CINCINNATI (AP) — Five days after burying a teammate, the wrung-out Bengals had barely enough to win a title.
Carson Palmer’s touchdown pass to Chad Ochocinco completed a 98-yard drive in the closing minutes Sunday, sending Cincinnati to a 17-10 victory that secured the AFC North championship at the end of a rough week.
The Bengals (10-5) moved into the playoffs for only the second time in the past 19 years after dealing with the death of receiver Chris Henry. The teary practices and locker-room grief seemed to show against the Chiefs (3-12), who stayed close in a mistake-filled game.
One good drive at the end was enough.
Cincinnati took over at its 2-yard line with 9:21 to go and put together its longest drive of the season. On the 14th play, Palmer threw a 6-yard touchdown pass to Ochocinco, who ran to the stands and touched a poster of Henry.
Fans chanted "Who Dey!" after Matt Cassel’s final pass was intercepted and a burst of snow fell on a cold, raw day that matched the mood. Palmer threw for a pair of touchdowns, and Cedric Benson ran for 133 yards in an offense that managed only two drives all day.
The Bengals played a pregame videoboard tribute to Henry, who died last week in North Carolina during what police describe as a domestic dispute. The Bengals flew to his funeral in New Orleans on Tuesday, a wrenching day that left them drained.
Offensive lineman Bobbie Williams pointed at the board during the pregame tribute, and Ochocinco raised one finger on one hand and all five on the other hand, signifying Henry’s No. 15.
Then, both teams played an opening half so dreadful that fans booed repeatedly. The Bengals looked like a distracted team — penalties and other mistakes galore.
Cincinnati managed only 53 yards in the half, with its only points coming off a bizarre play. On a Kansas City punt attempt, the snap flew over Dustin Colquitt’s head and rolled toward the goal line. Colquitt caught up with it and kicked it out of bounds at the 7.
Even then, the Bengals couldn’t get into the end zone because of a snafu. Palmer’s apparent 6-yard touchdown pass to Ochocinco was overturned after a review showed he had stepped out of the back of the end zone before the catch. Shayne Graham kicked a 29-yard field goal.
Palmer finished 17 of 25 for 139 yards with two touchdowns passing and an interception.
Even the intriguing subplot fizzled. The Chiefs released running back Larry Johnson on Nov. 9, and he signed with Cincinnati a week later for a reserve role. He was looking forward to running over his former team, and got a handful of chances that didn’t pan out — four carries for 11 yards.
Bengals rookie linebacker Rey Maualuga broke his left ankle late in the first quarter, a blow to one of the league’s stingiest defenses.