So, what did you do Sunday night? While it was pouring down rain in Pittsburgh, Cincinnati was dealing with its own monsoon. It meant a slow night at the bars. I had expected a good turnout at the local bar, but typically bad weather impedes people from their plans. Not to mention, the Bengals have played disastrously all season making me think everyone has given up on them. I still held the playoffs are possible argument. It could happen. We still needed Tennessee to lose -- they didn't -- and the Browns did lose. So with.......
Dude, they're not going to the playoffs.
Yea, I know. It was the one argument I held that would, of all things, feel a bit more comforting cheering this team. The big picture still hung tall on the wall. Don't get me wrong, I will cheer them on until the season's conclusion -- you'll see that here. I've never stalled in my resolve. Though, like so many years before this one, we have to start generating artificial reasons for taking our "rest" day Sunday that typically becomes our most emotional day of the week -- with the exception of a wife-induced argument.
Yet, for no apparent reason other than pride, I'm watching the Dolphins and praying to the football gods that they enter week 17 with at least one win. You cringe at the possibility knowing our history of being the "other guy" in posters and ESPN highlights. I know you do. I haven't stopped cringing for three weeks now.
So with a team that's proudly sporting a 4-8 record, where do we go? As fans, I suspect the stadium will see less fans. I suspect less discussions in Cincinnati that include the Bengals.
Guy #2: (sigh) Let's talk about politics.
Guy #1: OK, I agree. That would be less frustrating.
The draft? Considering that we now know that Tennessee was an aberration -- rather than momentum -- does it seem likely that the Bengals will win themselves out of a top-ten pick? Does Lewis give you confidence in drafting a tremendous defensive player? Or an offensive player that will motivate the boring talent-rich unit that tremendously disappoints us nearly every week? Hell, I don't know. And personally, right now, I don't care. I'm still recovering from the exhaustion of watching this team flail around without a clue of what's going on during the game (see Chad Johnson). Additionally, the exhaustion of always projecting the Bengals off-season, during another horrible season with a full month of games left, is pointless... and exhausting. And reminiscent.
The quarterback play is pressing. The running backs are ineffective. The receivers are either tired of getting hit, or just pretend to be contenders. The defense, of all things, actually played well Sunday night. Still, our one hope that all units show up was used up -- punched and discarded -- against Tennessee. So the hope that the entire team shows up for one game has been exercised. The team, constantly playing like they're unprepared, lacking any sense of adjustments with a head coach that plays dumb every time a question is pressed into his fragile environment, is close to making big decisions for next season. Then again, are they? If preparations is truly lacking with this team, I doubt they'll look to build quality in 2008 until their well into training camp. Admit it, you wouldn't be surprised.
Do the coaches stay? Does the team trade Chad Johnson? Does the team sign Landon Johnson, Justin Smith, Madieu Williams and/or Dhani Jones? What is the course of this team? Will they keep trying to plug holes in an already flawed team that doesn't seem to have any idea which path to take towards success? Or do they wipe clean the table and start over? At this point, do you really care? Is this the point that you take your annual vacation from the Bengals -- the time needed to refresh available emotions? Or do you keep hope that this team can show shades of quality heading into the off-season?
This is a horrifically disappointing season. Sunday's loss ensures the team will not have a winning record -- I think six people in America believed it possible anyway. Realistically, this team could be a 5-6 win team.
And here I am, begging, BEGGING, that the Dolphins win one game before week 17 to avoid another item in the 252-page book detailing moments of other team's biggest accomplishments against the Bengals. Something is desperately wrong with that. Sadly, it's not inherently wrong. It's inherently expected.
So, the bar was nearly empty as we sat on uncomfortable, barely padded, bar stools. The type that makes you shift your weight every five minutes. But it still wasn't as uncomfortable as the entire nation watched a Bengals team that demands their "bungles" title. Several wore Bengals jerseys among a small crowd that didn't include a Steelers fan in the house. I drank ice cold drafts of Budweiser. I sat with friends equally disappointed as we shifted discussion about a fire at the apartment complex I live in. We even talked about video games. Talking about the Bengals was something that we purposefully avoided the rest of the night. It was too depressing with revived and familiar memories invading our serene minds that haven't surfaced for over five years now.
So if you continue to read on, you're a solider. I commend you. I tried to come up with topics that would interest everyone -- a difficult project. A reminder of last night isn't exactly how you'd want to spend your Monday. But as a Bengals fan, it's inherently accepted. Please, Miami, please. Win one.
Quickly: I wanted to point this out now, since the rest of this post is mainly negative, that I thought our general quarterback protection, was fantastic. There were few hits on the quarterback, but generally, Palmer had his time to make his reads. And generally, they were good reads. His accuracy was just awful.
The Bengals first offensive possession. With the Steelers defense playing a deeper zone on the game's initial snap, T.J. Houshmandzadeh found plenty of room underneath on his eight-yard reception. Good start. On Rudi Johnson's first carry of the game, the dictation of our rush offense with Rudi in the backfield, was foreshadowed early. Whether it's a bull-rush or delayed reaction against the swim, spin or a variety of stunts, the Bengals center Eric Ghiaciuc was pretty average. Furthermore, I've been less and less impressed with Andrew Whitworth at guard. The drive's biggest note was the offense's ability to convert on 3rd-and-3 (ten-yard reception by T.J.), 3rd-and-11 (18-yard reception by Chris Henry) and 3rd-and-2 (11-yard reception by Antonio Chatman). The Bengals converted five of the next 15 third down conversions.
With eight minutes to go in the first quarter, the Bengals lined up second-and-goal at the Pittsburgh one-yard line. Scott Kooistra came in at right tackle. Stacy Andrews moved to left tight end next to Levi Jones with Reggie Kelly on Andrews' outside hip. Eric Ghiaciuc sunk his body under Pittsburgh defenders closing any cut-back lanes that Steelers defenders could penetrate. Andrew Whitworth and all his body mass glory, dictated his defender burying him into the ground. Once Whitworth sealed the inside gap with Levi and Andrews taking their guys outside -- James Harrison felt the effects of Andrews' body-mass-glory -- the point of attack emerged. Jeremi Johnson went to the right forcing Larry Foote to take a false first step. Bobbie Williams assured the touchdown pulling from right guard into the left "B" gap -- between Whitworth and Jones. Williams' blocked turned Farrior inside giving Rudi a lane for the score.
The Bengals best drive of the night went 12 plays for 71 yards.
So I'm pumped. Ready to go. Fired up. Little did I know that this was the highlight of the Bengals offense.
Where's your mind? Chad Johnson, on fourth-and-17, caught the football for a 13-yard gain and trickled out of bounds. Standing in the middle of the field, Chad was SHOCKED that he just caught a fourth down pass and made no effort to pick up the first down. Chad, it's things like this that stirs the anger of pissed off Bengals fans directly at you.
Johnathan Joseph has been hammered by fans and the press this year. Who can blame them? He's been scorched as much as the legendary Tory James -- who had been given the nickname, "toast". Like many, I suspect that he's still not 100%. He isn't breaking on the pass quickly. He plays softer coverage than I remember last season. He was the biggest reason why the Pittsburgh offense converted seven of 14 third downs.
On Pittsburgh's first drive, the Steelers offense lined up trips to the right on 3rd-and-9 at the Pittsburgh 26-yard line. Ward motioned in-ward hiding himself as the slot receiver behind Cedric Wilson and Nate Washington. Ward's lazy break off the line of scrimmage must have lulled Joseph to sleep. About ten yards up, Ward broke out several feet after Big Ben released the pass with Joseph a few steps behind. The completed pass went for 19 yards and the first down. Third-and-two with 1:58 left in the half at the Cincinnati 33-yard line, Ward ran a simple out route -- timing pattern. Joseph was covering on the six-yard completion. First down. Third-and-two, with 5:37 left in the third quarter, Cedric Wilson ran a simple skinny post with Joseph covering. The Steelers picked up 14 yards. First down. Third-and-nine, with 2:11 left in the third quarter, the Steelers lined up at the Cincinnati 18-yard line. Ward ran up and slightly ran in. Joseph was covering with about a 10-yard cushion on the 10-yard completion.
"I think that we were going to run our offense, and I can't sit here and explain to you right now, because I don't know what you're referring to."
- Marvin Lewis on staying with the ineffective pass.
Note to Marvin. Pay considerable attention on the second-half play selection.
Here's more for you, Marvin. On the first drive, our superstar quarterback completed six of seven passes for 57 yards. Palmer completed 12 of the game's next 37 pass attempts for 126 yards passing -- including a 9/28, 100-yard performance in the second half. When I've talked about Palmer not rising to the occasion, this is yet another piece of that evidence. You say: The conditions. The supporting cast. The play calling. The fact is when you have to make excuses for why a guy isn't rising to the occasion, then he's clearly not rising to the occasion. Excuse or not.
You can see the Bengals ineffective passing with Aaron Smith's admission to an adjusted defense. "We just started dropping more into coverage, and not rushing anything."
Another note to Marvin. You should really start working on your challenges. You challenge plays that you shouldn't and you don't challenge plays that you should. Such as the Ben Roethlisberger touchdown run. Such as the Chris Henry touchdown towards he end of the game. These are challenges that involve scores. Not fumbles that could go either way. I understand it's easy to sit back and criticize whereas Lewis is tied to the pace of the game. But, still. Damn.
Note: Marvin Lewis has won seven of 28 challenges.
Carson Palmer's ineffectiveness. Let's put the first drive aside.
The second drive. After Palmer connected with Chad Johnson for an 18-yard gain on the second possession of the game, the Bengals offense went three and out. Third-and-two at the Pittsburgh 47-yard line: Palmer, in shotgun with Reggie Kelly flanking to his right. Kenny Watson, flanked to Palmer's left, run to the first down marker and turned around. The high pass never had a chance. Punt.
The third drive. The situation is third-and-three at the Pittsburgh 46-yard line. Palmer drops back, searches and unleashes a pass to Chad Johnson on the right. The high pass never had a chance. Punt. That's two straight drives in which the Bengals had short yardage on third down, close to mid-field, only to see Kyle Larson after Palmer floated a high pass to his receiver.
The fourth drive. After Rudi Johnson picked up eight yards on two rushes, Stacy Andrews was called for a false start. This was when we saw Chad Johnson and Chris Henry on the sidelines on third-and-two with Scott Kooistra and Alex Stepanovich coming in. The false start created a third-and-seven situation at the Pittsburgh 25-yard line with Henry and Chad trotting back into the huddle. Palmer, in shotgun with four receivers -- two on each side -- looked over the middle and then to the right. Chad Johnson, his obvious target, found a hole in the zone near the right sidelines with #24-Taylor underneath and #23-Carter playing the safety spot in the two-man zone. It was there. Palmer's high pass never had a chance. Missed field goal.
With 4:37 left in the second quarter, Palmer completed an eight-yard pass to Reggie Kelly on third-and-seven. Why is this significant (other than converting on third down)? Because this was the first first down by the offense since Johnson's 18-yard yard reception with 6:45 left in the first quarter -- the Bengals second possession. Then James Farrior sacked Palmer forcing him to fumble -- Palmer recovered. On second down, Houshmandzadeh found a case of alligator arms that could have picked up a first down. Likely, he would have been whacked. Then Palmer, on third-and-18, threw way out in front of Chad Johnson's out route. Bengals punt.
First drive, second half. After kneeling down because Townsend was believed to be off-sides, and after Kenny Watson was stuffed for a three-yard loss, the Bengals lined up with third-and-14 at the Pittsburgh 46-yard line. Palmer throws the ball into the mud near a falling down T.J. Houshmandzadeh. Bengals punt.
Second drive, second half. After recovering a Willie Parker fumble, the Bengals offense runs Rudi up the middle for no-gain. Typical. On second down, Palmer went deep to T.J. Houshmandzadeh about two yards short of the goal-line. Overthrown. After a 15-yard completion to Chris Henry for first down, Palmer went incomplete, quick six-yard pass to T.J. then incomplete on third down while he was falling down. The offense stalled at the Steelers six-yard line. Shayne Graham's 24-yard field goal brought the Bengals back to within seven points. Of course, that only matters when you don't give up a touchdown to the Steelers on their next possession.
With 13:39 left in the fourth. The Bengals had third-and-six at the Pittsburgh 34-yard line. Palmer, with pressure, threw a mile over a wide open Chris Henry running towards sidelines on the right. Then the Bengals go for it on fourth. After holding onto the ball for several reads, he finally threw a mile high pass over T.J. Houshmandzadeh's head. Funny thing. T.J. stopped a good yard or two short of the first down marker. Even if the pass was completed, unlikely he gets the first. That's the best they can do with six yards to go on fourth down? Sad. Just pathetically sad.
With 11:43 in the fourth. The Bengals have third-and-eight at the Cincinnati 49-yard line after recovering a Willie Parker fumble. Palmer drops back and throws a skipping-rock-over-the-lake pass over the middle. Bengals punt.
After calling their first time out in the first quarter, the Steelers ran play-action. The Bengals edge rushers reached the outside forcing Big Ben to step up and throw. The high, and slightly behind, pass was tipped off Hines Wards' fingers giving Madieu Williams his second interception of the season. I just find myself giggling when teams call a timeout to discuss whatever they discuss and turn the ball over anyway. Usually it's that insane giggle knowing the disaster of our home town team at times.
I have my reasons why I don't think Justin Smith will on this team next year -- and based on the unknown negotiations, I'm not sure if she should be. But on Sunday Night, everyone got to see what Smith does best. When he gets one hand on you and grabs the jersey, you're going down. You might pick up three yards, but he's not letting go. This applies to 240-pound quarterbacks, too.
You know this isn't the Bengals season when...
...Willie Parker, with 14:50 left in the third quarter, fumbles the football and Johnathan Joseph returns it for a touchdown. Bengals cut deficit to three points. It was overturned by a Pittsburgh challenge. Ten-point deficit remains.
...Carson Palmer thinks #26-Townsend is off-sides and Eric Ghiaciuc snaps the ball and Palmer kneels. No off-sides penalty. On the next play, Kenny Watson lost three yards setting up a third-and-14 on a drive that started out promising to start the second half.
...with 13:30 left in the fourth quarter, Parker takes the handoff and runs left. Leon Hall quickly jumped on Parker's back and worked out the football. Hall recovers the fumble. The referees called Parker down. Marvin Lewis challenged -- and lost... typical. In the weird portion of the universe called the "fate" cluster, Parker fumbled anyway on the next play. Pittsburgh challenged it and lost. Ha! Bengals ball... for another three-and-out. Sigh.
...with ten minutes left in the game and Pittsburgh lined up with a third-and-ten at their own six-yard line. The Bengals called blitz. Robert Geathers sacked Big Ben in the end-zone for a safety. Flag. Leon Hall, defensive holding. Let me say this. This was probably one of the worst calls of the game. While Hall's hand is clearly on Hines Ward, he didn't impede the route, at all. This was so ticky-tact, that it made you think: "These are the type of plays that are just not going the Bengals way this year." It removed two points off the board and a possession. Ben would go on to complete a beautiful pass to Johnathan Joseph in which... (segue)
...with six minutes left in the game, down by two touchdowns, the Bengals line up with third-and-goal at the Pittsburgh three-yard line. Palmer floated a pass towards the back right pylon. Henry hauled down the pass, but out-of-bounds, per the official. This is the situation when you beg Lewis to challenge it. I don't know if it would have been overturned or not -- it was one of those plays that really could have gone either way. At least take the chance. Challenge the scores. Instead, on fourth down, Palmer throws a pass to T.J. in the endzone for an incomplete pass. Way to step up, fellas. All of you.
...with four minutes left in the game, the Steelers punt. Dexter Jackson jumped off-sides before the snap. The five-yard penalty gave the Steelers a first down and more kill-the-clock time.
The moment momentum changed. The Steelers first three drives went interception, three-and-out and three-and-out. Then Shayne Graham missed a field goal and the Steelers scored a touchdown. Glenn Holt fumbled the ensuing kickoff at the Cincinnati 20-yard line. Jeff Reed kicked a field goal. The Bengals never saw the lead again.
2.4 - Rudi Johnson's average yardage-per-rush.
+3 - Bengals turnover advantage -- still lost by 14.
4 - Rudi Johnson's longest rush of the night.
39% - Palmer's completion rate.
Telling stat. The top three tacklers for the Bengals Sunday night were Johnathan Joseph, Leon Hall and Dexter Jackson. You're top-three tacklers should never be in the secondary.