SAN DIEGO - San Francisco back Bruce Taylor is going to win NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, but don't tell that to the Tri-State and its environs. Bengals cornerback Lemar Parrish is their man, particularly today when his 79-yard punt return touchdown and earlier fumble recovery stake the Bengals to a 10-0 lead in a game they beat the Chargers, 17-13, despite recording no official passing yards. Head coach Paul Brown's three-year-old Baby Bengals pull off a very adult road win for a franchise-record fifth straight victory that evens their record at 6-6 after a 1-6 start and puts them in an improbable half-game lead over the second-place Browns and a full-game lead over the Steelers with two to play. "Some struggle, some struggle," says a relieved Brown after their 13th victory in less than three years establishes an expansion record. "Above all else, tenacity and going to the ground with it were the only things that pulled us out. If I had known beforehand we weren't going to make a single yard passing, I wouldn't see any way we would win. We got a lot of breaks."
They also get astounding play in the kicking game to send the Chargers to their fifth straight loss and post-season elimination. Parrish's fumble recovery sets up Horst Muhlmann's club-record 53-yard field goal, Dave Lewis rescues them with six punts averaging 53.3 yards that include a 61-yarder, and Parrish scores his second touchdown of the season on the club-record 79-yarder that matches last month's kick return TD in the game that starts the winning streak. "That punt return was something," Brown says while Parrish says it was all pretty normal: "The wall was there, I just had to run." Parrish's fellow youngster on the corner, second-year man Ken Riley, shows why this tandem is going to torture quarterbacks for years to come. The Bengals chase second-year quarterback Marty Domres with two picks in his first nine passes and Riley intercepts veteran John Hadl in the third quarter to set up running back Jess Phillips' 13-yard touchdown run for the winning score and a 17-7 lead.
Although Bengals quarterback Virgil Carter gets credit for no passing yards, he ices the game with two minutes left on a 14-yard quarterback draw from his own 20. "That's a play you use when you're pulling out all the stops and Carter is a poised, tenacious little fellow," Brown says. "We get 136 yards running. That's about normal and we weren't really held to zero passing. We lost on plays designed as runs, but the guys keeping the statistics assumed they were passing plays and they deducted those yards from our passing." But the coach they call "The Master," knows his team's resourcefulness has barely carried the day: "I'd hate to try and do it all over again."