Bengals squeak by Rams for fifth win

CINCINNATI – Rain pelted Brock Berlin’s face as he settled in for his first regular-season snap in the NFL. He called signals in misty breaths, then got decked when he let go of a pass.

So, this is what it’s like.

Berlin collected himself and kept going, making it through his debut without any major gaffes. He didn’t make any big plays, either, and that made the difference.

Rudi Johnson ran 1 yard for a touchdown, Shayne Graham kicked four field goals on a nasty day, and the Cincinnati Bengals took advantage of the St. Louis Rams’ novice quarterback for a 19-10 victory yesterday.

“It was fast, it was really exciting,” said Berlin, who had only one day of running the offense in practice last week. “It was [like] big-time college football, except you’ve got all guys who are all-Americans on the other side of the ball. I felt really comfortable.”

Neither team had much fun on an afternoon more suitable for holding a clipboard than throwing a football.

A steady, sometimes driving rain on a 38-degree afternoon made it tough to throw, catch or hold onto the slick footballs – not what the Rams (3-10) wanted on a day when they were down to their third-string quarterback.

“It was tough,” said Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer, who was 21-of-29 for 189 yards. “We were expecting a light drizzle, but it was pouring. I’m just thankful it let up at the end and gave both teams a chance to throw the ball.”

Berlin, who entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent, got to play because injuries wiped out the Rams’ top two options. Marc Bulger sat out a second straight game with a concussion, and backup Gus Frerotte was sidelined by an injury to his passing shoulder suffered last Sunday.

“It’s very difficult,” tight end Randy McMichael said. “The week before last, he was on the practice squad. We didn’t do enough to help him. He managed the game well. We did a great job. We’re proud of him.”

All the Bengals (5-8) needed to do was contain running back Steven Jackson and avoid mistakes to get a win. They struggled to pull it off.

Fakhir Brown intercepted Palmer’s first pass of the second half and returned it 36 yards for his first career touchdown, cutting it to 10-7. Jackson ran 18 times for 91 yards and caught four passes for 26 yards.

It wasn’t enough.

The Bengals put it away by giving the ball to Johnson, who has been limited most of the season by a hamstring injury. Johnson carried on six consecutive plays and gained 48 yards in the closing minutes, setting up Graham’s final, clinching field goal.

“That’s what I do,” said Johnson, who had 92 yards. “I’m a closer, baby. I’ve been doing that my whole career.”

The Bengals decided to lean on Johnson harder this week.

“We ran some more Rudi runs in this game, which helped our offense,” coach Marvin Lewis said, referring to straight-ahead, power plays. “Some of the things we’ve done in the past, we got back to doing.”

The Rams’ chances rested with Berlin, who learned after practice on Thursday that he might make his debut in his third NFL season.

“For one day of practice, he did pretty well,” Bulger said. “He kept us in the game.”

On Berlin’s first play, defensive end Justin Smith hit him as he released the ball, resulting in a floater that was caught by a diving Torry Holt. On the next play, Berlin tripped over a lineman’s foot and fell to the rain-slicked artificial turf.