CINCINNATI (AP)—Disappointed by his poor performance in a tricky wind, Carson Palmer shook the Cleveland Browns’ hands after the game and got a little uplifting advice from a quarterback who knows what it takes to go deep into the playoffs.
In Trent Dilfer’s eyes, these Bengals have it.
The Bengals (10-3) maintained their two-game lead over Pittsburgh in the AFC North and can clinch the title with a win next Sunday in Detroit. They’ve won 10 games for the first time since 1988, the last time they made it to the Super Bowl.
“I haven’t had double-digit wins since my second year in college,” 10th-year offensive tackle Willie Anderson said. “It feels good to get 10 wins. We still have to finish it off.”
An offense that scored 117 points in the last three games with a high-tech, no-huddle offense ground one out the old-fashioned way—a very handy thing for cold playoff games.
“It was a tough game offensively,” said Palmer, who had season lows in completions and yards. “We didn’t play well, I didn’t play well. You’re frustrated and you’re disappointed.
“I talked to Trent Dilfer after the game and he said not every game is a blowout, not every game is pretty. On your way to the Super Bowl, you’re going to run into a bunch of games like that, and the good teams win those games. We’re a good team and we won this game.”
Dilfer led Baltimore to a Super Bowl title in 2000, when Bengals coach Marvin Lewis was the Ravens’ defensive coordinator. For the second consecutive game, Dilfer wound up the backup to rookie Charlie Frye, who put the Browns (4-9) in position for an intrastate upset.
They couldn’t pull it off because they couldn’t stop Johnson, who carried a season-high 30 times and averaged 5.6 yards per run. When he got to the stadium and saw the wind, he knew it could come down to a running back.
“It was that type of ballgame: AFC North, cold weather and a lot at stake,” he said.
Chad Johnson had season lows with two catches for 22 yards, but drew interference and illegal contact penalties on cornerback Leigh Bodden during the Bengals’ 43-yard drive to the winning kick. Palmer was 13-of-27 for 93 yards with one touchdown, one interception and a season-low passer rating of 53.5.
In only his second NFL start, Frye kept the Browns in the game. He had only one costly mistake: a pass intercepted by Deltha O’Neal, setting up Cincinnati’s second touchdown.
Gusts turned the stadium into a wind tunnel, made the goalposts gyrate and provided another concern for the rookie. He handled it much better than the Bengals’ Heisman Trophy passer from Southern California.
Frye grew up in northern Ohio and was a third-round draft pick out of Akron, which is a snowplow drive from Cleveland.
“He’s very confident,” said Steve Heiden, who caught a touchdown pass. “He’s mature for his years. He’s poised, he’s confident. He was very good.”
Wearing a glove on his passing hand to help him grip the ball, Frye was on the mark in a low-risk passing attack of short passes and rollouts to avoid the rush. He ran 3 yards on a rollout to score on the Browns’ first possession, raising the ball triumphantly with his right arm as he crossed the goal line.
“I felt much more comfortable than last week,” Frye said.
Frye’s 2-yard touchdown pass to Heiden put the Browns up 14-7 and sent notice this was going to be a typical Browns-Bengals game, unpredictable and up for grabs. He finished 16-of-24 for 138 yards with a touchdown and his first interception as a starter.
“The young kid, Charlie, did a pretty decent job overall,” coach Romeo Crennel said. “He handled himself well in situations where he was in trouble. He was able to get out of trouble and maintain his cool.” ^Notes: Bengals RB Chris Perry sprained his left ankle in the first quarter and was on crutches after the game. It’s not known how long he’ll be sidelined. … O’Neal’s nine interceptions lead the NFL and match Ken Riley’s club record from 1976. … Bengals LB Odell Thurman was benched for the first few plays for violating an undisclosed team rule. … Palmer took the blame for letting the clock run down to 1 second before calling time out to set up Graham’s winning kick. “We were all calling timeout,” Palmer said. “I’m not sure what happened.” … The Browns were swept by the Bengals for the first time since 1999. Cleveland leads the series overall 33-32.