When the Chicago Bears selected Cedric Benson(notes) with their first-round pick four years ago, they envisioned he could join Walter Payton and Gale Sayers as one of the best running backs in franchise history.
They didn’t anticipate him blossoming into one of the league’s elite backs for another team.
Benson, who claims he’s not out for revenge, faces his former team for the first time Sunday when the Cincinnati Bengals host the Bears at Paul Brown Stadium.
Chicago (3-2) selected Benson with the fourth overall pick in 2005, but the standout from Texas never amounted to much with the Bears.
After holding out, missing training camp and becoming the last first-round pick to sign, Benson wasn’t particularly popular with his teammates and believed that the defensive players were hitting him excessively hard in practice.
He shared time in the backfield with Thomas Jones(notes) his first two seasons in Chicago, and as a starter in 2007, he rushed for 674 yards and four touchdowns in 11 games before a season-ending ankle injury.
Benson had two alcohol-related arrests following the 2007 season, and the Bears eventually released him last June. He then felt Chicago tried to prevent him from joining another team before he signed with the Bengals last September.
Now, in his first full season with Cincinnati, Benson is flourishing.
Benson is third in the league with 531 rushing yards and has helped the Bengals (4-2) to a first-place tie with Pittsburgh in the AFC North. He is paired with quarterback Carson Palmer(notes) and wide receiver Chad Ochocinco(notes), giving Cincinnati a well-balanced offense featuring three playmakers.
“Dreams are coming true,” said Benson, who has totaled four touchdowns and averaged 4.2 yards per carry. “It’s a wonderful feeling and I will promise you that I will take full advantage of it all the time.”
Benson struggled through his worst performance of the season last Sunday, rushing for 44 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries in a 28-17 loss to Houston. The defeat snapped the Bengals’ four-game winning streak.
It could for tough for Benson to get back on track against his former team.
The Bears are sixth in the NFL against the run, allowing an average of 88.4 yards per game. They held Atlanta running back Michael Turner(notes) to 30 yards on 13 carries last Sunday night, though Chicago still fell 21-14.
Benson’s former teammates won’t make it easy on him, either.
“I know he’s had this date circled for a long time,” Bears linebacker Lance Briggs(notes) said. “He was a little worried we were cheap-shotting him. Now he can get revenge on everyone who he thought cheap-shotted him in our training camp.”
Benson insists revenge isn’t on his mind.
“It has some significance for me personally just because I was there, the kind of history I had and the way things went down,” he said. “Besides that, it’s as important as any game. … I’m definitely not looking for revenge.”
While Chicago’s defense limited the high-powered Falcons to a season-low 253 yards last week, the offense fell apart in key situations, scoring once in four possessions inside the Atlanta 20.
“We had a lot of opportunities to win this football game,” coach Lovie Smith said. “You can’t make those kind of mistakes. When you get the ball in the red zone, you need to get points.”
Cutler was responsible for one of those missed chances, throwing an interception at the Atlanta 9 in the first quarter. He threw another pick in the second quarter, and has been hit-or-miss through his first five games with Chicago.
Cutler, who agreed to a two-year contract extension that runs through the 2013 season Tuesday, has completed 71.0 percent of his passes for 624 yards, seven touchdowns and one interception in the three wins, while completing 55.7 percent of his passes for 577 yards, three TDs and six picks in the two losses.
He’ll try to bounce back against a Cincinnati defense coming off a disappointing performance.
After allowing a season-low 257 yards in a 17-14 win at Baltimore in Week 5, the Bengals yielded season highs in points and yards (472) last Sunday. Texans quarterback Matt Schaub(notes) picked apart the Cincinnati secondary for 392 yards and four touchdowns.
Hoping to do the same, Cutler should have more time in the pocket following a season-ending injury to Bengals defensive end Antwan Odom(notes) (torn Achilles’ tendon). Odom was Cincinnati’s top pass rusher, tied for the league lead with eight sacks - half the team total.
Cutler last faced the Bengals as a rookie in 2006 while playing for Denver. He was 12 for 23 for 179 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.
This will be the first meeting between Chicago and Cincinnati since Palmer threw for three touchdowns in a 24-7 win at Soldier Field on Sept. 25, 2005.