Cincinnati Bengals Chad Johnson catches a pass from quarterback Carson Palmer to score against the Denver Broncos in the first quarter in Cincinnati Monday Oct. 25, 2004.
AP Photo/Tony Tribble
CINCINNATI With two reputations on the line his team's and his own Chad got the best of Champ and turned the Bengals into a prime-time success.
Chad Johnson left cornerback Champ Bailey face-down in his tracks on a 50-yard touchdown catch that got the Bengals revved for a 23-10 victory over the Denver Broncos in their long-awaited return to ''Monday Night Football.''
The Bengals (2-4) hadn't played on the Monday night stage for 12 years, the longest such exile in the league. A crowd of 65,806 the biggest ever to see a Bengals game in Cincinnati was hoping just to avoid embarrassment.
A chatty receiver gave them so much more.
A week after one of the most embarrassing moments of his career, Johnson excelled in a matchup of Pro Bowl receiver vs. Pro Bowl cornerback.
''This is something I expect,'' said Johnson, who had only three catches and three drops in a 34-17 loss at Cleveland. ''I let everybody down last week, so I worked double hard this week.''
With Bailey locked on him man-to-man, Johnson made one easy catch and a bunch of acrobatic ones that positioned Cincinnati for the upset.
''They believe in covering man-to-man and loading up to stop the run,'' quarterback Carson Palmer said. ''We were counting on Chad, leaning on Chad to get open and catch balls downfield.''
Denver (5-2) had won its last four games with the NFL's best running game and a defense that ranks among the leaders in every category. The Broncos couldn't get nearly enough out of either.
Johnson did the most damage, catching seven passes for 149 yards. He had two 50-yard catches against Bailey in the first half alone, getting the downtrodden Bengals to believe they could pull it off.
''He made a couple of plays,'' said Bailey, a four-time Pro Bowl player who is rarely burned so often. ''That's just the way it is in this league. I'm not afraid of any challenge. That's the way I roll.''
A week earlier, Johnson had sent Pepto-Bismol to the Cleveland Browns' defensive backs, only to play the worst game of his career. He stayed low-key all week, keeping his thoughts to himself and he tried to figure out why he had failed so miserably.
This one more than made up for it.
''A lot of guys would go in the tank,'' said Palmer, who was 12-of-21 for 198 yards. ''That's a true judge of character, having to bounce back from adversity with that whole Pepto-Bismol deal.''
Rudi Johnson also had a breakout game, running for 119 yards and a 36-yard touchdown that put the Bengals up 20-10 late in the third quarter. It was only the second time all season that an opponent scored so many points on Denver's defense.
Only the Bengals' inability to score from close range prevented it from being even more lopsided. They got inside the 20-yard line five times, but had to settle for three field goals by Shayne Graham, including a career-best 53-yarder.
Twice, they got inside the 10 but came away empty Rudi Johnson was stopped on fourth-and-1 and Bailey intercepted Palmer's pass to Chad Johnson.
The Bengals had been exiled from the Monday night lineup since 1992 because of their history of losing. Cincinnati hasn't had a winning record since 1990, the league's longest current streak of futility.
This time, the Broncos did the bumbling. Reuben Droughns ran for 110 yards but fumbled and couldn't convert critical third downs. Jake Plummer threw two interceptions that set up field goals and was sacked three times, matching the Broncos' total for the first six games.
By any measure, Denver got outplayed. The Broncos never seemed to recover from Chad Johnson's tone-setting touchdown, the one that left Bailey on his face.
''I didn't think so much that we were flat,'' said safety John Lynch, who couldn't get close to Johnson on the touchdown. ''They came out gunning and maybe stunned us a little bit.'' Notes: Bengals DT Tony Williams dislocated and broke his left ankle late in the first quarter, a season-ending injury. Williams had reversed field to chase Plummer when guard George Foster dived at his lower leg. ... Denver RB Quentin Griffin, who lost the job to Droughns when he sprained his ankle earlier in the season, left in the third quarter. He'll be tested in Denver to see if he tore his anterior cruciate ligament. ... The Bengals' last home Monday night game was Sept. 25, 1989, a 21-14 win over Cleveland. Their last Monday night appearance was a 20-0 loss in Pittsburgh on Oct. 19, 1992.
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