CINCINNATI — The Cincinnati Bengals defeated the Houston Oilers, 45-27, Sunday to move within one game of .500. In the AFC Central, that also means they moved within one game of first place.
Cincinnati (6-7) moved into a second-place tie with Pittsburgh, which lost to Denver, 31-23, Sunday. The Bengals and Steelers trail Cleveland by one game.
Houston (5-8) is all but out of the race with three games remaining.
"Right now, we can't worry about Cleveland," said Boomer Esiason, who passed for 320 yards and three touchdowns Sunday. "We just have to get ready for Dallas next week and hope the others stub their toes somewhere along the way."
The Bengals, who hadn't scored a touchdown in their previous two games, scored three in the first quarter. It was 28-0 before Houston got its first points.
"We set the tempo of this game early and our offensive line controlled the line of scrimmage all day long," Esiason said. "When that happens, big plays happen."
Esiason, who completed 18 of 24 passes, had touchdown pass plays of 64 yards to Rodney Holman, 57 yards to James Brooks, and 19 yards to Eddie Brown.
Larry Kinnebrew, who carried 17 times for 75 yards, scored three touchdowns on runs of 7, 3 and 1 yard. Jim Breech added a 29-yard field goal for the Bengals.
"I think Kinnebrew might have been a big difference between today and six weeks ago," Houston Coach Hugh Campbell said, referring to the Oilers' 44-27 victory over Cincinnati Oct. 20. "He didn't play down there against us.
"Boomer was very effective the whole game today. He's tough for us because he's so agile. I like him a lot."
Houston scored on Oliver Luck's 46-yard pass play to Butch Woolfolk on the final play of the first half and on one-yard runs by Mike Rozier and Larry Moriarty. Tony Zendejas kicked field goals of 26 and 25 yards.
The Bengals piled up their most points of the season. In the first quarter alone, they had 217 yards and 12 first downs.