CLEVELAND (AP) – Cincinnati’s defense finally found someone it could stop. Carson Palmer and the Bengals’ offense was simply unstoppable.

Picking off Cleveland quarterback Charlie Frye four times, Cincinnati got its first shutout since 1989 and Palmer threw three touchdown passes as the Bengals embarrassed the Browns 30-0 on Sunday.

Palmer finished 25-of-32 for 275 yards and connected with Chris Henry for two TD passes as the Bengals (6-5) stayed firmly in the AFC playoff race by beating Cleveland for the fifth straight time.

Cincinnati came in with the NFL’s lowest-ranked defense, allowing 378 yards per game. You’d have never known it.

Before piling up yardage during extended garbage time in the fourth quarter, the Browns (3-8) had only 167 yards – 21 rushing – after three quarters. By then, they were down 30-0 and on their way to dropping to 1-5 at home.

The shutout was the Bengals’ first since Dec. 3, 1989, a span of 269 games. That one also came against the Browns, who capped an unusual week with a troubling loss that included a sideline confrontation between Frye and wide receiver Braylon Edwards.

Following an interception, Edwards and Frye angrily exchanged words and had to be separated. Earlier this week, Edwards criticized Cleveland’s conservative play calling and then blasted teammate Brian Russell for his hard hit on Bengals wide receiver Chad Johnson when Cincinnati beat Cleveland 34-17 on Sept. 17.

Edwards didn’t make any friends with his comments, and he may no longer have an ally in Frye, who was sacked four times and roughed up all afternoon.

Frye went 18-of-29 for 186 yards. Edwards had two catches for 29 yards.

About the only positive for the Browns was keeping Johnson out of the end zone. Cincinnati’s fun-loving playmaker had promised to leap into Cleveland’s notorious Dawg Pound if he scored.

That didn’t happen, but Johnson finished with seven catches for 123 yards, giving him 573 in the past three games.

Palmer, who has thrown three TD passes in each of his last three games, tossed his third TD on the first play of the fourth quarter, a 10-yarder to Henry, to put Cincinnati ahead 30-0.

In the third quarter, Palmer hooked up with T.J. Houshmandzadeh on a 6-yard strike to make it 23-0. Cleveland fans cheered sarcastically when the Bengals missed the extra point, one of the few Browns highlights.

The Bengals made it look easy from the outset, scoring on three of their four possessions in opening a 17-0 halftime lead.

With all kinds of time to throw, Palmer picked apart Cleveland’s injury-depleted secondary. He went 16-of-20 for 175 yards in the opening half as the Bengals racked up 15 first downs and only punted once.

Palmer showed exquisite touch on his 7-yard TD pass to Henry in the second quarter, giving the Bengals a 14-0 lead. On third-and-goal, Palmer lofted a perfect pass to the back left corner for Henry, who got both feet down.

Rudi Johnson’s 1-yard plunge on fourth-and-goal gave the Bengals a 7-0 lead.

The Bengals went up 17-0 with 39 seconds left before halftime on Shayne Graham’s 24-yard field goal.

The Browns, who have a nasty habit of starting poorly, began on a sour note when Joshua Cribbs returned the opening kickoff 101 yards, but had the TD negated on a holding call.

AP-ES-11-26-06 1604EST


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