Cincinnati escapes with win over Houston
CINCINNATI -- Carson Palmer's shoulder bore a nasty red scrape. Blood trickled from an inch-long gash on the bridge of Willie Anderson's nose. Chad Johnson wore a bandage above his skinned knee.
These Bengals were beaten up, but still unbeaten.
The Bengals improved to 4-0 for the first time since 1988 -- the last they made the Super Bowl -- with a 16-10 victory Sunday over the Houston Texans, who couldn't take advantage of their penalties or their pain.
"Everybody was going with some type of injury," said Anderson, a Pro Bowl right tackle who threw his back out before the kickoff and hurt his nose during the game. "That's the type of character this team has now."
Four wins will do that.
The Bengals had 14 penalties for 117 yards -- one of them wiped out T.J. Houshmandzadeh's touchdown catch.
They absorbed the penalties and gritted it out.
"We had some dumb mistakes," Palmer said. "We're not always perfect."
But so far, good enough.
Houshmandzadeh, who refuses to dance after a touchdown, kept the Bengals in their best start since the days of the Ickey Shuffle. He caught eight passes for 105 yards, steadying an offense that had to grind it out for the first time all season.
Shayne Graham's 27-yard field goal with 5:04 left broke a 10-10 tie, and David Carr's disputed fumble with 3:14 to go sent the Texans to their first 0-3 start in their four seasons.
Carr was hit by Justin Smith while his arm was cocked, and the ball slip out of his hand as he started an awkward throwing motion. John Thornton fell on the ball, and referee Larry Nemmers upheld the call on review, costing the Texans their final timeout.
Houston thought his arm was going forward, so it should have been an incomplete pass.
"We all thought it was going to be overturned," right tackle Todd Wade said. "That's why we stayed on the field. Apparently, they saw it otherwise."
Taking advantage of the game's only turnover, Graham kicked another field goal from 46 yards. Six plays later, Carr was sacked on what was supposed to be a desperation throw from midfield as time ran out.
Houshmandzadeh kept the offense moving on a day when the Texans made sure that his showy teammate wouldn't dance. Johnson did a jig after his touchdown a week earlier and promised a new end zone celebration against the Texans.
"They weren't going to give me anything this week," said Johnson, who had seven catches for 67 yards. "I had double coverage, a couple of times triple coverage. It was ridiculous, exotic coverages that they might have drawn up in the dirt."
The Texans' offense ran smoother under a new offensive coordinator. They fired Chris Palmer during their bye week and promoted line coach Joe Pendry, hoping to stop the deluge of mistakes that limited the offense to two touchdowns in two games.
There were fewer mistakes, but the result was the same -- only one touchdown again. Carr was 17 of 26 for 174 yards with seven sacks.