Bengals hand Chiefs first loss of season

Published 12:00 am Monday, November 17, 2003

CINCINNATI - Pop the corks and make the toast, you '72 Dolphins. The perfect record is safe for one more season.

It's guaranteed.

With a punt return and a long touchdown catch, Peter Warrick eclipsed Kansas City's playmakers and let the Cincinnati Bengals back up their boast Sunday with a 24-19 victory over the Chiefs.

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Trying to become the first team to go 10-0 since the 1998 Broncos, the less-than-perfect Chiefs unraveled against the Bengals (5-5), who finished the day tied for first after making Chad Johnson's guarantee come true.

''The worst thing is to have a guy come out and shoot his mouth making a statement, and they stood up to it,'' Chiefs cornerback Eric Warfield said. ''This is a good team, but we feel like we shouldn't have lost.''

The undefeated '72 Dolphins get together for a toast when the last winless team falls each season, reveling in their distinction. Warrick made this unbeaten team fall hard.

''That's having my back,'' said Johnson, who apologized to some of the Chiefs on the field for his guarantee. ''They didn't leave me hanging in the wind, and I didn't want to leave them hanging in the wind.''

The victory left them into a first-place tie with Baltimore in the AFC North. The Bengals haven't been in contention this late in a season since 1990, the last time they had a winning record.

Warrick, a top draft pick who symbolized their 12 years of misery, pulled off the plays that got them out of the malaise.

Johnson was in the trainer's room getting intravenous fluids for cramps when Warrick made one cut and headed upfield on a 68-yard punt return early in the fourth quarter. He hoisted the ball in celebration when he reached the 20-yard line - and the '72 Dolphins could get ready to hoist those glasses.

''It was sickening,'' said Chiefs returner Dante Hall, who has run back four kicks for touchdowns this season. ''I wanted to be in his shoes.''

Warrick was just trying to prove he belongs in Hall's echelon.

''Dante Hall is a great player, but today was my day to shine,'' said Warrick, who also ran a punt back for a touchdown in his 2000 rookie season.

Johnson was back in time to see the clinching score six minutes later. Warrick grabbed a long pass from Jon Kitna down the middle, made a 360-degree spin to shake Warfield at the Chiefs' 44-yard line and took it the rest of the way for a clinching 77-yard score.

On the Chiefs sideline, players just dropped their heads, turned their backs and blamed themselves.

''It would have been much worse if they had beaten us at our best,'' Hall said. ''But we didn't play well. It's like they say: 'On any given Sunday.'''

Rudi Johnson ran for 165 yards and Kitna threw two touchdown passes and avoided a game-turning mistake as Cincinnati positioned itself to pull off the upset.

Their inspired defense made the difference, stuffing one of the NFL's most dangerous teams until it was too late. Kansas City had tremendous field position for most of the game, but didn't start moving until Warrick gave the Bengals a lead big enough to let their defense relax.

Trent Green threw two touchdown passes in the final seven minutes, the last one a 3-yard toss to Jason Dunn with 3:19 to go. The Chiefs never got the ball back.

Not even Hall could make a dent in the Bengals' momentum. In one telling moment, he drew a penalty for kicking the ball away angrily after a botched return.

The crowd of 64,923 - a record for Paul Brown Stadium - broke into one final cheer when Baltimore's 9-6 loss to Miami in overtime was shown on the scoreboard, meaning the Bengals were back in first place for the first time in 13 years.

Afterward, Chad Johnson's teammates said they were just as confident that they could win, but weren't about to say it.

''We just didn't want our secret to be let out,'' offensive tackle Willie Anderson said.

Now, the secret's out.

Notes: Warrick, a top pick in 2000, finished with six catches for a career-high 114 yards. Chad Johnson had seven catches for 74 yards. … As Kitna went to his knee for the last time, Johnson stood on the field with his right index finger raised and Bengals players doused head coach Marvin Lewis on the sideline. … Chiefs TE Tony Gonzalez had seven catches for 86 yards. He tied Ed Podolak for second in team history with catches in 46 consecutive games.