Texans watch Rudi run

11-9-03, 4:15 p.m. Updated:
11-9-03, 8 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

Welcome to MarvBall.

Steal the clock and on the way out the door, run the ball all day spiced with some efficient passes, and make a big play on defense late to rush home with another victory.

Lugging the ball a team-record 43 times, Bengals running back Rudi Johnson strapped Lewis' philosophy on his back and carried Cincinnati to another fourth-quarter win at home Sunday here at Paul Brown Stadium with a 34-27 victory over the Texans that marked the Bengals' fourth victory in the last six games.

Johnson allowed he needed the hot tub after carrying the most times in a NFL game since Washington's Jamie Morris set the record with 45 right here 15 years ago during the Bengals' 20-17 overtime victory over the Redskins in the 1988 season finale. Johnson joins the Giants' Butch Woolfolk (1983) and Tampa Bay's James Wilder (1984 in an overtime game) at second place in the books. So Johnson and Woolfolk now the hold the record for most carries in a regulation game.

Behind a rejuvenated offensive line, the Bengals' next-to-last-in-the-NFL rush offense rolled up 240 yards on 4.2 yards a bolt for their 57 carries and annexed the clock for 41:15 of the 60 minutes of joy for 50,437. And with the clock reading 13:04 left in a game Houston led, 27-24, Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis took control of the game and his team with a simple "Go," on fourth-and-one from the Houston 7.

So Johnson followed fullback Jeremi Johnson, wide receiver Peter Warrick, and the right side of the offensive line for three of his 182 yards that set up the winning touchdown with a score that lifted the Bengals to 4-5 and defined Lewis' rebuilding project.

"I said that, from the time I walked in here, I feel like our football team needs to be aggressive," Lewis said. "Those are the things that I feel comfortable that we will pick up and do."

What won't make Lewis very comfortable is wide receiver Chad Johnson's post-game guarantee that Cincinnati will knock off unbeaten Kansas City when the Chiefs arrive next Sunday in a 1 p.m. game at PBS to meet a Bengals team riding its first three-game in-season home winning streak since the first three PBS games of 2001.

But he knows MarvBall.

"I'll probably get fined for this," said Chad Johnson after his career-high nine-catch day for 89 yards.

"We will win -- that's a guarantee," he said. "It's no offense to their organization. It's just the way I feel. Some people might not like it, but I'm confident that my teammates won't leave me hanging. . .It should be the game of the week, the undefeated team against the new-era Bengals."

Lewis' New Bengals find themselves in a new spot in November. Coupled with the 5-4 Ravens' loss in St. Louis Sunday night, Cincinnati is a game out of first place in the AFC North with seven games to play.

For the second straight victory, Rudi Johnson started in place of Corey Dillon and rung up a 100-yard game. On Sunday, he broke Dillon's record of 39 rushes the night Dillon broke Jim Brown's rookie record in 1997 with 246 yards, and rung up the most rushing yards since Dillon went for 184 against Detroit 25 months ago in 2001. It was the most carries ever attempted by a Bengals team not on strike.

After scoring the winning touchdown, the 5-10, 220-pound Johnson bulled, bruised, and bounded 10 more times for 20 yards in a 15-play drive that sheared 7:07 off the clock and produced quarterback Jon Kitna's gutty 13-yard scramble on third-and-seven, his 11-yard laser to wide receiver Chad Johnson on another third-and-seven, and Shayne Graham's 40-yard field goal with 2:32 left that accounted for the 34-27 final.

Rudi Johnson has now averaged 116 yards per game in his three starts and if he keeps the same pace, he'll finish with 1,254 yards, but Lewis said Sunday he won't put Dillon on the shelf when he comes back from his injury.

"(Johnson) did an unbelievable job. It comes down to the fact that our offensive line really dominated the game," Kitna said. "He's a down-hill runner, nothing flashy, and it is hard to tackle that guy."

Right tackle Willie Anderson, whose unit took over the game by allowing no sacks and commandeering a fourth quarter the Texans took only four offensive snaps, knew what the fourth-down call meant.'

"Marvin's that kind of coach. If you're doing your job, he'll put it on your back," Anderson said. "If he feels like you can come through, he'll put it on your back so he doesn't have to hear the question why he didn't put it on his players. He wants this to be a players' team where the leaders stand up and we did that in the second half."

Bengals defensive end Duane Clemons, who came over from the Chiefs during the offseason, helped make Sunday's big play when he tipped Houston quarterback David Carr's pass that ended up in the hands of rookie cornerback Terrell Roberts with 2:17 left in the game at the Texans 18. He knows exactly what the Bengals face next Sunday.

"They're the giant," Clemons said of the Chiefs. This is David vs. The Goliath. We know it's going to be a big writeup, and the media is all going to be there to see what happens. 'Can the Bengals actually do this? This is is just too much. Can this really happen? This is too overwhelming.' It's our job to go out there and prove them wrong."

For the third straight victory, the Bengals allowed at least 24 points. But for the second straight victory, the defense produced a killing fourth-quarter turnover when Roberts tracked down Clemons' tip that also bounced off tight end Billy Miller's hands for the rookie's first NFL interception.

"They've gotten more aggressive I think," said Carr of a defense that held him to a passer rating of 73.1 on 11 of 25 passing. "They're playing with confidence and that's a sign of coaching."

The Bengals looked to be on the ropes early in the second half. After losing the ball and a 17-10 half-time lead in the last two minutes of the half, they found themselves suddenly trailing, 24-17, when the Texans converted their drive to open the second half into running back Domanick Davis' two-yard touchdown run just 2:29 into the second half.

Cincinnati had done a good job containing the NFL's top rookie running back, limiting him to 22 yards in the first half. But he broke loose and finished with 104 yards on 15 carries, primarily on a 51-yard dash through his left perimeter on a third-and-one that turned badly when cornerback Tory James and safety Kevin Kaesviharn missed tackles.

"They did a whole lot of stunts today and it threw us off," Davis said. "They played hard."

The Bengals responded to the 24-17 deficit with two long-range touchdown drives, the last one ending when Rudi Johnson walked into the end zone behind left guard Eric Steinbach's block with 10:56 left in the game for a one-yard touchdown that gave the Bengals the 31-27 lead.

The huge play came when Lewis opted go for it on fourth-and-one from the Texans 7 and Johnson got it running behind right tackle Willie Anderson and right guard Mike Goff for three yards to set up the score.

But before that, Kitna, who finished 18 of 26 for 182 yards, found wide receiver Peter Warrick for a 25-yard gain down the middle on the drive's first play. Later in the drive, Warrick almost broke a 30-yard touchdown but he barely stepped out at the Texans 16 to finish the day with those two first-down catches.

Kitna then got a big surprise down 27-24 at the Houston 7 when he heard Lewis say, "Go."

"I was shocked. But I liked it," Kitna said. "I liked that aggressiveness. That just shows confidence our offensive line and what our running game was doing today."

Johnson, bidding to become the first Bengal to ever rush 40 times in a game, had tied the game at 24 when he ripped off a 17-yard touchdown run through a gaping hole provided by center Rich Braham with 8:09 left in the third quarter.

The two Johnsons, Rudi and Chad, hurt the Texans on that drive through the air, with Rudi bagging a 17-yard safety-valve throw on second-and-nine, and Chad getting his longest of the day on a 22-yard crossing route that Kitna put on time out in front that Chad stretched and turned up field.

Rudi found the huge hole through the middle when he saw Braham envelop the linebacker.

"Great job on the backside," Rudi said.

The defense made a big play on the next series when blitzing safety Rogers Beckett sacked Carr on third-and-eight from the Bengals 8, forcing Kris Brown's 33-yard field goal that gave Houston a 27-24 lead with 1:33 left in the third quarter.

Beckett was part of a re-shuffled secondary because of injury. Kaesviharn, a free safety, made his first start at strong in place of Beckett, hurting with an abdominal injury. Nickel cornerback Artrell Hawkins (knee) was inactive, and when starting cornerback Jeff Burris left after the first series in the second half with an undisclosed injury, Kaesviharn had to play corner for the first time since last season and Roberts went to nickel.

"A great job by guys stepping up and playing larger roles," Lewis said.

The Bengals finally got out of the gate when they scored first for the first time this season, but they let the Texans catch them with a mistake in the final two minutes that led to a 17-17 game at halftime.

The Bengals led, 17-10, and had just got a first down at the Texans 49 on a third-down play that was negated on Warrick's motion penalty. On the next snap, Warrick appeared to run an out-and-up when Kitna threw an out and Texans cornerback Kenny Wright picked it off at the Cincinnati 44 with 1:12 left in the half.

It took Carr less than a minute to throw his second touchdown pass of the game with 19 seconds left in the half, an eight yarder to wide receiver Jabar Gaffney working on Roberts.

The interception wiped away a dominant effort by Rudi Johnson and his offensive line that already produced his career best 116 yards at half on 20 carries. Johnson spearheaded touchdown drives of 13 and 14 plays while the Bengals kept the ball for all but 8:22 of the first 30 minutes in racking up 159 rushing yards on 29 carries.

"Everybody was really upset at halftime, but they made only two plays the whole half," Kitna said. "We were in control of the football game. I told everybody that we would go out and do the same thing in the second half and we'd be just fine. They came out and scored to start the second half, but that's all right. Like I told the offense, we play the game to score points."

So how did the Texans score 17 points and not even have the ball 10 minutes?

The interception at the end of the half, which was the only turnover the teams made in the first 30 minutes.

The Bengals responded to the Bradford strike with a 14-play, 74-yard drive that drained 8:02 off the clock, and it was a Johnson and Johnson special. Rudi banged away nine times for 45 yards, alternating bolts behind Goff and Steinbach.

Rookie fullback Jeremi Johnson finished it off with his first NFL touchdown, carrying his 270 pounds and the 290 pounds belonging to tackle Steve Martin for a one-yard touchdown run that gave the Bengals a 14-10 lead with 6:47 left in the half.

The Bengals turned the season's script on its head when they they scored first for the first time this season on a grinding 13-play opening drive spiced by some no-huddle action that clipped the game's first 5:57 off the clock.

Kitna capped the 77-yard drive by wheeling away from defensive end Junior Ioane out of the left side of the pocket and finding running back Brandon Bennett in the left corner of the end zone in front of linebacker Jay Foreman for a six-yard touchdown pass.

The drive got juice from running back Rudi Johnson's 21-yard bounce off left tackle for the longest run by a Bengal back this season, and stayed alive on third-down catches from wide receiver Chad Johnson and Matt Schobel.

Johnson converted the first third down when he ran a come-back-route for a 14-yard catch in front of Pro Bowl cornerback Aaron Glenn, and Schobel got the last one when he made himself available underneath the Texans' blanket zone for an 11-yard catch to the Houston 7 on third-and-three.

The Houston defense often chose to rush only three and flood the secondary with eight, and Kitna had trouble early finding open receivers. He was eight of 14 for 58 yards, while Carr finished the half six of 14 for 116 yards.

The Bengals shuffled their backfields on both sides of the ball Sunday when they deactivated Dillon (groin) and Hawkins (knee) 90 minutes before kickoff. Plus, with Beckett nursing an abdominal injury, free safety Kevin Kaesviharn drew his first NFL start at strong.

The injuries to Hawkins and Beckett resulted in the first game day activation of fourth-round draft pick Dennis Weathersby, a cornerback from Oregon State playing only on punts Sunday.

With Dillon saying late last week he won't play until he's 100 percent healthy, Rudi Johnson drew his third start in the last five games and is coming off his first 100-yard effort (101) against Seattle in his last start two weeks ago.

Also inactive Sunday for the Bengals: RG Matt O'Dwyer, TE Reggie Kelly, WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh, OLB LaDairis Jackson, and DE Elton Patterson. Shane Matthews is the third quarterback.

It's just the sixth game Hawkins has missed in his six-year career, and Dillon's fifth in seven years.

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