CINCINNATI — Cedric Benson ran himself into a little bit of Cincinnati Bengals history.
The running back returned from a two-game layoff because of an injured hip and tied the team record with his fifth 100-yard game of the season on Sunday, setting up a 23-13 victory over the Detroit Lions that had even greater significance for the franchise.
The Bengals (9-3) assured themselves of a winning record for only the second time in 19 years. The other one came in 2005, when Cincinnati won the AFC North and lost its opening playoff game to Pittsburgh.
After a solid first quarter, the Lions (2-10) went nowhere and had the game end badly. Rookie quarterback Matthew Stafford aggravated his non-throwing shoulder with 3:37 to go and didn't return, watching the final minutes from the bench.
The Bengals won another game with an approach so simple that the fans sometimes booed.
They did just enough against the league's worst pass defense – Carson Palmer threw for 220 yards and a touchdown to Chad Ochocinco – and went into grind-it-out mode in the second half. Benson finished with 110 yards on 36 carries, becoming the third different Bengal to run for 100 yards in the past three games.
Benson is the fifth Cincinnati running back to have five 100-yard games in a season.
The first quarter of the Bengals' least-appealing home game – they needed an extension to sell out and avoid a television blackout – had fans wondering why they'd bought those tickets. Paul Brown Stadium filled with boos as the Lions outplayed the Bengals at the outset.
The Bengals got no pressure on Stafford, who had plenty of time to throw a 54-yard touchdown pass to Calvin Johnson for a 7-0 lead. Cincinnati's offensive line got pushed around – Cincinnati managed only 47 yards in the opening quarter.
One play by a 6-foot-7 rookie changed the mood.
Third-round pick Michael Johnson batted one of Stafford's passes in the air, and defensive end Jonathan Fanene – also in the backfield on the pass rush – caught it cleanly, tucked the ball into the crook of his left arm and ran 45 yards untouched for his first career score.
Palmer's 36-yard touchdown pass to Ochocinco on the next series put the Bengals in control. It was only their third touchdown pass in the last five games, a sign of how much they've been leaning on the run this season.
Benson and the running game took it from there.
Palmer was 17 of 29 with two interceptions and a fumble. Ochocinco – who had urged the Bengals to throw the ball more – finished with a season-high 137 yards on nine catches.