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 CINCINNATI (AP) -Rudi Johnson had purpose in his stride. Carson Palmer was on target with nearly everything he threw. Chad Johnson got in the end zone and somehow avoided getting into the coach's doghouse.
Now that their playoff chances have evaporated, the Cincinnati Bengals have started putting it all together.
They played by far their best game of the season on Sunday, a 35-6 victory over a Tennessee Titans team that had a lot at stake. Everything worked as well as it could in front of 65,489 fans who enjoyed the moment but knew it didn't mean much.
``We played a complete game,'' receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh said. ``It's the first time in a long time that we played a complete game. This is how we normally play. Too bad for us it hasn't come enough.''
At 4-7, the Bengals have given up hopes of making the playoffs. A strong December run could get the record back to .500, the place they've finished in three of coach Marvin Lewis' four seasons.
Why play so well now?
Part of it was the opponent. Tennessee (6-5) was missing run-stopping defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth, out for the third straight game with a hamstring injury. The Titans have lost all three and allowed opponents to run for more than 140 yards in all three.
That was the biggest change in the Bengals. With the offensive line in flux because of injuries and running back Rudi Johnson either sidelined or limited by a pulled hamstring, Cincinnati had topped 100 yards on the ground only twice all season.
The Bengals had their second-best day on Sunday, picking up 148 yards on 36 carries for a pleasing 4.1-yard average. Rudi Johnson ran a season-high 25 times for 88 yards and his first touchdown of the season, DeDe Dorsey had 42 yards on five carries, and Kenny Watson ran four times for 17 yards.
The three-back approach is a product of Johnson's hamstring injury.
``I'm not all the way back yet,'' Johnson said. ``We've got to take my progression and my comeback with caution.''
Lewis could see a difference in Johnson, who was better able to break through the first attempt at tackle.
``You feel good, until you have a 300-pound guy strapped to your back,'' Lewis said Monday. ``I thought this week, his runs were more Rudi-like, the way he was finishing runs more than anything else. That was good to see. It gives him more confidence in things.''
The ground game finally got moving a week after right tackle Willie Anderson suggested the Bengals need to regain their hard edge and get back to running the ball with authority. If felt a little bit like old times.
``This is what we're used to,'' Johnson said. ``It felt good, man.''
A week after Palmer threw a career-high four interceptions in a loss to Arizona, he had his most accurate game as a pro. Palmer was 32-for-38 for 283 yards with three touchdowns to Chad Johnson and one deflected interception.
He played as though he felt he had something to prove.
``Last week was a mirage of how Carson plays,'' Houshmandzadeh said.
Even Chad Johnson had something to celebrate: His first touchdown since the second week of the season, three touchdowns in all. He went behind an on-field television camera to celebrate the first touchdown, drawing a 15-yard penalty that Lewis overlooked for once.
``It's important for him to keep his focus,'' Lewis said. ``It would be good to see him finish the season strong and see how he can outdo what he did in the first part.''
Even the defense looked good for much of the game, taking advantage of quarterback Vince Young's off-target day. It was the type of game the Bengals have been missing all season.
``We know where it's been,'' defensive captain John Thornton said. ``It's been in us. We just had to get it out.''
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