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They Are Way Beyond Defense

Insanity, brought on by either mad turkey disease or two really bad defensive teams, struck the NFL again on the Sunday after Thanksgiving.

This time, it was the Cincinnati Bengals, quarterbacked by Carson Palmer in his 11th professional start, and the Cleveland Browns, quarterbacked by Kelly Holcomb in his 13th professional start, combining for 106 points in a 58-48 Cincinnati victory.

The Bengals and the Browns amassed a cumulative 966 yards and 49 first downs en route to the second highest scoring game in league history.

Not the Indianapolis Colts and the Kansas City Chiefs; they managed only 80 points when they got together in Kansas City on Halloween.

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Not Peyton Manning and Brett Favre; they produced only 76 points when they met in Indianapolis in late September.

The Bengals, who hadn’t scored more than 26 points in any game this season, who scored 57 points in their previous three games combined, put 58 points on the board in front of 65,677 still-stunned fans in Paul Brown Stadium.

The Browns, who hadn’t scored more than 13 points in any of their last three games, who lost their previous game to the New York Jets by a 10-7 margin, scored 48 points with Holcomb, their backup quarterback, passing for 413 yards and five touchdowns.

And they still lost by 10 points.

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This sort of thing, incredibly, has happened before -- curiously, eerily, on the last weekend of November.

Nov. 27, 1966: The Washington Redskins defeated the New York Giants, 72-41. The 113 points were the most ever scored in an NFL game.

Nov. 27, 1983: The Seattle Seahawks defeated the Chiefs in overtime, 51-48. The 99 points were the most to be scored in an NFL game, post-1970 merger, until ...

Nov. 28, 2004: Cincinnati 58, Cleveland 48.

Explanations, anyone?

“It was crazy,” Bengal running back Rudi Johnson told reporters after adding to the madness with 202 yards and two touchdowns.

“It is what it is,” Brown defensive back Robert Griffith said after watching Palmer pass for four touchdowns.

What it is, quite possibly, is Butch Davis’ final game as coach of the Browns. Rumors that the end was indeed near followed Davis to Cincinnati, where his application for a stay was stamped by 58 Bengal points.

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Repeat: 58 Bengal points.

In defense of Davis, there was none. Brown tacklers looked as if they were afraid to touch the Bengals’ hideous orange and black uniforms -- yes, the Bengals broke out the citrus shirts and the dark pants again, and Sunday in Cincinnati we finally understood why.

The last time the Bengals played the Browns -- in Cleveland on Oct. 17, a 34-17 Brown victory -- the color of the day was pink. Remember the Pepto-Bismol bottles Chad Johnson sent the Browns’ starting secondary before that game? Evidently, the Browns did not. In the rematch, Johnson caught 10 passes for 117 yards and a touchdown and Davis could really use some of that nausea medicine right about now.

Davis’ last three seasons say something about coaches and quarterbacks. In 2002, Holcomb rode to the rescue and got Davis into the playoffs. In 2003, Davis couldn’t make up his mind between Holcomb and Tim Couch, gave each of them eight starts, and lost 11 of 16 games. For 2004, Davis brought in Jeff Garcia, who was 3-7 before injuring his shoulder, giving way again to Holcomb, who tried to save Davis again, but had to score 59 points to do it, and couldn’t, and that’s how these things go.

There’s a lesson in there somewhere, except in the NFL, lots of coaches are slow learners. Since deciding to bench their moderately successful quarterbacks after Week 10, the Giants’ Tom Coughlin and the Arizona Cardinals’ Dennis Green have not won a game in four starts.

The Giants and Eli Manning lost to the Philadelphia Eagles, 27-6, making Coughlin’s “Let’s Throw Eli to the Wolves” program a not surprising 0-2. Pre-Eli, the Giants were 5-4 with Kurt Warner, albeit during the softer portion of the team’s schedule.

Coughlin had the top pick in the draft burning millions pacing the sidelines, the talk-radio hacks were starting to get surly, but Coughlin is an old pro, he knows you have to break a promising young quarterback in gradually, carefully, lest you break his spirit before he can find his legs.

Cagily, Coughlin waited just for the right spot to ease Manning into the fray:

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Back-to-back games against Atlanta and Philadelphia, the best teams in the NFC, now a combined 19-3 after combining to outscore Manning, 41-16.

Manning’s second start was worse than his first: only six completions in 21 attempts, 148 yards, two interceptions, a 19.6 quarterback rating. The Giants marked the occasion by wearing peculiar red jerseys, the first time that has happened since 1953.

Reason: Sunday, the Giants officially decided to redshirt their playoff aspirations. Philadelphia clinched the NFC East title before December; the Giants are now waiting for next year.

Likewise, the Cardinals are 0-2 since Green pulled the plug on Josh McCown with his team a game out of first in the NFC West. In came Shaun King to lose to Carolina in Week 11, but that wasn’t the worst of it. In Week 12, King couldn’t out-duel the New York Jets’ No. 2 and 3 quarterbacks, Quincy Carter tag-teaming with Brooks Bollinger in the desert.

Arizona lost, 13-3, to fall to 4-7. And before the game was done, McCown was back in the lineup, back where he was before Green decided to interrupt the rare once-optimistic Cardinal season.

Meanwhile, the San Diego Chargers, so dissatisfied with Drew Brees in 2003 that they acquired a new quarterback, Philip Rivers, on draft day, are alone in first place in the AFC West at 8-3 -- all eight victories engineered by Brees, who passed for 378 yards in a 34-31 victory at Kansas City.

According to most projections, including the Chargers’, Rivers was supposed to be starting by now. But Brees, assigned to keep the position warm, has refused to relinquish it, running his streak of consecutive passes without an interception to 194.

Patience remains a virtue. And many NFL coaches can’t wait to get some.


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