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Bengals Hand Giants Eighth Straight Loss

Monday, December 27, 2004; Page D11



CINCINNATI, Dec. 26 -- With a slump-busting win right at their numb fingertips, the New York Giants ended up with nothing more than snow in the face.

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Keiwan Ratliff's 42-yard punt return set up Jon Kitna's four-yard touchdown pass to Chad Johnson with 44 seconds left, rallying the Cincinnati Bengals to a 23-22 victory Sunday that amounted to another dollop of misery for the Giants.

The 64,606 bundled fans threw clumps of snow in the air while Kitna rushed to tackle Johnson in the end zone, a jubilant ending to another disappointing home season for the Bengals (7-8).

The Giants (5-10) were resigned to their eighth straight loss after Eli Manning's final pass was tipped and intercepted by Carl Powell. Several snowballs -- remnants from a midweek storm -- flew from the stands as the Giants trudged off the field.

The elusive win was there for the taking after Steve Christie kicked his fifth field goal for a 22-17 lead with 5 minutes 15 seconds left. An injury-depleted Giants defense that had played well despite four new starters came within one play of finishing off Cincinnati.

Ratliff's punt return gave Cincinnati possession at the New York 24 with 2:05 left, but Kitna's first three passes were well off the mark. On fourth and 10, he lofted a pass to T.J. Houshmandzadeh, who came down with it in double coverage at the 5.

One play later, Kitna threw his second touchdown pass of the game to Johnson, who was voted to his second straight Pro Bowl earlier in the week.

"That is one of the most bizarre games I've ever seen in my life," Giants Coach Tom Coughlin said. "I have no explanation for why, play after play after play with opportunities, we can't make a play."

Manning remained winless in six NFL starts, though this one wasn't the rookie's fault. He went 19 of 37 for 201 yards, leading New York to scores on six consecutive possessions.

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