Posted: 12:20 a.m.
CLEVELAND - After Marvin Lewis said the Bengals had "moved the immovable object a little bit," Cedric Benson, still in the muddy game pants smeared with 171 yards, was moved to go down the offensive line's row of lockers in the moments after the Bengals 14-0 victory over the Browns and thank them for helping him cap his run off the NFL scrapheap to a career game.
That one-year contract that was more like one of those two-week NBA tryouts should now pay off handsomely.
In Ice Station Zebra pistol-whipped by the Lake Erie wind howling at 30 miles per hour, Benson pounded the ball 38 times on a day the Browns and the object of Lewis' attention, Pro Bowl nose tackle Shaun Rogers, knew exactly where it was going.
The weather demanded history. Only Rudi Johnson (43) and Corey Dillon (39) have carried more in a game. And the Bengals threw just nine passes, their fewest in 34 years and a week since the 1974 finale, a 27-3 loss in Pittsburgh.
"That's heads up. All you have to do is stay backside of him and keep him moving," center Eric Ghiaciuc told Benson.
"That's right," Benson said after his best game working in sync with a line he never laid eyes on until September.
Benson "I guess I have to give myself a hand and the guys blocking for me for not only giving me an opportunity, but to myself for taking advantage of it," Benson said. "It makes me proud to know what I've gone through and turn things around."
The Browns may be a shell of themselves on offense, where they have gone a coach-killing 20 straight quarters without an offensive touchdown because they are down to their No. 3 quarterback and No. 3 and 4 tight ends.
But on defense Sunday they still had Rogers, the man who was a Bengal for 90 minutes in the offseason, as well as high-priced free-agent defensive end Corey Williams, their middle backer, Andra Davis, first-rounder Kamerion Wimbley at outside backer and their starting secondary.
And the Bengals, without Carson Palmer, Chad Ocho Cinco, the left side of their offensive line, no true fullback, and with a running back under suspicion for two DUIs in August instead of in training camp, ran the ball for 191 yards in their first 100-yard rushing effort against an AFC North foe this season.
Lewis simply has his team playing harder and with more passion and interest than a Browns team that checked out last month as the front-office politics heightened and stars like Jamal Lewis and Braylon Edwards bristled openly.
A 1:30 lack-of-attention span late in the first quarter.
With 2:59 left and the Bengals leading, 7-0, Browns left guard Eric Steinbach false-started on a fourth-and-one from the Cleveland 49 and the Browns had to punt.
Then with 1:34 left and the Bengals facing a third-and-nine from their 12, Rogers went offsides to make it third-and-four, the Bengals converted, and they were off on a 15-play touchdown drive that sapped the clock and the Browns.
Plus, the Bengals had a hungry guy like Benson.
Fitzpatrick"He had such a great day today in terms with the defense knowing we were going to be giving him the ball pretty much every play," said quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. "The amount of carries, the amount of hits he took, he was running just as hard in the fourth as he was in the first quarter. That was real impressive to see."
Behind a diverse set of runs ranging from inside zone plays, perimeter sweeps, and counters, the Bengals kept the Browns linebackers from teeing off on them as Benson tied Pete Johnson for the third-most carries in club history.
The 305-pound Ghiaciuc, criticized for not being big enough to hold up against the AFC North tackles like the 380-pound Rogers (exhibit A is Cincinnati's 3.3 yards per carry in the five previous division games), fended him off just enough to allow Benson to cut back against the grain of two-gap defense.
"We were trying to keep bodies on him, just keep him moving," Ghiaciuc said of Rogers. "The guards would sometimes help on the back side and Cedric did a great job today with his cuts. When Shaun takes off, he's a Pro Bowl nose guard, and he's hard to stop. I would keep him moving and Ced would cut back on him."
The Bengals did some double-teaming of Rogers with veteran right guard Bobbie Williams and neophyte left guard Nate Livings in his fifth NFL start. But not a lot, which did and didn't surprise Ghiaciuc.
"I have confidence in myself, and the coaches do as well. They left it the way it was," said Ghiaciuc, who thinks he answered the critics. "I think so. I hear that a lot. There aren't a lot of big centers in the league."
But if there were times Ghiaciuc did get blown up, Benson made the defense arm tackle with a cutback, or guys like Livings and rookie left tackle Anthony Collins would seal off the back side. For the first time and in his second 100-yard game as a Bengal, Benson looked to have the feel of his cuts behind the line. Lewis has never questioned Benson's hard-running. Only his reads.
Check out the counter in the first quarter from the Bengals 25. Livings pulled to the right to lead Benson and he broke through for the Bengals' longest run in four years (46 yards), 68 games stretching back to Rudi Johnson's 52-yarder against the Browns on Nov. 28, 2004.
"We were just pushing on him all day," Williams said of Rogers. "We were just letting him go, letting him run and let Ced do the rest."
Fitzpatrick did his part by making checks at the line of scrimmage and making sure he had Benson in the best spots. It was not a day to check from run to pass, but run to run.
"We were basically running where they were not, running away from where they were stacked up," he said.
The day was so good that Benson's fumble at the end of the run on cornerback Eric Wright's steal over the back didn't come back to haunt the Bengals because Steinbach false-started a few minutes later.
Benson's false start as a fallen first-round pick of the Bears is well documented. The month-long holdout. The feud with teammate Thomas Jones. Other teammates taking shots at him in practice. A Super Bowl injury and the two alcohol-related arrests this summer that got him cut.
But a few days after he was exonerated in both cases and the indictment was dropped, the Bengals signed him Sept. 30 and he's proven to be nothing like the press clippings.
"The reputation I had before I came in was really not a good representation of me, so it was easy to shed," Benson said. "When you get hot-tempered or lose your composure, that seems to fall on the negative side, so I try to lead by example and stay composed in all situations."
Lewis loves the tough-minded makeup of a guy who was looking for nothing but a chance.
"Cedric is a great competitor. He's never wavered since we had him this season," Lewis said. "He never gets upset. If he does, he apologizes about it. He really is a good kid and I'm glad we've got him."
How long the Bengals have him is now completely in the hands of the front office. Benson says he has no idea what is going to go down but "I know I want to be happy for next year and in a good situation. If that's here, that would be a great thing."
Benson does see the fit after a game the running back clicked with the offensive line the smoothest it has all season.
"I think it's a fit," he said. "I work real well in the scheme in the run game. I've got the steps down and they're not afraid to run the football." < p="">The wind off the lake howled that it was the only way to go in the AFC North in '09.