CHICAGO (AP)—The Cincinnati Bengals picked up the habit of bumbling starts after 1990, the last time they started 3-0 and made the playoffs. On Sunday, they broke it—with a 24-7 victory over the Chicago Bears.
Cincinnati, which entered the game with a league-leading 10 takeaways, picked off Chicago Bears quarterback Kyle Orton five times and the Bengals became the first NFL team in 34 years to intercept five passes in consecutive games.
The Bengals’ fast start doesn’t satisfy Carson Palmer.
“Three games is nothing when you play a 16-game season,” the Bengals’ quarterback said. “Don’t get me wrong. It’s great to be 3-0 and have this start. But we still have a lot of games—a lot of big games—ahead of us and a lot of really good teams.”
Madieu Williams, Keiwan Ratliff, Tory James, Deltha O’Neal and Brian Simmons each intercepted Orton. The Bengals intercepted Daunte Culpepper five times in last week’s 37-8 victory over Minnesota; the 1971 Cleveland Browns were the last to pick off five in back-to-back games.
Palmer was 16-of-23 for 169 yards and three touchdowns, two of them to Chad Johnson, and did not throw an interception against a Bears defense that picked off Detroit’s Joey Harrington five times the previous week.
Rudi Johnson rushed for 84 yards on 25 carries.
“It’s big,” Simmons said of the 3-0 start. “You get off and you’re not behind the eight-ball. The last two years, we’ve been putting ourselves behind the eight-ball. We’ve been closing strong, but it was just a too-little, too-late type of thing. You only have a certain amount of games to make your statement, and you can’t wait until halfway through the season to do it.”
Chicago’s Thomas Jones rushed for 106 yards and scored the Bears’ lone touchdown on a 2-yard run early in the fourth quarter, after a 139-yard performance in last week’s 38-6 rout of Detroit. Cedric Benson, the No. 4 pick in the draft, did not play.
Orton, who had thrown only one interception in the first two weeks, looked flustered, completing just 17 of 39 passes for 149 yards. He was the first Bear to throw five interceptions since Larry Rakestraw at Detroit in September 1968.
The Bears were still in it—down 10-0 five minutes into in the third quarter—before Orton was intercepted a fifth time.
Palmer then took advantage, driving his team 70 yards and finishing with a 36-yard touchdown pass to Chris Henry.
“I didn’t play well,” Orton said. “I didn’t make good decisions. You can’t play like that and turn the ball over five times and expect to win a game.”
Orton’s first interception came on the Bears’ first play from scrimmage, when the Bengals’ Kevin Kaesviharn hit Justin Gage as he attempted to catch a pass at the 40. Simmons got the interception, fumbled, and Odell Thurman scooped up the ball and brought it to the Chicago 18.
Midway through the quarter, Ratliff intercepted Orton at the Bears’ 37. Palmer missed T.J. Houshmandzadeh deep on the right side, but pass interference against Tillman put the ball at the 3. The Bengals settled for a 33-yard field goal by Shayne Graham with 2:27 left in the quarter.
The problems never ceased for Orton.
James picked off a long pass intended for Mark Bradley early in the second quarter, and Williams later intercepted a pass thrown into double coverage, giving the Bengals the ball at their 46.
After the Bears recovered a Cincinnati fumble, Doug Brien missed a 39-yard field goal with 1:12 left in the half.
The Bengals offense, which averaged 462 yards over the first two weeks, finished with 244.
“We’re definitely not there yet,” Palmer said. “We’re pretty good. Offensively, we do some good things, but we’re still a ways away from where we need to be.”
Notes:@ Bears tight end Desmond Clark left the game with a neck strain in the first half but said it isn’t serious. … When asked why Benson didn’t play, coach Lovie Smith said, “I didn’t think the timing was right at the time. Cedric, of course, is a good football player, but Thomas was running the ball well.” Benson rushed for 49 yards last week. … Bears DE Adewale Ogunleye, who was questionable with a sprained ankle, had a sack. … Williams led the Bengals with eight tackles.