What is still the second longest pass in Bengals history at the 50thanniversary celebration almost never gets off the ground on the first drive of a second half that finds them holding tenuously to a 10-7 lead over the Eagles in today's season opener at Riverfront Stadium. As quarterback Virgil Carter scans a second-and-nine from his 10, he calls a timeout because they're in the wrong formation and he doesn't want to try to audible and risk a delay of game flag so deep in their own end. The new play that is sent in is a play-action pass and after Carter fakes a handoff to running back Essex Johnson, he straightens and finds wide receiver Speedy Thomas wide open down the sideline and drops it on his left shoulder for a 90-yard TD catch that gives them a 17-7 lead and sparks a 37-14 victory before 55,880.
"It was the long pass that changed the game. No doubt about it," says Bengals head coach Paul Brown. "The coaches noticed the cornerback was playing for the run, so we beat them. Speedy made a great catch and run," says Carter after completing 22 of 30 passes for 273 yards and three TDs. Thomas a third-year, third-rounder out of Utah, says Eagles safety Leroy Keyes should have caught him and wonders how good Johnson's play fake was to make it happen. Thomas will say later that Carter reminds him of Green Bay great Bart Starr. "He's a percentage passer like Starr. You can't beat him if he doesn't throw interceptions." Carter, a heady five-year veteran who also becomes known during his stint in Cincinnati for teaching statistics at Xavier University, has the big number of 117 straight passes without a pick in a streak dating back to last year. He gets the Opening Day start a year after the Bears trade him to Cincy just before the regular season opens and is asked after the huge win what is the difference for him. "This is a different football team," Carter says. "I played on a circus in Chicago. Here this is a professional football team. That's the difference."
When Essex Johnson does carry the ball, the backup carries it like he should be starting as Paul Robinson carries it just three times because of an ankle injury. Johnson carries it just five more times, but one is for a 68-yard TD that puts the game out reach. Johnson takes a left pitch and after wide receiver Eric Crabtree scrapes a blocker off Johnson's back, he makes three others miss to get in there. Johnson ends up with 113 yards as the Bengals crack the 500-yard mark for the first time ever with 523. They break four other team records during the rout and rookie quarterback Ken Anderson helps them get one with his first two NFL completions in mop-up duty that gives them the record for most completions in a game with 24. That's fitting. Anderson will soon break it on his way to four NFL passing titles and it is his 94-yard TD pass to wide receiver Billy Brooks in 1977 that stands as the longest pass in club history with Carter-Speedy still No. 2 after all these years.