Bengals top Browns 19-17 to end slide at 10 games
A few tears accompanied the end of one of the longest losing streaks in Cincinnati Bengals history. Also, a pointed I-told-you-so.
Cedric Benson thinks the Bengals could have done this a lot more if they'd tried.
Making their running back the focus again, Benson ran for a season-high 150 yards and a touchdown Sunday, leading Cincinnati to a 19-17 victory over the Cleveland Browns that ended a 10-game losing streak and brought back warm memories of last year.
The Bengals (3-11) won the AFC North last season with Benson as the centerpiece of a ground-based offense. He became a secondary threat after they signed receiver Terrell Owens to diversify the passing game, a move that hasn't worked out so well.
With Owens now sidelined by torn knee cartilage, the offense is back in Benson's hands - the place he thinks it should have stayed all along. He's not sure why it changed.
''There's no doubt I was disappointed,'' Benson said. ''I thought, 'Did we not do it right? Did we not succeed? Did we not formulate what could work?'''
It worked well against the Browns (5-9), who have had problems stopping the run lately. The Bengals held the ball for 38 minutes, unable to stop Benson or to get anything going on offense behind rookie quarterback Colt McCoy.
''We just have to do a better job staying on the field,'' said McCoy, who was 19 of 25 for 243 yards with two touchdowns and four sacks. ''We can talk about our defense and how they gave up a lot of yards rushing, but really a huge part of it is on us.
''You look at the time of possession, and they were on the field almost twice as much as we were.''
Only 56,342 fans showed up to watch the ''Battle of Ohio'' with a little history on the line.
By dropping 10 in a row, the Bengals had tied the club record for consecutive losses in one season, matching Dave Shula's 1993 club. The streak started in Cleveland on Oct. 3, when Owens had a huge game - 10 catches for 222 yards - but the Browns held on 23-20.
Owens has been bothered the last two weeks by torn cartilage in his left knee, limiting his practice. He aggravated the injury on Cincinnati's opening drive and was done for the game - and, most likely, the rest of the season.
With their top receiver gone, the Bengals moved Benson back to the forefront, something he'd been suggesting all along.
''I was sending out warning signals earlier, talking about how we've got to stay with the running game, just get the spark, the energy, the identity developed,'' said Benson, who blinked away tears after the game. ''We kind of became a one-man show for a minute there.''
The Browns clinched their 10th losing record in 12 seasons as an expansion team, raising more doubt about whether coach Eric Mangini will return for another season. This one will gnaw at him.
''In my mind, we should be able to stop the run and run the ball effectively, regardless of who we play,'' Mangini said. ''That's something that has to be a big part of playing in this division. Playing at this time of year, you have to be able to do those two things.''
The Browns did neither.
Their first score came on a trick play. Only three offensive linemen stayed in the middle of the field while the others flanked out near the sideline with the receivers. It worked. McCoy threw a 20-yard touchdown pass to Robert Royal.
Cleveland didn't do much until the Bengals had a defensive breakdown near the end, allowing Brian Robiskie to get free down the sideline for a 46-yard touchdown catch with 2:13 to go.
The Browns had only two timeouts left and figured their best chance was an onside kick. Cincinnati's Quan Cosby recovered it, sealing the long-awaited win.
''There's a lot of guys in here with a lot of smiles, and a couple of guys that are emotional,'' left tackle Andrew Whitworth said. ''You put your heart out there every week. Some guys take it more emotional than others. It's been a tough road.''