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Holcomb throws five TDs for naught

CINCINNATI (AP) -- Kelly Holcomb threw for 400 yards and five
touchdowns -- and lost.

Strange? Not as strange as those other numbers glowing on the
scoreboard as Holcomb trudged off the field with his head down and
more misery ahead.

Cincinnati 58, Cleveland 48.

The intrastate rivals played the wildest game in their history
Sunday, one that defied logic and wound up as the second-highest
scoring game in NFL history.

"You just can't explain the second half, and there's no need to
try to," Bengals linebacker Brian Simmons said. "It was a great
game for the fans, I guess."

It started as a referendum on the two head coaches, and quickly
turned into a rewrite of the record books. The points came so fast
that it seemed a recount might be needed to determine who won
Ohio's bragging rights.

"It was crazy," said the Bengals' Rudi Johnson, who ran for
202 yards and two touchdowns. "Just crazy."

The 106 combined points were the second most in an NFL game,
trailing only the Redskins' 72-41 victory over the Giants on Nov.
27, 1966. Until Sunday, the most points in a game since the NFL-AFL
merger in 1970 was 99 -- Seattle beat Kansas City 51-48 in overtime
on Nov. 27, 1983.

In the end, the Browns (3-8) had the ball and a chance to send
this one to overtime, as well. Deltha O'Neal's interception and
31-yard return for a touchdown finally decided it with 1:43 left.

"We kept putting them away, and they kept coming back," said
Cincinnati's Carson Palmer, who threw a career-high four touchdown
passes. "We kept expecting them to slacken up, but they never
did."

No one expected anything like it.

The Browns' defense has been the only dependable thing during
their losing streak, now up to five. The Bengals (4-5) have been
watching their young defense grow up fast, allowing only two
touchdowns in the three previous games.

On Sunday, it looked like they were playing two-hand touch. Two
previously struggling offenses combined for 49 first downs and 966
yards, gaudy numbers set up by innumerable missed tackles and
broken coverages.

The first five possessions of the second half resulted in
touchdowns, many of them as easy as they get because of defensive
breakdowns.

"It is what it is," Browns defensive back Robert Griffith said
glumly. "We gave up too many big plays -- deep balls, long runs.
It's just frustrating. When it rains it pours, and right now we've
got to turn off the sprinkler."

Holcomb, who took the Browns to the playoffs under coach Butch
Davis in 2002, nearly got him a desperately needed victory. Holcomb
threw four touchdown passes in the second half, including a 1-yard
toss to Steve Heiden that put Cleveland up 48-44 with 10:22 to
play.

Holcomb knew it wouldn't be enough.

"The way the game was going, I felt like we needed to score two
more times," said Holcomb, who has thrown for 400 yards twice in
his career and lost both games.

The Browns put up their most points since a 51-0 victory over
Pittsburgh in the 1989 opener. This one surely will turn up the
heat on Davis, who has been assured of finishing the season and
nothing more.

"I'd be lying if I didn't tell you it was demoralizing," Davis
said. "There's not a lot of joy in losing."

Bengals coach Marvin Lewis also had a lot riding on the game. He
screamed at his team following a loss to Pittsburgh last week,
turning this game into a test of his credibility.

His credibility survived better than his defense.

"I don't know if I've ever been in a situation where the
defense had a game like that, but we'll take it," said Lewis,
whose defense in Baltimore gave up only 165 points during the 2000
regular season.

Palmer, who has struggled in his first season running the
offense, threw touchdown passes of 18 yards to Kelley Washington,
46 to Chad Johnson and 3 yards to T.J. Houshmandzadeh as the
Bengals went up 27-13 at halftime -- more points than they'd scored
in any game all season.

Holcomb was only getting started.


Filling in for the injured Jeff Garcia, Holcomb led the Browns
to touchdowns on their first five possessions in the second half.
Holcomb had one of his best games -- 30-for-39 for 412 yards, the
second-most yards in his career.

Palmer, who missed practice last week with back spasms, was
22-of-29 for 251 yards with three interceptions that helped the
Browns keep up.

"It wasn't pretty but when you win, you get to wash it out the
window," Palmer said.

And right into history.

Game notes
Heiden had seven catches for 82 yards and three touchdowns,
all career highs. ... Holcomb threw for 348 yards in the second
half. His career high is 429 yards in the playoff loss to
Pittsburgh in 2002. ... Johnson tied his career high with 10
catches, and Houshmandzadeh had his first two-TD game. ... Rudi
Johnson's 202 yards were a season high. He topped 1,000 yards for
the season. ... The Bengals wore their orange jerseys for the
second and final time of the season.