CINCINNATI -- In a game he billed as the "Benson Bowl," Cedric Benson didn't just go off against his former team. He went Ham.
What exactly does Going Ham mean?
"I always talk about 'Going Ham,'" said Benson, who ran 37 times for 189 yards and one touchdown in the Bengals' 45-10 victory Sunday. You know, just another game for Benson in his second life in Cincinnati.
"It's just a phrase that means going off, giving it your all," he said. "Giving it everything you got and laying it all on the line. It's just a Southern phrase."
The term has already spread in segments of the rap world, and Chad Ochocinco, the Porky Pig of hammin' it up, understandably loves it.
"That's a new one," he said. "Let it soak in."
Maybe it will be a new catchphrase for the Cincinnati Bengals. The Bears could take over Cincinnati's "Who Dey" moniker. As in "who dey" play like, the Detroit Lions or the St. Louis Rams? The guys in blue, white and orange didn't play like the Bears, and they certainly didn't "go ham" on anything, except maybe their breakfast buffet. The Bears were so un-ham on the field, they could have been certified as kosher.
If you watched the game, you knew their effort was strictly baloney. Forty-five to 10? Thirty-five rushing yards? A 31-3 halftime deficit? To a man, every Bear was embarrassed. As they should be.
"Definitely it's embarrassing," Charles "Peanut" Tillman said. "What was it, 45-10? We haven't had a score like that in a very long time."
"We deserve what we get back home," defensive back Danieal Manning said. "We didn't step up at all."
"The Chicago Bears should never lose a football game like that," coach Lovie Smith said.
This wasn't just a loss. It was a statement game. The Bengals showed they are legitimate playoff contenders -- they've beaten Baltimore and Pittsburgh already -- and the Bears showed they're a work in progress, to put it mildly.
The Bengals pigged out on an injury-ravaged Bears defense further weakened by the loss of defensive tackle Tommie Harris. The Bears hardly touched Carson Palmer, who completed 20 of 24 passes for 233 yards and five touchdowns, and let Ochocinco run wild, as he caught 10 passes for 118 yards and two touchdowns. It looked like Palmer was running a 7-on-7 drill out there, with defensive backs two steps behind all day.
Ochocinco wouldn't brag about the number he did on Tillman, after talking trash all week, and said the Bears looked just like they did on film: pretty good. It was just that the Bengals were better.
"We thought we could be successful," Palmer said. "I don't think we envisioned 40-something points, but we saw some things we wanted to take advantage of and attack, and we did a good job executing those big plays, when we had those opportunities."
Which was often.
Benson, the main storyline leading up to this game, spoke expansively long after it ended. When he came off the field and walked into the locker room, he sported a smile that wasn't snide or pompous. It was an expression of genuine happiness. After the game, he was dressed in a navy and purple Ralph Lauren cardigan adorned with a crest. He looked like he was repping Hogwarts' Quidditch team.
"It's hard to explain," he said of the experience. "It was a bit of an emotional week coming into this one, it being the 'Benson Bowl' and things like that. It was an emotional day, but it was a wonderful feeling at the end. I didn't want to seek revenge. Revenge wasn't a goal of mine, and it's not how I wanted to respond during the day. I just wanted to take advantage of my opportunities."
That he did. Benson had a 23-yard run on the Bengals' first drive and an 18-yard run to kick off their second one. He busted a 14-yard run to get inside the Bears' red zone in the second quarter, three plays before the Bengals went up 28-0.
Benson had a 26-yard run to set up his 1-yard plunge to start the fourth quarter, which made it 45-3. He definitely emoted after that run, playing up to the rabid fans who filled tailgate lots and sported more orange than the entire state of Wisconsin during deer season.
"That was huge," he said. "Everyone was scoring touchdowns but me. I was trying to get in the end zone myself."
Benson said he purposefully tried to harness his negative emotions, after telling Chicago reporters during the week that the Bears blackballed him following his release two summers ago after two drinking incidents in Texas. But in the fourth quarter, with Benson still playing because of an injury to his backup Bernard Scott, he ran across the field after a play and looked back toward the Bears' bench. No one in particular, he said.
"It was just an emotional moment for me," he said. "Here we are in the fourth quarter, we're running the clock out, we've got a lot of points on the board, everybody had a great day. Just a wonderful feeling, and I think there was a small part of me that I couldn't resist just kind of going over there and showing them a little emotion."
To be fair, the Bears would have been thrilled to see Benson show this kind of fire during his stay in Chicago. The Cedric Benson that Bears fans got to know was a negative one. The Benson moment most fans remember was him not playing in the Super Bowl, bowing out with an injury when the team needed him most. Now he is leading the NFL with 720 yards rushing and five touchdowns. He's averaging 4.4 yards per carry and basically fulfilling all the promise he had coming out of Texas when the Bears drafted him fourth overall in 2005.
"My hat's off to Cedric," Bears linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer said. "I'm sure he's feeling great right now to come back and have a game like that against guys that supposedly discarded you. But it's the life in the NFL. I don't think that anybody on our side has any bitterness about the situation."
Smith's defensive play-calling will be criticized this week, with the ease with which Palmer dissected his secondary, and he will certainly torch some of his players in film sessions. Smith didn't try to talk to Benson before or after the game. He ran off the field after shaking hands with the Bengals' Marvin Lewis at the merciful ending.
"This was a business trip," he said. "No family reunion or anything like that."
Benson was disappointed he didn't get to talk to Smith.
"I just wanted to look him in the eyes and say thank you," Benson said, for helping put him on the path to where is now.
Benson did talk to several former teammates after the game. They wished him luck, offered him congratulations, he said. He didn't speak to everyone.
"I think a lot of people who didn't come up and say anything, you might assume [they] knew it was best for them not to," he said. "And maybe they felt a little guilt."
Benson said he felt a certain sense of catharsis after this game, like it was the 12th step in recovery for someone in Ex-Bears Anonymous.
"I'd love to say the slate was wiped clean beforehand, but the truth is, it wasn't," he said. "There was some business out there I wanted to take care of. It's definitely clean now. we're past it, and we're over it."
The other newsworthy former Bear, Tank Johnson, helped shut down the Bears' running attack, though it's not like that has been difficult this season. Matt Forte ran six times for 24 yards, though running opportunities were few and far between after Cincinnati shredded the Bears' defense early. The Bengals were certainly cognizant of the meaning this game had for Johnson and Benson.
"Everybody had Ced and Tank's backs today," Ochocinco said, "based on their situations, coming from Chicago. I'm glad we got the W for them."
Sometimes it's simple. The Bengals wanted this one more.
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.