CINCINNATI (Oct. 22, 2006) -- The call came in. The gamble was on. The Bengals were putting the game into the pleading hands of Chad Johnson.
The brash receiver had been begging for the chance.
"That was the actual play call," Johnson said, noting that offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski made him the first choice. "Bratkowski -- I love you! Thank you! That was a great call.
"In my mind, I was going to come down with it."
He did, of course. Two plays later, the Bengals (4-2) finished a length-of-the-field drive that gave them a welcomed win. They'd lost their last two games and endured a bye week loaded with questions about their tottering offense and their off-target quarterback.
Wearing a glove on his passing hand, Palmer struggled with the gusting, swirling wind until the fourth quarter. He went 8 of 9 for 93 yards in the go-ahead drive, culminating in his 1-yard throw to T.J. Houshmandzadeh.
"In this stadium, the wind is different than most places we play in," said Palmer, who was 23 of 39 overall for 240 yards. "At times, it's nice and calm. Perfect. Then a huge gust comes in. It can catch you off-guard."
The decision to throw on fourth-and-1 at the Panthers' 35 midway through the fourth quarter caught everyone off guard.
"You just want to barrel out and get the first down, but I guess the coaches felt that a little play action might work there," guard Eric Steinbach said. "Once we heard the play called, we were thinking, 'We might get them on this.' It was a great call."
One very bad decision then sealed it.
Carolina (4-3) had won its last four games by playing very well at the end -- three of the victories were by a field goal or less. Jake Delhomme had the Panthers in position to pull off another one.
He completed passes of 18 and 23 yards to Steve Smith, helping Carolina reach the 10-yard line. Facing third-and-goal, he saw Keyshawn Johnson in the back of the end zone and decided to go for the touchdown rather than throw it away and take a tying field goal.
Safety Kevin Kaesviharn reacted and intercepted the floating pass with 3:50 to play, essentially deciding it.
"I said, 'OK, it's a touchdown,"' Keyshawn Johnson said. "I don't even know where the guy came from. Had I known he was going to be there, I would've tackled him."
Delhomme didn't see Kaesviharn, either. When he let go of the ball, Delhomme was ready to celebrate. Instead, he wound up smacking his hands on the side of his helmet in disbelief.
"It's a play we've had the last couple of weeks," said Delhomme, who was 20 of 34 for 238 yards and a pair of first-half touchdowns. "When I let it go, I thought it was going to be a touchdown. It was a bad throw on my part."
Both defenses slanted their coverages to stop two of the NFL's elite receivers -- Chad Johnson and Smith, who were junior college teammates seven years ago.
Chad Johnson's fourth-down catch gave him bragging rights over Smith, who dominated their only previous NFL matchup. Smith returned two punts for touchdowns and caught a pass for another score during Carolina's 52-31 win in 2002.
Smith finished with eight catches for 126 yards, but Johnson got the win along with his seven-catch, 61-yard performance. His only disappointment: a gag order from coach Marvin Lewis now prevents him from celebrating or gloating.
"I was asked to change by the head man," he said, clearly disappointed. "So therefore, what you see from me is what he wants -- just make your plays and go back to the huddle. So that's what I'm going to do. Going to be no more talking, no nothing. Just go out there and play, go home. If that's what it takes to make us a better team, so be it."
Asked if that means no more touchdown celebrations, Johnson nodded.
"Very lame, isn't it?" he said.
Rudi Johnson ran for 101 yards, ending the Panthers' streak of holding their last four opponents under 100 yards on the ground. ... DE Julius Peppers wasn't involved in the Panthers' two sacks, ending his streak of five straight games with a sack. ... Cincinnati had only 99 yards in the first half, when it failed to get a first down on five of its six possessions. In the second half, the Bengals had 243 yards and 15 first downs. ... Carolina was 0-for-5 on third downs in the second half.