It's hard, you know. We try to bring levity to the site, banging out reasons to be optimistic, even during excruciating losses. When the Bengals lost to New England, we agreed that the defense simply blew it, while the offense showed signs of eventually being a better unit than last year. After back-to-back wins, we pointed out that even though the offense was lifeless, the defense was back on top. During the loss to Cleveland, we reverted back to our New England Patriots excuse of a hot offense against a lifeless defense.
Then we played Tampa Bay and it was like a switch flipped, the event horizon that leads to an evil monster that preys on the defeated is slowly swallowing everything alive. Defensively, the Bengals allowed nearly 391 yards against the Tampa Bay offense which entered Sunday with the league's 26th best offense, averaging 288 yards/game. The Buccaneers converted 5 of 11 third down changes while winning time of possession by 50 seconds.
Still, the defense wasn't that bad. They forced three punts, an interception and a fumble in the first half that shutout Tampa Bay's offense. Cincinnati's defense stumbled, but kept up the pace throughout. Four of the Buccaneers first five possessions in the second half went punt, fumble, punt and punt with a touchdown mixed in during Tampa Bay's second possession in the third quarter; a drive that went nine plays for 80 net yards.
Yet, if the defense were given an assist for Sunday's loss, then Carson Palmer is the three-point champion as time expired.
Just after Tampa Bay went three-and-out with 3:24 left in the game and the Bengals leading 21-14, the beginning of the end kicked into gear. After back-to-back runs by Cedric Benson, Tampa Bay takes their final timeout with 2:28 left in the game. Jermaine Gresham is called for a false start and Carson Palmer is picked off at the 50-yard line on a really good play by Aqib Talib, who was burned on Terrell Owens' 43-yard touchdown reception earlier in the game. Buccaneers' quarterback Josh Freeman completes three of four passes for 50 yards, capped by a game-tying 20-yard touchdown pass to rookie Mike Williams.
Now the Bengals offense has to shift gears, going from the Cedric banging time consumption drive, back into a form of urgency to put themselves into a position to kick a field goal with 1:21 left in the game. On the first play of the two-minute drive, Palmer finds Terrell Owens on a 29-yard gain, putting Cincinnati near midfield. A no-gain try-to-trick-ya draw by Brian Leonard later forced the Bengals to use their first time out with :52 left. Carson Palmer finds Chad down the right sidelines for a nine-yard gain; Palmer rushed the offense to the line and called a sneak for a first down.
This, so far, is fine. The Bengals have 31 seconds and a timeout left in the game, sitting at Tampa Bay's 43-yard line with the game tied at 21. Terrell Owens was called for a pass interference, an iffy flag that's often subjective enough in which that same push off move is seen often without being called, pushing Cincinnati back to their own 47-yard line with 25 seconds left.
Palmer takes the shotgun snap and tries to hit Chad on a deep in-route that, if completed, would have given the Bengals a chance at a 52-yard field goal at the very least with timeouts remaining and time on the clock. It's honestly not hard to believe that Palmer wouldn't attempt the pass, having a chance to make a big play with time running out to give Mike Nugent an attempt at a long game-winning field goal. Yet, the pass bounced off Chad's hands -- a pass that should have been caught by someone as good as Chad -- finding a home with Buccaneers' safety Sabby Piscitelli, who returned the football 31 yards.
Tampa Bay would go on to put themselves into position to win with a Conner Barth 31-yard field goal, winning the game. The Buccaneers scored 10 points in 1:26 to give Tampa Bay a surprising win, knocking the Bengals to 2-3.
The stat of the game clearly lands on Carson Palmer, whose three interceptions led to 17 points for Tampa Bay. The frustrating thing is that this team is having moments where the team looks great. Yet, they simply can't get it together. If it's not the defense, it's the offense and special teams. If it's not the offense, it's the defense and special teams. If it's not the special teams, it's just hell with the offense and defense. It's a tiring theme we're witnessing this year. Facing some of the league's better teams following the bye week, it's scary to realize that perhaps the Bengals, even though they're loaded with talent, just isn't a good team this year.