone other than Dillon in 100 games, came after he was told less after than two hours before game time that he was going to start. Dillon called from his cell
phone to inform the club of his accident, in which a Montgomery police report said he wasn't cited after his 1963 Impala fishtailed into a guard rail on I-71 South after apparently skidding out of the I-275 ramp near his Montgomery-area home. Lewis was forced to make a quick decision because he needed to file his inactive list by 11:30 a.m.
Since Dillon only practiced once this week with his sore groin on Friday, Lewis had indicated he would base much of his decision on how Dillon warmed up before the game. But since Dillon was delayed until about noon, it appeared that Lewis put him down because he didn't know what Dillon would be able to do.
Johnson silenced any second guessers and those who thought he had 0.0 moves. On his touchdown run, he blew past the line up the middle and then deked strong safety Reggie Tongue into a missed tackle at the five-yard line.
"Rudi ran great, but the order was restored by the offensive line," said quarterback Jon Kitna. "They really took it upon themselves to go out and have a huge game — to try to start dominating people up front. They did a great job. And Rudi — he is a downhill type of running back who just seems to get four yards, five yards, and that was a big lift for us today."
You don't have to sell Seattle coach Mike Holmgren, either.
"Dillon was inactive and sometimes everyone takes a big deep breath and go, 'Oh, good, he's not playing,'" he said. "And then all of a sudden you got a guy in there that's pretty good. He was pretty efficient running the ball, I thought. That was the thing that surprised me most, I guess."
While the media tried to find out why Dillon wasn't on the sidelines exhorting his teammates, his teammates didn't seem to mind that reports were saying he watched the game in the players' lounge before leaving before halftime. Dillon couldn't be reached Sunday night, but there was some speculation that he didn't stick around because he didn't want to overshadow the game after what happened last week. Plus, everyone who talked to him said he was shaken up pretty badly because his wife Desiree was also in the car.
"I talked to him (before he game)," Anderson said. "He was kind of shook up. Once he's back in there, he's our horse. Guys will get behind him, and we'll get him going wth a couple 100-yard games. It's a process. We've got some young offensive lineman and it's a process. We're going to try and keep it going to get something positive against Arizona."
Johnson had high praise for the line on its work during his touchdown run, which he cut back behind Anderson and right guard Mike Goff.
"Reggie Kelly made a great block on the backside," Johnson said of his tight end. "The linebackers flowed and I was able to back and make the safety miss."
The 5-10, 220-pound Johnson provides a shorter, more compact target than the 6-1, 225-pound Dillon, but he doesn't have the three-time Pro Bowler's speed.
"Rudi is a straight-ahead guy. Corey gives you a little bit of everything," Anderson said. "Once Corey gets healthy , we're going to put him back in there and we'll keep running because Corey still is our horse.
"Once he's mad, he runs better," Anderson said. "It's great to have a guy like Brandon (Bennett) and Rudi back there. Rudi's been doing this the whole season, his whole career, really. Even in the pre-season games. Once he gets in there, he always does the job."
Johnson led the NFL in pre-season rushing one year. But here's a guy who has gained yards everywhere he's been. The year after he rushed for 373 yards in the Junior College national title game, he gained 1,567 yards at Auburn, second only in school history to Bo Jackson.
"Pretty much," said Johnson, giving a meat-and-potatoes answer when asked if he is a meat-and-potatoes runner.
This was supposed to be a day for the other SEC running back. Alabama's and Seattle's Shaun Alexander came into a stadium with people wearing his jersey in honor of the epic prep career he had at Northern Kentucky's Boone County High School. He got 86 yards on 20 carries, but ended up congratulating Johnson on the victory.
Johnson got 100 this day, and he knows he'll probably be back on the bench if, as expected, Dillon gets to loosen his groin next week in the desert against the Cardinals.
"I think this football team really needs CD and hopefully he's doing OK with what he went through today," Kitna said. "We need him. We need his heart. I saw him just briefly. He was walking. You can't feel sorry for yourself. We all wanted him back there, but you have to keep playing. I think our offensive line, regardless of who was back there, they were really looking forward to this week because they were getting better and better with each game.
"Rudi's a good football player," Kitna said. "Sometimes when you're behind a superstar, that's just the way it is. But he's done a great job staying ready."
Hawkins said the Bengals don't get caught up in Dillon's media junkets, saying the Dillon-in-the-media and the Dillon-in-the-locker room are "two separate issues. We've got relationships with CD that are good and we just hope he's OK after the accident."
One Johnson (Rudi) didn't celebrate in the end zone. One Johnson (Chad) did and got penalized. That didn't surprise the first one.
"That's not me," Rudi said. "Receivers like to do that stuff."
But he did enjoy the chants.
"It's just like the old days. It's great to get the fans going like that," Johnson said. "I think they were great for the whole game today. They kept Seattle on their toes with all the noise, so they did a great job today."
The fans would say it was mutual with a resounding chorous of "Ru-uuudi, Ru-uuuudi, Ru-uudi."