Johnson’s clutch catch is the difference
The call came in. The gamble was on. The Cincinnati Bengals were putting the game into the pleading hands of Chad Johnson.
The brash receiver had been begging for the chance.
Johnson turned a risky fourth-and-one call into a diving 32-yard catch, leading to a touchdown and a 17-14 victory over the Carolina Panthers, who couldn’t stop the Pro Bowl receiver on the play that mattered most.
“That was the actual play call,” Johnson said, adding that offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski made him the first choice. “Bratkowski -- I love you! Thank you! That was a great call.
“In my mind, I was going to come down with it.”
He did, of course. Two plays later, the Bengals (4-2) finished a length-of-the-field drive that gave them a welcomed win.
They had lost their last two games and endured an off week loaded with questions about their tottering offense and off-target quarterback.
When they needed him most Sunday, Carson Palmer finally connected.
Wearing a glove on his passing hand, Palmer struggled with the gusting, swirling wind until the fourth quarter. He went eight of nine for 93 yards in the go-ahead drive, culminating in his one-yard throw to T.J. Houshmandzadeh.
“In this stadium, the wind is different than most places we play in,” said Palmer, who was 23 of 39 overall for 240 yards. “At times, it’s nice and calm. Perfect. Then a huge gust comes in. It can catch you off-guard.”
The decision to throw on fourth and one at the Panthers’ 35 midway through the fourth quarter caught everyone off-guard.
“You just want to barrel out and get the first down, but I guess the coaches felt that a little play action might work there,” guard Eric Steinbach said. “Once we heard the play called, we were thinking, ‘We might get them on this.’ It was a great call.”
One very bad decision then sealed it. Carolina (4-3) had won its last four games by playing well at the end -- three of the victories were by a three points or fewer. Jake Delhomme had the Panthers in position to pull off another one.
He completed passes of 18 and 23 yards to Steve Smith, helping Carolina reach the 10-yard line.
Facing third and goal, he saw Keyshawn Johnson in the back of the end zone and decided to go for the touchdown rather than throw it away and take a tying field goal.
Safety Kevin Kaesviharn reacted and intercepted the floating pass with 3:50 to play, essentially deciding it.
“When I let it go, I thought it was going to be a touchdown,” said Delhomme, who was 20 of 34 for 238 yards. “It was a bad throw on my part.”