CLEVELAND (AP)—The Cincinnati Bengals didn’t scream, dance or do anything stupid. Other than dumping a cooler on their coach’s head, they hardly celebrated their first win.
Instead, they acted like winners. Which is what Marvin Lewis promised they’d be.
It’s just one win, but the Bengals (1-3) aren’t feeling—or playing—like the Bungles any more.
“People are going to stop being surprised when we start winning,” said wide receiver Chad Johnson, who caught two TD passes. “We did just enough to win and showed things are going to get better.”
It didn’t start that way for the Bengals, who had some silly penalties while falling behind 14-7 in the second quarter.
An obviously irritated Lewis then huddled his defense on the sideline and the former defensive coordinator delivered a heated motivational speech.
“He was not happy,” linebacker Kevin Hardy said.
Cincinnati responded to Lewis’ tongue lashing by shutting out the Browns (1-3) the rest of the way, and as the clock expired, the Bengals paid their coach back by dousing him with Gatorade.
“Our defense held up, and that’s a staple of Marvin Lewis,” said Kitna, whose 1-yard TD pass to tight end Reggie Kelly in the third quarter put Cincinnati ahead 21-14. “He’s going to be a great coach.”
Lewis inherited a 2-14 team with underachieving talent and little hope for the future. But since taking over, he has changed the Bengals on and off the field.
He convinced penny-pinching owner Mike Brown to give him more power and spend money, and Lewis upgraded the team’s strength and conditioning program.
There were signs of improvement the past two weeks when the Bengals were competitive in losses to Oakland and Pittsburgh. However, Lewis knew his message would lose meaning if the Bengals didn’t start winning.
He doesn’t have that worry any longer.
“This is a big day,” Lewis said. “The guys have worked extremely hard, and today they reaped the rewards. I was starting to wonder when we were going to get that first one.”
The Bengals held on despite not having running back Corey Dillon for the entire second half because of a groin injury. He gained just 20 yards and watched in the second half as Rudi Johnson, who came in without a carry this season, rushed for 51 yards on 15 carries.
“He went out and took care of business,” Dillon said.
Tim Couch, starting for Cleveland in place of the injured Kelly Holcomb, threw two TD passes. The former No. 1 overall draft pick went 23-of-36 for 280 yards and didn’t throw a bad pass until his final one.
“I’d like to have that one back,” Couch said. “I kind of got in between throwing it and not throwing it and floated it. It was a horrible mistake.”
Burris felt lucky to have played.
Early Saturday morning, he fell asleep behind the wheel and crashed while driving on Interstate 74 from his home in Indianapolis back to Cincinnati.
The 10-year veteran was rushed to the emergency room with numbness in his shoulder before being released. He met the Bengals at the airport for their flight to Cleveland.
“I’m OK,” said Burris, who was moved by the way his teammates responded to hearing about his accident. “I wanted to get back out there because of all the support from the guys making sure I’m all right.”
The Bengals just may be all right, too.
As Burris spoke, he looked around the Cincinnati locker and saw an unfamiliar sight—smiling faces.
“There’s a feeling in here that we don’t want to lose,” he said. “It’s afeeling that will stay in this locker room for a long time.”
Despite the loss, the Browns lead the “Battle of Ohio” 31-29. … British Open champion Ben Curtis served as one of the Browns’ honorary captains and participated in the pregame coin toss. “I’ve always been a Cleveland Browns fan, so it was pretty cool,” Curtis said. “When I was down there, I felt like a midget.” … Browns WR Kevin Johnson caught a pass in his 68th straight game. … Cleveland was flagged for a season-high 11 penalties. … Dillon was disappointed by having to sit out. He was averaging 117 yards per game in his last eight outings against Cleveland. “I was gaining yards, but Iwas out there in pain,” he said.