Cincinnati The head coach was dry as he ran off the field after clinching a title — no celebratory sideline dousing. Players’ eyes were dry, too — all the tears had been wrung out.
In their finest moment, the Cincinnati Bengals didn’t act like champions. Maybe it was the ugly way they won. Maybe those tearful practices and wrenching eulogies had something to do with it as well.
Either way, they were in the playoffs.
Carson Palmer’s touchdown pass to Chad Ochocinco completed a 98-yard drive in the closing minutes Sunday, sending Cincinnati to a 17-10 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs that clinched the AFC North title five days after the Bengals buried teammate Chris Henry.
They wore the receiver’s No. 15 on their helmets and their hearts.
“I’m not jumping for joy or glee, just thinking about ‘15’ once that clock hits zero,” Ochocinco said. “That was everybody’s mind-set, to go out and win this one for him.”
The Bengals (10-5) reached the playoffs for only the second time in the past 19 years after dealing with Henry’s death. His wooden locker stall still has his shoulder pads resting on the top shelf, an assortment of shoes on the bottom rack and his helmet hanging from the side — almost as though he would show up at any moment and suit up.
Given the mood, the Chiefs (3-12) stayed close in a ragged game against a team finishing a very rough week. The Bengals lost in San Diego on Sunday, had a late flight home, then flew to New Orleans on Tuesday to attend Henry’s funeral. The receiver died from injuries suffered during what police describe as a domestic dispute in North Carolina last week.
“It was a long week,” Palmer said. “We didn’t have an off day. We fly back from the coast, and the time change got us. Then we fly to New Orleans and don’t get back until like 7:30 p.m. That was a long, emotional day. We were drained and tired.”
One good drive at the end was enough.