NEW ORLEANS (Nov. 19, 2006) -- If anyone doubted how seriously Chad Johnson takes his role on the Cincinnati Bengals, consider this: He was too hurt to perform his trademark end zone celebrations.
He retained the will to score game-breaking touchdowns.
For a second Sunday in a row, Johnson and quarterback Carson Palmer terrorized an opposing defense, connecting for 190 yards and three touchdowns. This time, however, it resulted in a 31-16 victory over the New Orleans Saints that halted a three-game losing skid and renewed hope of a playoff run in the Bengals' locker room.
"I'm trying to be as consistent as possible, trying to make sure I do all I can to make sure we come up out of this hole and make this run," said Johnson, who limped into the end zone at the end of a 60-yard touchdown reception that gave the Bengals a 17-10 lead in the fourth quarter. "It was a necessary victory. A must win."
Johnson said he was hurting, but he returned on the next series and caught a 48-yard pass, followed by a 4-yard TD catch on a quick slant as the Bengals (5-5) pulled away.
"I knew Chad was going to come back in the game," Palmer said. "He had been playing so well. He's a tough guy."
"Our guys are playing with a tremendous amount of energy, but they're making too many mistakes," Payton said.
Palmer and Johnson had combined 260 yards and two touchdowns last week against San Diego, but it was all for naught in a 49-41 loss. This week, they got some help from the defense, which thwarted four Saints drives with turnovers.
Palmer was 14-of-22 passing for 275 yards and benefited from the balance provided by Rudi Johnson's 111 yards rushing for the Bengals (5-5).
Palmer was intercepted once, but made the Saints pay when they blew coverages on play-action fakes. On the Bengals' first touchdown, Johnson changed his route, sprinting past cornerback Fred Thomas and raising his hand when he saw Saints safety Josh Bullocks wasn't deep enough. Palmer saw it and lofted a 41-yarder on target.
"That's nothing more than Chad and I just making eye contact through a route and the defense not even being around him because they're out of position," Palmer said. "Chad and I have worked together a lot, not just during the season. ... We understand each other. I understand how Chad runs certain routes and know he's always looking for that big play if he can get behind the defense."
New Orleans looked like the better team for much of the game, but as it was in its two previous losses to Pittsburgh and Baltimore, turnovers were costly.
"We can move the ball at will, any time, any place ... through the air, on the ground, whatever it takes," Brees said. "But when it really comes down to it, you have to take care of the football, you have to convert on third down. We can be as good as we want to be as long as we take care of the football."
Two promising drives ended with interceptions in the end zone.
Brees also had an interception returned 52 yards for a touchdown by Ethan Kilmer that gave the Bengals a 31-10 lead with 6:14 to go.
Cincinnati's defense also made an important stand early in the fourth quarter, stopping Deuce McAllister on a third-and-1 at the Bengals' 5-yard line. A touchdown could have put New Orleans ahead and changed the complexion of the game. Instead, John Carney 's short field goal tied the game at 10.
Brees was 37-of-52 for 510 yards passing, his fourth consecutive game with more than 300 yards. But New Orleans (6-4) has lost three of those four games, including two in a row.
Brees' touchdown passes went for 72 yards to Joe Horn in the first quarter and 27 yards to Terrance Copper late in the game.
Notes: Horn's touchdown in the first quarter was his 50th for the Saints. He became one of only two players to ever reach 50 in New Orleans. The other was Dalton Hilliard, who had 53 from 1986-93. ... Kevin Kaesviharn, inserted as a starter at safety for injured Dexter Jackson (Achilles tendon) had 10 tackles, including two sacks, and an interception. ... Brees' passing yardage total was sixth-highest in NFL history. The most is 554 by Norm Van Brocklin with the Los Angeles Rams in 1951.