Winless no more

Published 10:46 am Monday, November 3, 2008

CINCINNATI (AP) — On their ninth try, the Cincinnati Bengals finally got it right.

They scored early. They broke up a pass that could have tied the game in the closing minutes. They pounded their chests, raised their arms and — in one case — gave a smooch.

Winless no more.

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A 21-19 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday raised the Bengals (1-8) from the bottom of the NFL standings and gave them a sense of relief heading into their bye week. They won’t be setting any franchise records for bad starts or take a run at league history by going 0-16.

Not this year, anyway.

“Liberation,” offensive guard Bobbie Williams said. “We did it. We knew we could do it. We went out there, and it’s finally off our back.”

Imagine how the Jaguars felt.

A team that opened the season convinced it could contend for the playoffs is down in the basement at the halfway point. The Jaguars (3-5) have lost three of their last four games, tumbling to the bottom of the AFC South along with Houston. They trail division-leading Tennessee — the league’s only unbeaten team — by five games.

The Bengals were coming off the most lopsided back-to-back losses in franchise history, suggesting they were on the verge of giving up. One more loss would leave them 0-9 for only the second time in team history.

The Jaguars knew they had to win to get their season turned around.

With the losses mounting and history beckoning, several Bengals tried to fire up their teammates. Offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth talked to the offense after practice on Saturday, and receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh spoke up in the locker room before the game.

Their message: Don’t be a doormat.

“We’re 0-8, but I think we’re a good 0-8 team, if that’s possible,” Houshmandzadeh said. “I was just telling them: Are we going to the playoffs? Probably not. But we’re all men and play with pride. Basically, play with pride and let’s try to make this thing look somewhat respectable.”

For one day, they were.

Ryan Fitzpatrick threw a pair of touchdown passes to Chad Ocho Cinco, who celebrated by giving the head coach a kiss, and Cincinnati stopped a late 2-point conversion attempt to clinch it. David Garrard led the Jaguars on a touchdown drive that cut it to 21-19 with 1:17 left, then failed to squeeze a pass into a tightly covered Jerry Porter for what would have been a tying 2-point conversion.

“There was definitely a sense of relief when that ball hit the ground,” Fitzpatrick said.

Fitzpatrick, who studied the laws of economics at Harvard, helped the law of averages catch up with his winless team. The scrambling quarterback looked a lot more comfortable in his fourth straight start for the injured Carson Palmer, going 21-of-31 for 162 yards.

“Hopefully, Carson gets healthy,” said Fitzpatrick, who got his first career win as a starter. “But if not, I hope things continue to roll in terms of the coaches’ comfort level with me.”

The Bengals pulled out to a comfortable 21-3 lead heading into the fourth quarter, then sweated it out against a team that always keeps it close. The Jaguars are the only team in the league that has had every game decided by seven points or less.

As the Bengals can attest, playing close games isn’t much consolation when the outcome is a loss.

“I just know we have to have more fight,” said Garrard, who was 23-of-38 for 229 yards with an interception that ended his streak of 166 passes without a pick. “We have to have more execution as a team, and we have to have more want-to.”