Carson Palmer tossed a 15-yard touchdown pass to his favorite receiver with 4:19 left that gave Cincinnati the lead for good, and the Bengals bounced back from their first loss of the season with a 31-23 win over the Tennessee Titans on Sunday.
A penalty forced Johnson to wait and see whether he had scored his first TD against the Titans. By the time the referee announced defensive pass interference, Johnson said the moment for a dance had passed.
“The heat of the moment was gone,” Johnson said. “But it would’ve been a square dance anyway. The heel-toe thing. I was going to go around the goal post, all that good stuff.”
A week after being complaining about being held to five catches in a loss at Jacksonville, Johnson hooked up with Palmer for eight receptions for 135 yards.
“We had a couple good situations to get Chad one-on-one and get him on a rookie, and that’s what we want. A veteran Pro Bowl guy going against a rookie is something that makes me lick my chops,” Palmer said.
Palmer also tied Peyton Manning’s NFL record with his ninth straight game with a passer rating of 100 or above. He was 27-of-33 for 272 yards and two touchdowns and a rating of 121.2.
“He feels like he’s invincible, but right now he knows he can go win it the next play,” Cincinnati coach Marvin Lewis said of his quarterback. “He doesn’t have to win it on every play. And I think that says a lot for how he is and how important he is to this football team.”
The Titans (2-4) had won nine of the last 10 in this series between old AFC Central rivals, but Cincinnati (5-1) won for the first time since the 2001 season finale and is 1 1/2 games ahead of Pittsburgh in the AFC North heading into its big matchup against the Steelers next week.
Palmer’s second touchdown pass put the Bengals up 24-20, and the Bengals ended the Titans’ hopes of winning consecutive games for the first time since the end of the 2003 season by forcing two turnovers in the final 3:09.
“This is a team that, yes, is young, but we’re trying to get better every week. Obviously, we haven’t gotten over that hump,” Titans linebacker Keith Bulluck said.
The Bengals proved they can play pretty clean football—the NFL’s most penalized team was flagged a season-low four times.
Tennessee failed to do the one thing coach Jeff Fisher preached about: protecting the football against the NFL’s best team at forcing turnovers.
“I’m not going to pin the loss on the offense, but as a team, when you turn it over and don’t get turnovers, you’re going to have a hard time beating a team like this,” Fisher said.
The first came at the end of the third quarter with the Titans leading 17-10.
Tory James hit Titans receiver Tyrone Calico as a pass from Steve McNair arrived, and the ball bumped into the air to Thurman. He notched the Bengals’ 13th interception this season and returned it for a touchdown that tied the score at 17.
The Titans took a 20-17 lead on a 29-yard field goal by Rob Bironas with 4:54 left.
Palmer needed only 35 seconds and two defensive pass interference calls on Adam “Pacman” Jones to put the Bengals ahead to stay at 24-20.
Chad Johnson first drew a 34-yard penalty for interference, and Palmer went back to his favorite receiver in the left corner of the end zone after the two made an adjustment with hand signals to each other.
The Titans still had plenty of time left, but Kevin Kaevsiharn picked off a pass intended for Drew Bennett at midfield with 3:09 left.
The defense got the ball back for McNair again, not that it did any good. McNair tossed a 6-yarder to Chris Brown only to see Tory James knock the ball out, pick it up and run it down to the Titans 1. Rudi Johnson scored on a 1-yard run with 2:26 left.
The Titans made it a bit closer on Bironas’s 47-yard field goal with 37 seconds left and going for an onside kick. Kevin Walter recovered for Cincinnati.
Manning had a passer rating of 100 or higher in games 5-13 in 2004. Palmer’s streak started in weeks 11-13 of 2004 and in each of the first six games this season. … Palmer now has thrown 148 consecutive passes without an interception. … Titans receiver Drew Bennett dislocated his thumb, and defensive tackle Randy Starks sprained his right ankle.