Bernard Scott. Larry Johnson. Cedric Benson. In three straight games, three different Cincinnati Bengals running backs have topped 100 yards.
It's no fluke.
By committing themselves to running the ball and grinding it out, the Bengals (9-3) have transformed their offense and their fortunes. A 23-13 win over Detroit on Sunday assured them of only their second winning record in 19 years and secured their hold on first place in the AFC North.
They've chosen to turn the season into one long grind, and it's working.
"It is a wonderful feeling," said Benson, who ran 36 times for 110 yards after missing two games with a hip injury. "It is always good to have the football in your hands. It's always a fun deal to get the running game going like that."
Not too much fun to be on the Lions' side of things. Detroit (2-10) outplayed the home team in the first quarter, taking a 7-0 lead that prompted loud boos, then faded as the Bengals kept handing off to drain the clock and the Lions' chances of an improbable comeback.
It went badly all over for the Lions. Rookie quarterback Matthew Stafford, who hurt his non-throwing shoulder in a win over Cleveland on Nov. 22, got tackled on the shoulder late in the game and didn't return. He was expected to get medical tests in Detroit.
Stafford will consider missing at least one game to let the left shoulder heal.
"It's something I'm going to have to think about," said Stafford, who went 11 of 26 for 143 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions. "Who knows? I may be playing next week. I have no idea right now, to tell you the truth."
The top draft pick has been playing with the injury, impressing his teammates for hanging in there during an already lost season.
"When you think about who we are and look at our record, it's easy for a lot of guys to shut it down," right tackle Gosder Cherilus said. "He's not one of those guys. We show up early and put in the work. He's right there next to us. When you see that, you appreciate it and try to give him the same in return."
Stafford's 54-yard touchdown pass to Calvin Johnson stunned the Bengals, who got pushed around in the first quarter _ they managed only 47 total yards. A play by 6-foot-7 rookie defensive lineman Michael Johnson changed the mood. Johnson stretched his long arms and batted one of Stafford's passes into the air. End Jonathan Fanene caught it cleanly, tucked the ball into the crook of his left arm and ran 45 yards untouched for his first career score.
"When the ball was in the air, I just grabbed it and took off running," Fanene said of his first career interception. "I wasn't worried about slowing down or anybody tackling me."
Carson Palmer threw a 36-yard touchdown pass to Chad Ochocinco on Cincinnati's next possession, and Shayne Graham added a field goal for a 17-7 halftime lead that didn't please coach Marvin Lewis.
"We got that playing-to-the-level-of-our-opponents speech at halftime," said Ochocinco, who had nine catches for a season-high 137 yards.
The offense struggled to get points in the second half, but managed to run away with the game. Benson carried 22 times for 78 yards in the second half and finished with his fifth 100-yard game of the season, tying the franchise record.
The Bengals are the first team since Green Bay in 2006 to have three different players rush for 100 yards in three consecutive games.
"I love carrying the ball that much," Benson said. "It usually just means we're putting a team away, and I love putting teams away. You know, you've got to put the hay in the barn. That's what my old high school coach used to call it. And any time we're carrying the ball that much, I think we're putting the hay away."
NOTES: Lions CB William James had a pinched nerve in the second half, another blow to an injury-depleted defense. ... Bengals S Chris Crocker hurt his right ankle in the first quarter, returned and left again. He got a test to see how badly it's hurt. ... Ochocinco hadn't caught a touchdown pass since Oct. 25 against Chicago, going the next four games without one. It was only Cincinnati's third TD pass in the last five games, a sign of how much they've come to rely on the run. ... Lewis got his 55th win as a Bengals coach, tying franchise founder Paul Brown for second-most. Sam Wyche won 64 games.
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