CINCINNATI (AP)—Even Chad Johnson’s touchdown dance hurt.
The Cincinnati Bengals lost three starters to injury, and a bunch more were groggy and bleeding after a 34-17 victory Sunday over the Cleveland Browns—a troubling turn for the defending AFC North champs.
“This is probably the most banged up we’ve been,” said Carson Palmer, who was moving slowly after the second-best passing day of his career.
Even with their patchwork lineup, the Bengals (2-0) had their way with the Browns (0-2), who struggled mightily to move the ball and repeatedly self-destructed for the second week in a row.
“We felt like we were in position to be able to compete, and we came out the first two games and stunk it up,” linebacker Andra Davis said. “It’s not a good feeling.”
The Bengals weren’t feeling too good, either, but overcame what ailed them.
Palmer threw for 352 yards and his first two touchdowns of the season. Chris Henry, who pleaded guilty to a gun charge five days earlier, led the way with five catches for 113 yards. Rudi Johnson ran for 145 yards and two touchdowns.
It was Palmer’s sixth 300-yard game and the second-highest total of his career, the latest piece of proof that he has fully recovered from a knee injury. The Bengals needed a steady game from Palmer on an unsettling day.
“We go how far Carson takes us,” said receiver Kelley Washington, who had a 22-yard touchdown catch. “He’s a great leader and a great quarterback.”
Injuries forced one of the NFL’s most balanced offenses to improvise.
Receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh and left tackle Levi Jones were inactive with lingering injuries. During the first half, the Bengals lost center Rich Braham to a knee injury, safety Dexter Jackson to an ankle injury, and linebacker David Pollack, who was taken to a hospital for evaluation of an unspecified neck injury. Pollack had full movement in his arms and legs.
Few Bengals made it through unscathed. They won anyway.
“That’s what you’ve got to have—a deep football team,” coach Marvin Lewis said. “That’s what the best teams are.”
This one hurt from start to finish.
Chad Johnson got his first touchdown of the season, stretching far out of the end zone to catch an 8-yard pass from Palmer. He got the tips of his black cleats down before landing hard on his right shoulder.
The Pro Bowl receiver popped up, did an encore of the “Chicken Dance” that he performed at the city’s Oktoberfest a day earlier, then slouched in pain. He didn’t miss any plays, but ended the game on another painful note.
Brian Russell’s high hit knocked off Johnson’s helmet on the Bengals’ final pass, leaving his white No. 85 jersey spotted with blood. Johnson had still had glassy eyes and several stitches just below his chin when he emerged from the trainer’s room.
“How do I look?” he said, trying to focus his eyes.
He was too disoriented to conduct an interview.
“I talked to Chad,” Palmer said. “He’s a little loopy. He’s a little out of it.”
The Bengals’ balance allowed them to stay unbeaten for their long-awaited game next Sunday in Pittsburgh, against the team that knocked them out of the playoffs in January.
“That’s the thing we try to get to around here,” said right tackle Willie Anderson, blood oozing from the bridge of his nose. “It’s not about one player or one side. With our schedule, this team can’t be one-sided.”
By contrast, Cleveland’s offense never got off the ground. The bumbling Browns failed to get more than one first down on any first-half drive. They had a field goal and Charlie Frye’s late 2-yard touchdown run set up by interceptions.
Frye repeatedly threw behind receivers in a conservative approach—hand off, dump off, throw short over the middle. He didn’t put together a touchdown drive until the fourth quarter, when he completed a 75-yard pass to Braylon Edwards down the left sideline to set up a score.
“We weren’t good on either side of the ball,” coach Romeo Crennel said. “It wasn’t good. That’s about all I can say.”
Frye was 20-of-33 for 244 yards. The 75-yard completion to Edwards was the longest of his career, and the second-longest of the receiver’s career. … The Browns are 0-2 for the third time since they rejoined the league as an expansion team in 1999. … Bengals K Shayne Graham missed a 44-yard field goal attempt to the right, ending his club-record streak of 17 made in a row. It was his first miss since last Nov. 6 at Baltimore. … Graham made his next two tries. … With LT Levi Jones out, the Bengals moved LG Eric Steinbach to tackle and gave second-round pick Andrew Whitworth his first start at guard.