HOUSTON – Here’s what the Bengals stuff into the fourth quarter of today’s thriller in the Astrodome to overcome a 17-7 deficit and post a 21-19 division win on the road that stands as one of the most memorable in their history: two touchdown passes from NFL passing leader Ken Anderson, a goal-line stand, former college basketball star Ken Johnson’s forced fumble of Oilers quarterback Dan Pastorini and the recovery by linebacker Al Beauchamp, cornerback Ken Riley’s 24th career interception, and Dave Green’s 41-yard punt with two minutes left that goes out of bounds at the Oilers 5 to finally handcuff the incredible Billy “White Shoes,” Johnson. “I know that it sounds hokey,” says Bengals defensive end Sherman White. “But all 43 (players) had a hand in that victory.” Paul Brown’s last team is 3-0 on the way to its best start in franchise history at 6-0, and the club’s best record ever at 11-3. They’ll lose the AFC Central by a game to the iconic Super Bowl champion Steelers, but in doing so they’ll show how close they are to the best and this win over an Oilers team that will finish 10-4 is Exhibit A: “A great game between two great teams,” is all Brown can say after handing Houston its first loss.
“Call us, “The Wrecking Crew,” chortles cornerback Lemar Parrish after the Bengals defense has another stingy day. They are allowing less than 200 yards per game after the first three weeks and that includes 10 plays from the 1 in which they haven’t allowed a touchdown, six in the Opening Day win against Cleveland and four today. Brown points to his new defensive tackles. “If you went to Sears looking to order defensive tackles,” says Bengals center Bob Johnson, “you’d get Bob Brown and Maulty Moore.” But they are also bigger at linebacker with first-round pick Glenn Cameron and healthy middle linebacker Jim LeClair. LeClair missed all but the opener last year but he’s back ready to go and he’s the guy that makes the tackle on former Bengals running back Fred Willis at the one-foot line on fourth down. Willis tries to cut it off right tackle but LeClair moves from the other side to make the play. He’s asked after the game if he knows Willis is headed that way. “There’s no room for guessing on the goal line,” LeClair says. “You have to react and go where the ball is.”
But that doesn’t help them defending “White Shoes.” Today, the 5-9, 170-pound wunderkind is the Oilers’ offense. He returns Green’s first six punts for 127 yards that set up all their points except for a safety following the goal-line stand. Johnson returns a punt 63 yards for a TD and keeps getting them close to a score. “It’s like he had some kind of magnet,” Green says. “Wherever the damn thing went, he went. I’ve never seen such a little man take up such a wide field. The kid is a real threat. He’s fantastic. He was their whole game.” On this day they get all 43 pairs of cleats to outlast, “White Shoes.”