Benson marches Bengals past Browns

December 19, 2010

Cedric Benson blinked back tears as he stood in front of his locker, still wearing his black No. 32 jersey. He couldn't stop them all.

A lone teardrop slid down his right cheek, getting wiped away before it reached his tell-all smile.

Benson ran the Bengals out of their record-matching slump on Sunday, picking up a season-high 150 yards and scoring a touchdown as the focal point of an offense that flattened the Cleveland Browns 19-17 on Sunday.

Felt like old times.

''I feel tremendous,'' he said. ''A lot of joy right now. My elbows and arms are sore and things like that, which feels great. It feels good to work.''

And to win. The Bengals (3-11) hadn't done that since Sept. 26, a span of 10 games, falling into a torturous streak longer than even ''The T.Ocho Show'' featuring their two attention-loving receivers. Terrell Owens was on the sideline with a knee injury for the long-awaited win.

Instead, Cincinnati took a straight-ahead approach against the Browns (5-9), reverting to the run-based attack that won the AFC North last season and changed significantly after Owens was signed. The 37-year-old receiver became the Bengals' most productive player while the running game broke down.

Benson didn't understand it.

''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,'' Benson said. ''We kind of became a one-man show for a minute there.''

They were again on Sunday, with a different leader.

''It was exciting,'' left tackle Andrew Whitworth said. ''We've wanted to pound the rock like that for a while and get a chance to unleash the boss man on them, and we did.''

A week after he carried only eight times for 19 yards and got outrushed by Ben Roethlisberger in a 23-7 loss in Pittsburgh, Benson had another big game against the Browns, who clinched their 10th losing record in 12 years since returning as an expansion team.

''In my mind, we should be able to stop the run,'' Browns coach Eric Mangini said. ''That's a big part of playing in this division, and you should be able to get that done.''

Only 56,542 fans showed up to see the so-called ''Battle of Ohio,'' the third straight Bengals home game blacked out on local television.

Wasn't all that much to see. A matchup of two struggling offenses produced more field goals than touchdowns. Clint Stitser made four of them, remaining perfect on seven field goal tries since the Bengals signed him in late November. The rookie was good from 25, 39, 34 and 20 yards.

The Browns got a touchdown pass from rookie Colt McCoy on a trick play that completed their opening drive, then did little until a Bengals breakdown made it interesting at the end. Receiver Brian Robiskie got free down the sideline against a broken coverage for a 46-yard touchdown pass with 2:13 to go, cutting it to 19-17.

With only two timeouts left, the Browns went for the onside kick and Cincinnati's Quan Cosby recovered, allowing the Bengals to finish it off.

''We've just got to do a better job of staying on the field,'' said McCoy, who was 19 of 25 for 243 yards with no interceptions and four sacks.

''A big part of that is us. We've got to sustain drives. We can't get into a slump and put ourselves in that situation over and over. We could not get a ground game going.''

The Bengals' losing streak began with a 23-20 loss in Cleveland on Oct. 3, where Owens had one of the best games of his career: 10 catches for 222 yards. The streak matched Dave Shula's 1993 team for longest losing streak in one Bengals season.

It ended without a catch by Owens, who missed practice last week with torn cartilage in his left knee and hobbled off the field during Cincinnati's opening drive after running a long route. The injury likely will sideline him for the final two games.

From then on, it was up to Benson. The running back, who is on the final year of his contract, carried a season-high 31 times during his third 100-yard game of the season. He broke an 18-yard touchdown run in the second quarter for Cincinnati's first points.

Cleveland got creative on the opening drive, catching the Bengals by surprise. Only three linemen got set in the middle of the field while the other players fanned out toward the sidelines. Tight end Robert Royal outran the coverage down the sideline for a 20-yard touchdown catch.

Mangini has decided to let McCoy start the last three games. How McCoy does could have an impact on whether Mangini keeps his job.

Notes: The Browns were flagged for not keeping their sideline clear during a kickoff return. Teams were reminded of the rule last week in response to a Jets assistant coach tripping a Dolphins player. ... CB Eric Wright hurt his left knee in the fourth quarter and had to be helped off the field. ... Bengals WR Jerome Simpson was active for only the fourth time this season and had two catches for 30 yards. Coming into the game, the second-round pick from 2008 had one career catch for 2 yards.