Bengals 23, Lions 13

Cedric Benson sprinted onto the field during pregame

introductions, a sign he was inspired after missing two games with

a bad hip. Tough carry by tough carry, he ran into Cincinnati

Bengals history.

The running back tied the franchise record with his fifth

100-yard game of the season on Sunday, setting up a 23-13 victory

over the Detroit Lions that had even greater significance for the

franchise.

The Bengals (9-3) assured themselves of a winning record for

only the second time in 19 years. The other one came in 2005, when

Cincinnati won the AFC North and lost its opening playoff game to

Pittsburgh. The latest win left Cincinnati with a 2 1/2-game lead

over Baltimore, which plays at Green Bay on Monday night.

“It puts us in a great position,” said Chad Ochocinco, who had

a season-high 137 yards on nine catches. “We don’t have to depend

on other people to win. We control our own destiny at this point.

It’s a very, very, very good feeling for us as a team and a city.

It’s pretty cool, man.”

A commitment to running the ball has carried them to the

doorstep of the playoffs. In each of the past three games, a

different Cincinnati running back has topped 100 yards, the first

time that’s happened in the NFL since Green Bay did it in 2006.

Benson finished with 110 yards on 36 carries and became the

focal point once Cincinnati got ahead.

“I love carrying the ball that much,” Benson said. “It

usually just means we’re putting a team away, and I love putting

teams away. You know, you’ve got to put the hay in the barn. That’s

what my old high school coach used to call it. And anytime we’re

carrying the ball that much, I think we’re putting the hay

away.”

After a solid first quarter, the Lions (2-10) got put away in a

game that ended badly for them. Rookie quarterback Matthew Stafford

aggravated his injured non-throwing shoulder with 3:37 to go and

didn’t return.

Stafford’s left shoulder was driven into the ground on a hit by

Dhani Jones as he threw a fourth-down incompletion. Stafford lay on

the ground for a couple minutes before walking off slowly.

“I don’t think it’s any worse for wear,” Lions coach Jim

Schwartz said. “It’s going to be a situation where it’s going to

be painful. But we’ll make sure it’s not something else when we get

back (to Detroit). Our quarterback got hit way too often today and

there were times when he got hit for no reason.”

Stafford was on the bench while backup Daunte Culpepper led an

inconsequential touchdown drive in the final minutes. Stafford

wasn’t sure whether the sore shoulder would prompt him to sit out a

few games.

“That’s something I’ll have to think about,” said Stafford,

who was 11 of 26 for 143 yards with two interceptions. “It doesn’t

affect my (throwing) motion. Handing off or throwing, I’m fine.

Obviously everybody wants to be healthy. I dare you to find

somebody who’s completely healthy at this point. It’s just really

painful.”

The Bengals won another game with an approach so simple that the

fans sometimes booed.

They did just enough against the league’s worst pass defense –

Carson Palmer threw for 220 yards and a touchdown to Ochocinco –

and went into grind-it-out mode in the second half, after coach

Marvin Lewis chewed them out for their lackluster effort.

“We got that playing-to-the-level-of-our-opponents speech at

halftime,” Ochocinco said.

The first quarter of the Bengals’ least-appealing home game –

they needed an extension to sell out and avoid a television

blackout – had fans wondering why they’d bought those tickets. Paul

Brown Stadium filled with boos as the Lions outplayed the Bengals

at the outset.

The Bengals got no pressure on Stafford, who had plenty of time

to throw a 54-yard touchdown pass to Calvin Johnson for a 7-0 lead.

Cincinnati’s offensive line got pushed around – Cincinnati managed

only 47 yards in the opening quarter.

One play by a 6-foot-7 rookie changed the mood.

Third-round pick Michael Johnson batted one of Stafford’s passes

in the air, and defensive end Jonathan Fanene caught it cleanly,

tucked the ball into the crook of his left arm and ran 45 yards

untouched for his first career score.

Palmer’s 36-yard touchdown pass to Ochocinco on the next series

put the Bengals in control. It was only their third touchdown pass

in the last five games, a sign of how much they’ve been leaning on

the run this season.

Benson and the running game took it from there.

NOTES: Lions CB William James suffered a pinched nerve in the

second half, another blow to an injury-depleted defense. … Rookie

Bernard Scott and newcomer Larry Johnson also have run for more

than 100 yards in the Bengals’ past three games. Their seven

100-yard games overall this season also match the franchise record.

… Ochocinco hadn’t caught a touchdown pass since Oct. 25 against

Chicago, going the next four games without one.