A Bengals victory is always nice for their fans. As awful as the team has been at times this year, you have to wonder what motivates them to keep going out there and doing it, besides the fact that they are professionals and they get paid to do it. For the younger guys, its valuable playing time to get exposed to the NFL version of the game. For the veterans, its time to play for pride and to show the younger guys what it takes to be around long enough to be a veteran. For all, it's a chance to finish on a positive note and have something to build on for 2009.
Going up against the Chiefs, a team that has had a marginally worse record than the Bengals this year, the Bengals (4-11-1) didn't put up great offensive numbers, with just 329 net offensive yards, but the defense held the Chiefs (2-14) to only 220 net offensive yards, and the team played well enough to win 16-6 at Paul Brown Stadium.
Again, the Bengals relied on Shayne Graham to supply much of the offense. Graham had a 38-yard field goal in the first quarter to get the Bengals on the board. Graham's kick represented the only scoring in the first quarter. He also had a 30-yard trey in the second quarter and a 43-yarder in the fourth quarter.
Running back Cedric Benson had another great day, with 25 carries for 111 yards and a touchdown. He essentially carried the load for the offense. Kudos to the offensive line for giving Benson room to run. Receiver Andre Caldwell had four carries for 49 yards. James Johnson had three carries for 15 yards. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick had seven rushes for 29 yards. In total, the Bengals' offense ran for 204 yards.
Fitz went 18 of 30 for 129 yards behind center. Caldwell had five catches for 34 yards. Running back James Johnson had three catches for 20 yards, and Benson and receiver Chris Henry each had two catches for 19 yards. Nate Lawrie and Reggie Kelly each had two catches, and Glenn Holt and Ben Utecht each had a catch on the day.
For the Chiefs, QB Tyler Thigpen was 19 of 36 for 191 yards and a touchdown. His best target on the day was receiver Dwayne Bowe, who had 10 catches for 103 yards. Tight end Anthony Gonzalez had five catches for 53 yards and the touchdown. Receivers Mark Bradley and Devard Darling each had two catches, Bradley for 21 yards and Darling for 14 yards.
The Bengals can be proud of the fact that they held the Chiefs to just 31 net yards on the ground. Running back Larry Johnson had 10 carries for 18 yards. Running back Jamaal Charles had three carries for nine yards, and Thigpen ran twice for four yards.
On defense, both teams were doing their best to make the other team miserable. Benson was hit hard twice. Bengals' defensive backs harassed Chiefs' receivers all day, yes, while giving up the 100+ yards to Dwayne Bowe, but also while limiting the other three receivers in the mix to just 83 yards, including just 53 to Gonzalez, and only letting one go in the end zone. Cornerback Leon Hall played well, breaking up pass plays and making hard tackles. He netted eight tackles on the day. Linebacker Dhani Jones had five tackles. Safety Chris Crocker had two tackles, and safety Chinedum Ndukwe had two tackles and three asissts. Chiefs' linebacker Rocky Boiman had six tackles and four assists, cornerback Brandon Carr had five tackles, and Derrick Johnson had five tackles and six assists. Each team gave up one sack, with defensive end Antwan Odom getting one for the Bengals and defensive end Jason Babin getting one for the Chiefs.
The Bengals' victory, paired with a Browns' loss (see below), allows the Bengals to slip into third place in the AFC North by percentage points because of the tie earlier this year against the Eagles, and drops the Browns to fourth place in the division.
It's always disappointing to know the Bengals won't be going to the playoffs for yet another year. We all know that we have to worry about the "Groundhog Day" effect next year. Will the team make changes in the off-season and do well enough in the draft to allow for at least the potential of a winning season in 2009? Or will we all be set up to suffer through another season of heartbreak and disappointment? Unfortunately, none of us has the power to answer these questions or to make the changes we believe need to be made. All we can do is look forward to 2009, hope for the best, yet prepare for the worst, as we have gotten used to doing.
Around the AFC North . .
Browns versus Steelers -- The Steelers (12-4) beat the Browns (4-12) into the turf at Heinz Field today, but sustained a shock when Ben Roethlisberger was taken off the field on a cart late in the second quarter after sustaining a concussion. Preliminary reports are that the concussion won't stop Roethlisberger from starting the Steelers' second-round playoff game in a couple of weeks, but concussions are touchy things, especially for a guy who has been banged around a lot this year. This game may have been the straw that broke Romeo Crennel's back, though, as rumors now are swirling that both he and Browns' general manager Phil Savage may be asked to step down this week.