James Brooks put the steam in the Cincinnati Bengals’ first-quarter knockout punch.
Brooks, playing with a brace on his broken left hand, ran for 2 of his 3 touchdowns during a 28-point first quarter as the once-beaten Bengals beat the Houston Oilers, 44-21, Sunday.
Brooks added a third-quarter score, then shared the load on a touchdown drive of 72 yards, all on the ground, that put the Oilers down for the count in the fourth quarter.
“He’s a tremendous football player,” Bengal Coach Sam Wyche said. “We miss him when he’s out of there.”
He rushed for 102 yards in 16 carries against a defense that had allowed opponents to rush for more than 100 yards rushing twice in 7 previous games.
“It’s been tough on me,” said Brooks, who has missed one game and been slowed in others because of the fracture. “I feel like I need to be out there and doing my part, and I couldn’t do it because I was handicapped. I was really mad about that.”
The victory enabled the Bengals (7-1) to take a 2-game lead over the Oilers (5-3) in the AFC Central Division.
“We came into this game sort of like a playoff game,” said cornerback Eric Thomas, who set up touchdowns with 2 interceptions.
Turnovers set up 3 of the Bengals’ first 4 scores. The 28 points were the most ever in the first quarter by the Bengals and matched their one-quarter club record. Cincinnati also scored 28 points in the fourth quarter of a season-ending 61-17 victory in Houston in 1972.
The Oilers almost overcame the early avalanche, cutting the lead to 35-21 on two touchdown passes by Warren Moon in a 3:18 span of the third quarter. But erratic Tony Zendejas missed a 35-yard field goal attempt on Houston’s next possession, and the Bengals ground out their 72-yard drive in 9 rushing plays to put the game out of reach in the fourth quarter. Ickey Woods’ second 1-yard touchdown run completed the drive.
“This game had a lot of turning points,” Oiler Coach Jerry Glanville said. “We came back and thought we were going to make it a typical Cincinnati-Houston game, right down to the last play.”
Instead, Brooks and the ground attack made sure the Oilers wouldn’t recover from the first-quarter knockdown. The Bengals got 222 of their 353 total yards by rushing.
Cincinnati took the opening kickoff and drove 77 yards in 9 plays, with Woods carrying the final yard with 9:38 left the quarter.
Leonard Harris then fumbled the kickoff and Jim Riggs recovered at the Oilers’ 19. An offside penalty and an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Doug Smith moved the ball into position for Brooks’ 7-yard touchdown run.
Thomas got the first of his 2 interceptions 3 plays later to set up Brooks’ 9-yard touchdown run, giving the Bengals 3 touchdowns in a 3:17 span.
Linebacker Leo Barker completed the first-quarter spree by stripping Moon of the ball as he tried to pass, popping the ball into the air. Barker grabbed the ball and ran untouched 34 yards for his first NFL touchdown.
Moon, making his second start since recovering from a fractured right shoulder, completed 13 of 32 passes for 158 yards and 2 touchdowns. He was intercepted twice.