CINCINNATI (AP)—Only a month ago, the Cincinnati Bengals looked like they were on the verge of imploding. The defending AFC North champs were openly pouting and regularly losing.
Look at them now.
Carson Palmer threw for a pair of touchdowns and Rudi Johnson ran for two more on Sunday, setting up a well-rounded 27-10 victory over the Oakland Raiders that strengthened Cincinnati’s playoff chances.
“We’re peaking at the right time,” receiver Chad Johnson proclaimed.
The Bengals (8-5) have won four in a row, moving to the forefront of the AFC wild card race. At the moment, Cincinnati is positioned for one of the two spots, with pivotal games coming up the next two weeks at Indianapolis and Denver.
It’s all coming together for a team that’s piling up franchise records on offense and defense these days.
They had a pair of 100-yard receivers and a 100-yard rusher Sunday, a combination they’ve never had before. And, the defense had another record-setting performance—Cincinnati has given up only 17 points in the last three games, another first.
They’ve come a long way from that 4-5 start that left them with no margin for error.
“We’ve been in this position for the last month,” said Rudi Johnson, who ran for 117 yards. “Our backs have been against the wall. We’ve been coming out fighting and clawing. We definitely understand our situation.”
The Raiders (2-11) understand theirs, too.
It keeps getting worse.
The defense keeps them in games, and the offense gives them away. Oakland’s first three drives ended this way: fumble, missed field goal, interception. None of it was new.
“We need a win badly,” coach Art Shell said. “I keep saying that every week. They’re trying. We’re just not getting it done.”
Oakland has lost six in a row, failing to score more than 14 points in any game. The Raiders were simply outclassed in this one.
Carson Palmer threw a season-high three interceptions, but did more than enough to get the win. His touchdown passes of 8 yards to Chris Henry and 20 yards to T.J. Houshmandzadeh helped the Bengals rolled ahead 27-3 in the third quarter.
Houshmandzadeh had eight catches for 118 yards against the NFL’s top-ranked pass defense. Chad Johnson had five catches for 101 yards, setting a Bengals career record with his 21st triple-digit game.
The Bengals didn’t play their best game on offense—they had four turnovers in all—but won going away against a defense that likes to play man-to-man coverage. They didn’t even have to punt.
“We knew if they were going to play man-to-man, we were going to move the ball a lot,” Houshmandzadeh said. “Minus the turnovers, we’d have probably had 200 (yards) each.”
Oakland dropped its safeties into deep coverage more than usual, but still couldn’t keep up.
“That offense is loaded,” said cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, who had two interceptions. “When you call a man-to-man defense, they start throwing the ball all over the place. And the right side of that line is just a bunch of beasts. They know what they want to do.”
By contrast, Oakland is still at a loss for what to do.
The Raiders hit their low point a week ago, a 23-14 loss to Houston that featured three fumbles, two interceptions and three missed field goals. They were at it again Sunday, looking like the old Bungles—or, the recent Raiders— with every miscue.
Sebastian Janikowski missed three field goal attempts against the Texans— two of them off the left upright—and hit the left upright again Sunday on his first try.
Aaron Brooks’ 5-yard touchdown pass to Ronald Curry in the fourth quarter amounted to a breakthrough: The Raiders hadn’t scored in the fourth quarter of their last eight games. The offense now has 17 points in the final quarter all season.
“We’ve got to get points on the board,” Brooks said. “I think we have a chance every time we hit the field, especially with our defense. We’ve just got to take care of the ball better.”
Bengals CB Deltha O’Neal was inactive, a day after his arrest for drunken driving. Coach Marvin Lewis declined to talk about the benching. O’Neal is the eighth Bengal player arrested this year. … Janikowski is 14-for-21 on field goals this season, when he’s had back problems. … The last time the Bengals had a pair of 100-yard receivers in the same game was Dec. 5, 2004 at Baltimore, when Houshmandzadeh and Chad Johnson both topped the mark in a 27-26 win. … DE Robert Geathers sacked Brooks twice, leaving him with 10.5 this season. He’s the first Bengal with a double-digit sack total since Alfred Williams in 1992. … Chad Johnson topped Isaac Curtis’ career record for 100-yard games.