Bengals beat Chiefs; clinch AFC North title

CINCINNATI (AP) - No dousing the head coach. No donning championship caps.

The Cincinnati Bengals celebrated their AFC North title by leaving the field with raised arms and heavy hearts. A week of tears and eulogies will do that. The Bengals reached the playoffs for only the second time in the past 19 years on Sunday, beating the Kansas City Chiefs 17-10 on a day when they remembered wide receiver Chris Henry from start to finish.

Five days after they buried their teammate in New Orleans, the Bengals (10-5) had his number on their helmets and in their hearts, which might have had something to do with the way they played. They looked like a team that had just returned from a funeral.

"It was tough," said defensive lineman Domata Peko, who was a close friend. "During these tough times, that's what the good teams do - they get through it and are able to battle back from it. That's what we did."

They put together only two drives all day against the Chiefs (3-12), who came into the game with one of the league's softest defenses. Those two were enough.

After picking up only three first downs and 53 yards in the first half, the Bengals scored on their opening drive of the second half. With the score tied at 10, they got the ball back at their 2-yard line midway through the fourth quarter and played like champs when it mattered.

They went 98 yards in 14 plays. Carson Palmer's 6-yard touchdown pass to Chad Ochocinco with 2:03 left put the title in hand and gave the Bengals one more chance to honor Henry, who died last week during what police describe as a domestic disturbance in North Carolina. Ochocinco made a diving catch in the end zone, got up and held up both arms.

One finger was raised on one of his hands, all five on the other, signifying Henry's uniform No. 15. Then, he walked over to a poster of Henry, reverently put his hand on it and prayed for him.

"I'm not jumping for joy or glee, just thinking about 15 once that clock hits zero," Ochocinco said. "That was everybody's mindset, to go out and win this one for him."

The offense did very little the rest of the time. Palmer threw for a total of 19 yards in the first half - an astoundingly small number for one of the league's top quarterbacks. In the second half, he was 13 of 16 for 120 yards with two touchdowns.

On the last throw, the Chiefs blitzed and Palmer saw Ochocinco break free from cornerback Brandon Flowers, adjusting his route.

"It was one-on-one with a blitz coming," Flowers said. "Chad won that matchup. He broke his route off well and made a good play for the ball."

When Leon Hall intercepted Matt Cassel's pass less than a minute later, the Bengals could begin their muted celebration. The crowd of 64,333 - many of them wearing No. 15 decals handed out at the gates - broke into a "Who Dey!" chant.

It many ways, it was a relief. The Bengals had a chance to win the title in their two previous games, but lost in Minnesota and San Diego. In-between, they dealt with Henry's death.

"It's an exhale because we got one of the goals accomplished," coach Marvin Lewis said. "But again, there's more to be gained. You want to take a degree of satisfaction - and I don't want to rain on their parade too much - but there's more to gain."

Players slipped gray "Division Champions" caps onto their heads as they left their dressing room, walking past Henry's unchanged locker. His shoulder pads still rest on the top shelf, his helmet hangs from a hook on the side, his shoes are aligned on the bottom rack. Almost as though he was still there.

NOTES: Playing on his 23rd birthday, Chiefs RB Jamaal Charles carried 24 times for 102 yards, his fourth 100-yard game this season. Charles won the starting job after Larry Johnson was released on Nov. 9 and later signed with the Bengals. ... Johnson carried four times for 11 yards against his former team. ... Bengals rookie LB Rey Maualuga broke his left ankle late in the first quarter, a blow to one of the league's stingiest defenses. ... Bengals RB Cedric Benson carried 29 times for 133 yards, setting a team record with his sixth 100-yard game.

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)