CINCINNATI (Oct. 2, 2005) -- Carson Palmer's shoulder bore a nasty red scrape. Blood trickled from an inch-long gash on the bridge of Willie Anderson's nose. Chad Johnson wore a bandage above his skinned knee.
These Bengals were beaten up, but still unbeaten.
The Bengals improved to 4-0 for the first time since 1988 -- the last they made the Super Bowl -- with a 16-10 victory against the Houston Texans, who couldn't take advantage of their penalties or their pain.
"Everybody was going with some type of injury," said Anderson, a Pro Bowl right tackle who threw his back out before the kickoff and hurt his nose during the game. "That's the type of character this team has now."
Four victories will do that.
The Bengals had 14 penalties for 117 yards -- one of them wiped out T.J. Houshmandzadeh's touchdown catch -- and lost both of their veteran centers to knee injuries in the second quarter.
They absorbed the penalties, shuffled the line and gritted it out.
"We had some dumb mistakes," Palmer said. "We're not always perfect."
But so far, good enough.
Houshmandzadeh, who refuses to dance after a touchdown, kept the Bengals in their best start since the days of the Ickey Shuffle. He caught eight passes for 105 yards, steadying an offense that had to grind it out for the first time all season.
Shayne Graham's 27-yard field goal with 5:04 left broke a 10-all tie, and David Carr's disputed fumble with 3:14 to go sent the Texans to their first 0-3 start in their four seasons.
Carr was hit by Justin Smith while his arm was cocked, and the ball slip out of his hand as he started an awkward throwing motion. John Thornton fell on the ball, and referee Larry Nemmers upheld the call on review, costing the Texans their final timeout.
Houston thought his arm was going forward, so it should have been an incomplete pass.
"We all thought it was going to be overturned," right tackle Todd Wade said. "That's why we stayed on the field. Apparently, they saw it otherwise."
Taking advantage of the game's only turnover, Graham kicked another field goal from 46 yards. Six plays later, Carr was sacked on what was supposed to be a desperation throw from midfield as time ran out.
Houshmandzadeh kept the offense moving on a day when the Texans made sure that his showy teammate wouldn't dance. Johnson did a jig after his touchdown a week earlier and promised a new end-zone celebration against the Texans.
"They weren't going to give me anything this week," said Johnson, who had seven catches for 67 yards. "I had double coverage, a couple of times triple coverage. It was ridiculous, exotic coverages that they might have drawn up in the dirt."
The Texans' offense ran smoother under a new offensive coordinator. They fired Chris Palmer during their bye week and promoted line coach Joe Pendry, hoping to stop the deluge of mistakes that limited the offense to two touchdowns in two games.
There were fewer mistakes, but the result was the same -- only one touchdown again. Carr was 17 of 26 for 174 yards with seven sacks.
"I felt like we were playing to our potential today," said Carr, who was sacked eight times in his previoius game. "I just wish we had a win to go along with that feeling. But I'm happy that our guys are playing with some confidence."
By contrast, Palmer went 25 of 34 for 276 yards and a touchdown in an offense that had to adjust on the fly because of injuries.
Centers Rich Braham and Larry Moore went down with knee injuries in the second quarter, forcing guard Eric Steinbach to peel off his blocking gloves and snap the ball for the first time. The offense was out of sync while it adjusted to a major line shuffle, and never moved the ball consistently because of the penalties.
"It was a tough game," Houshmandzadeh said. "But hey, we're winning, man. I'm happy about that, just to be 4-0."
- FB Moran Norris' 4-yard catch in the third quarter was the first touchdown in his five-year career.
- Carr has been sacked 20 times in three games. He was sacked an NFL-record 76 times as a rookie in 2002.
- CB Phillip Buchanon, who lost his starting job during the bye week, took turns with Demarcus Faggins covering Johnson.
- Braham was listed as questionable for next week, and Moore is likely out.
- Steinbach had played center only once before -- during a spring game at Iowa.
- Anderson, who had to leave the game last week with spasms in his back, said it locked up again during the game, requiring treatment. He made his 84th consecutive start.
The Associated Press News Service
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