CINCINNATI (AP)—Kelly Holcomb threw for 400 yards and five touchdowns— and lost.
Strange? Not as strange as those other numbers glowing on the scoreboard as Holcomb trudged off the field with his head down and more misery ahead.
Cincinnati 58, Cleveland 48.
The intrastate rivals played the wildest game in their history Sunday, one that defied logic and wound up as the second-highest scoring game in NFL history.
“You just can’t explain the second half, and there’s no need to try to,” Bengals linebacker Brian Simmons said. “It was a great game for the fans, I guess.”
It started as a referendum on the two head coaches, and quickly turned into a rewrite of the record books. The points came so fast that it seemed a recount might be needed to determine who won Ohio’s bragging rights.
“It was crazy,” said the Bengals’ Rudi Johnson, who ran for 202 yards and two touchdowns. “Just crazy.”
The 106 combined points were the second most in an NFL game, trailing only the Redskins’ 72-41 victory over the Giants on Nov. 27, 1966. Until Sunday, the most points in a game since the NFL-AFL merger in 1970 was 99—Seattle beat Kansas City 51-48 in overtime on Nov. 27, 1983.
In the end, the Browns (3-8) had the ball and a chance to send this one to overtime, as well. Deltha O’Neal’s interception and 31-yard return for a touchdown finally decided it with 1:43 left.
“We kept putting them away, and they kept coming back,” said Cincinnati’s Carson Palmer, who threw a career-high four touchdown passes. “We kept expecting them to slacken up, but they never did.”
No one expected anything like it.
The Browns’ defense has been the only dependable thing during their losing streak, now up to five. The Bengals (4-5) have been watching their young defense grow up fast, allowing only two touchdowns in the three previous games.
On Sunday, it looked like they were playing two-hand touch. Two previously struggling offenses combined for 49 first downs and 966 yards, gaudy numbers set up by innumerable missed tackles and broken coverages.
The first five possessions of the second half resulted in touchdowns, many of them as easy as they get because of defensive breakdowns.
“It is what it is,” Browns defensive back Robert Griffith said glumly. “We gave up too many big plays—deep balls, long runs. It’s just frustrating. When it rains it pours, and right now we’ve got to turn off the sprinkler.”
Holcomb, who took the Browns to the playoffs under coach Butch Davis in 2002, nearly got him a desperately needed victory. Holcomb threw four touchdown passes in the second half, including a 1-yard toss to Steve Heiden that put Cleveland up 48-44 with 10:22 to play.
Holcomb knew it wouldn’t be enough.
“The way the game was going, I felt like we needed to score two more times,” said Holcomb, who has thrown for 400 yards twice in his career and lost both games.
The Browns put up their most points since a 51-0 victory over Pittsburgh in the 1989 opener. This one surely will turn up the heat on Davis, who has been assured of finishing the season and nothing more.
“I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you it was demoralizing,” Davis said. “There’s not a lot of joy in losing.”
Bengals coach Marvin Lewis also had a lot riding on the game. He screamed at his team following a loss to Pittsburgh last week, turning this game into a test of his credibility.
His credibility survived better than his defense.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever been in a situation where the defense had a game like that, but we’ll take it,” said Lewis, whose defense in Baltimore gave up only 165 points during the 2000 regular season.
Palmer, who has struggled in his first season running the offense, threw touchdown passes of 18 yards to Kelley Washington, 46 to Chad Johnson and 3 yards to T.J. Houshmandzadeh as the Bengals went up 27-13 at halftime—more points than they’d scored in any game all season.
Holcomb was only getting started.
Filling in for the injured Jeff Garcia, Holcomb led the Browns to touchdowns on their first five possessions in the second half. Holcomb had one of his best games—30-for-39 for 412 yards, the second-most yards in his career.
Palmer, who missed practice last week with back spasms, was 22-of-29 for 251 yards with three interceptions that helped the Browns keep up.
“It wasn’t pretty but when you win, you get to wash it out the window,” Palmer said.
And right into history.
Heiden had seven catches for 82 yards and three touchdowns, all career highs. … Holcomb threw for 348 yards in the second half. His career high is 429 yards in the playoff loss to Pittsburgh in 2002. … Johnson tied his career high with 10 catches, and Houshmandzadeh had his first two-TD game. … Rudi Johnson’s 202 yards were a season high. He topped 1,000 yards for the season. … The Bengals wore their orange jerseys for the second and final time of the season.