Bengals can't dwell on first shutout in 17 years
November 27, 2006 7:28pm CST
CINCINNATI (AP) -- Suddenly, the Cincinnati Bengals are back in the middle of the playoff chase, revived by one of the rarest of accomplishments. The NFL's worst defense produced a shutout. The Bengals pulled off their first shutout in 17 years on Sunday, a 30-0 victory in Cleveland -- the last team they blanked -- that left them with newfound confidence heading into their biggest game of the season. Cincinnati (6-5) plays at home Thursday night against Baltimore (9-2), which can take the AFC North championship with a win. "For the defense, with a lot of guys playing in positions they're not used to playing, to get four turnovers and a big shutout is huge for us, for momentum and confidence, going into another big division game this week," quarterback Carson Palmer said. Holding an opponent's offense to average numbers has been a noteworthy accomplishment for Cincinnati's defense, which ranked last in the league in yards allowed heading into the game in Cleveland. The Bengals gave up 42 points in the second half of a 49-41 loss to San Diego, then nearly 600 yards in a 31-16 win in New Orleans. In those two games, the defense seemed to be starting another late-season slide just as the offense finally found its stride. Now, there's hope. "We didn't do anything special," linebacker Landon Johnson said. "We just played as a team." The defense hadn't done that lately. With players switching positions and reserves taking on bigger roles because of injuries, the defense repeatedly gave up big plays and failed to get a turnover in three consecutive games. Lately, the defense has started to look more like the unit that led the league in forcing turnovers last season. Cincinnati has gotten nine turnovers in the last two games, including four interceptions of Cleveland quarterback Charlie Frye. The Bengals scored touchdowns on their first two possessions Sunday, and the defense had its way against one of the league's sorriest offenses. Cleveland has scored the third-fewest points in the NFL. "The big thing is our offense got on the board right away," said safety Kevin Kaesviharn, who had two interceptions. "Once you get a team in the hole, they can't run the plays that they were going to run, and you're able to keep them there." By winning their last two games, the Bengals have given themselves an outside chance to win the AFC North for a second straight season, and a better chance to make the playoffs as a wild card. A victory by Baltimore on Thursday would give the division title to the Ravens, who would have a four-game lead with four to play. Head-to-head results are the tiebreaker, and Baltimore would have swept the season series. Kansas City and Denver currently are in line for the two AFC wild cards at 7-4. The Bengals, Jets and Jacksonville Jaguars are a game back at 6-5. The Bengals play at Denver on Dec. 24. The Bengals appeared to be out of contention after losing five of six and falling to 4-5. Palmer was still struggling to regain his touch after reconstructive knee surgery last January, and starters on offense were grousing about the game plans. In the last three games, Palmer has led the revived offense to 41, 31 and 30 points and looked more like the quarterback who led the league in touchdown passes last season. Now, the defense is showing signs of getting its act together, though there wasn't much time to ponder deeper meanings with only three days to get ready for the showdown with Baltimore. Asked on Monday what the shutout could mean to a defense that has struggled so much, coach Marvin Lewis said, "The same thing the offense went through when they couldn't score for three or four weeks in a row, and you were questioning them. You come back and get ready to play the next week. It doesn't amount for nothing this week. It's over."