Football

Bengals finally get division crown

CINCINNATI — A team tested by emotions all season, especially the last two weeks, the Cincinnati Bengals had reason to celebrate Sunday.

With a 17-10 victory over the visiting Kansas City Chiefs, the Bengals clinched first place in the AFC North and a home playoff date.

They did so with a drive of 98 yards, 14 plays and more than seven minutes.

Chad Ochocinco did the honors, grabbing a 6-yard TD pass from Carson Palmer.

The Bengals (10-5) clinched on their third try, after losing road games to a pair of playoff-bound teams, Minnesota and San Diego.

Never mind that the Chiefs (3-12) came in with four straight losses, including a 41-34 defeat in which the Cleveland Browns ran for 351 yards.

Cincinnati's joy was tempered, though.

There was Chris Henry's death on Dec. 17 and a team trip to New Orleans for Tuesday's funeral. The Christmas holiday further derailed the team's usual practice routine.

Earlier this season, there was the death of Vikki Zimmer, wife of Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer.

Several Bengals with ties to American Samoa were affected by a tsunami that struck in September.

Late in the first quarter of Sunday's game, rookie linebacker Rey Maualuga suffered a fractured left ankle. (Even so, his five tackles were fourth-best of the game for the Bengals, three shy of team leader Dhani Jones.)

And unlike the last time the Bengals clinched a playoff berth in 2005, the goal is not merely reaching the playoffs.

Marvin Lewis, who won his 56th game as coach to pass founder Paul Brown for second place on the Bengals' all-time list, didn't don one of the Division Champions hats handed out after the game. No dousing, either, which was good because the game-time temperature was 21 degrees.

"No Gatorade, no hat," Lewis said. "There are two more hats (AFC and Super Bowl) to get.

"You look at the guys that are playing — guys that have been on practice squads — there's not that sigh of relief that 'we did it,' " Lewis said. "Yeah, we did it, but let's keep going."

When Palmer beat a blitz and hit Ochocinco for the game-winner, 2:03 remained.

Ochocinco, who had a first-half TD nullified by penalty, went to the end-zone wall where a fan held a poster of Henry. He put a hand to the poster, said a quick prayer and retreated while holding up one finger on one hand and five on the other — Henry's uniform number, 15.

"It's a real good feeling. I'm not jumping for joy or glee," said Ochocinco, who has TD catches in four consecutive games. "Just thinking about 15 once that clock hits zero. That was everybody's mind-set — to go out there and win this one for him."

The Chiefs' last gasp ended when Leon Hall intercepted a Matt Cassel pass at 1:06.

Palmer, who completed 17 of 25 passes for 139 yards, also hit Laveranues Coles for a third-quarter touchdown of 10 yards.

Cedric Benson ran 29 times for 133 yards, toppling a pair of team records: his sixth 100-yard effort of the season and the team's eighth 100-yard game of the season. (Larry Johnson and Bernard Scott had the other 100-yarders.)

Benson had seven runs for 30 yards on the final drive.

"That's us playing our game, the way the Bengals play football at its best," Benson said. "We pounded it down the field and finished it off with Carson and Chad."

A 3-3 first half felt like a whupping to the Bengals.

The Chiefs held Cincinnati to a 29-yard Shayne Graham field goal with 1:38 left before halftime.

Kansas City then managed the clock and the Bengals, driving 69 yards in 13 plays to tie on Ryan Succop's 30-yard field goal at :05.

Held to three first downs in the first half, the Bengals opened the second half by clicking off five on a 77-yard scoring drive. Benson got things rolling with a 32-yard run, and Coles finished with a 10-yard touchdown grab.

Kansas City came back to tie on the first play of the fourth quarter as Cassel found Tim Castille for a 20-yard touchdown. Jake O'Connell's partial block of a punt enabled the Chiefs to start the drive on Cincinnati's 49.

Cassel finished 22-for-37 for 180 yards with two interceptions. Kansas City's Jamaal Charles posted his third consecutive 100-yard game, totaling 102 on 24 carries.

But it was the Bengals who could celebrate a division crown, and it hurt so good.

"It feels like a sore ankle and a sore knee," defensive tackle Tank Johnson said. "It feels good, and the hat fits. If we can get another one, I hope it fits, too."

Said Palmer: "I am going to hang on to (the hat). It is one of our goals but, at the end of the year, if we don't win the Super Bowl, it is just a hat. Then it doesn't mean anything. The Super Bowl Championship hat is the one you want."

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