As if the Cincinnati Bengals weren't mistake prone enough, in the category of Predator self-destruction mode with preschool symbols counting down to an eventual explosion, the Bengals continued the trend against the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday that’s plagued them all season. Carson Palmer throws three interceptions leading to 17 points to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Bengals lost by a field goal. Palmer lost two fumbles against Cleveland that led to six points; the Bengals lost by a field goal. Cedric Benson lost a fourth quarter fumble against Atlanta that led to an eventual game-winning touchdown. And when they’re not turning the ball over, the Bengals offense is simply shuts down like they did against the Miami Dolphins, going three-and-out on five consecutive possessions.
Against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Bengals quickly were in a 10-point deficit early in the first quarter, thanks to the team’s own mistakes, beginning with Bernard Scott’s inability to hold onto the football on the opening kickoff. On the ensuring possession, the Bengals drive stalls and Kevin Huber has a punt blocked that led to a field goal. Two turnovers result in ten points midway through the first quarter against the Steelers. Cincinnati would eventually go into the lockerroom losing 20-7.
While the characters in this song and dance changed, the theme remains the same. Even though the Indianapolis Colts took a three-point lead on a 14-play drive that went 82 yards, the Bengals defense stiffened up with good coverage that forced Manning to throw the football through the back of the endzone on second down, capped by Dhani Jones preventing Jacob Tamme from completing a third down reception that would have given the Colts a first down.
With 2:37 left in the first quarter, Carson Palmer takes the snap. Jordan Shipley, from the slot on the right, runs to the first down marker and turns around. Chad Ochocinco, flanked wide right, ran down the right sidelines. Carson Palmer throws the football between both receivers – inviting the timeless, yet completely pointless, conversation between Bengals fan of who’s at fault – with Kelvin Hayden intercepting the pass and returning it for a touchdown, giving the Colts a ten-point lead. On the very next offensive play by the Bengals, Cedric Benson fumbles the football and the Colts run a seven-play drive for 25 yards, capped by a three-yard Javarris James touchdown. Two turnovers in the first 16 minutes of the game results in 14 points for the Indianapolis Colts, contributing to the Colts 17-0 lead before the first minute expired in the second quarter.
However, the turnovers are simply too obvious to finger point. Sure, they are rather pungent of a stink-fest orgy between superstar players, led by a quarterback that’s far removed from decent quarterback discussions. For example, with the Bengals down by ten points and 7:36 left in the third quarter, Carson Palmer and the Bengals offense lines up at the Indianapolis Colts 43-yard line on fourth down and only one yard to go. Kyle Cook snaps the football and Palmer sneaks beyond the first down marker. This would have been brought upon a sunny disposition amongst Bengals fans if not for Bobbie Williams leaning forward just before the snap, nullifying the first down, forcing the Bengals to punt.
On Carson Palmer’s third interception of the game, Terrell Owens lined up wide right, ran ten yards upfield before cutting in. Instead of reaching out for the football, Owens simply watched the football sail past him as if watching a move that actually made one thing, enjoying with popcorn as safety Aaron Francisco hauls in the interception that continuously lowered Cincinnati’s chances at staging another unlikely comeback with a 13-point deficit and six minutes left in the game.
EVEN THOUGH THEY STAYED, THE MISTAKES KILLED THEM AGAIN IN THE END. Ultimately, the Bengals actually stayed with the Colts, reducing the deficit to six points after an eight-play drive that went 73 yards, capped by Jermaine Gresham’s 19-yard touchdown reception. With no time outs and just over two minutes left in the game, the Bengals were forced into onside kick mode. Mike Nugent threatened to kick the onside to the left, yet redirects and kicks the football up the middle. Once the football hit the pile, the point of who recovered became mute. What was important is who had the football when the officials dug through the pile.
Officials called it Bengals football with Chad Ochocinco credited with the recovery and Pierre Garcon capped what should have been a Bengals comeback with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for removing his helmet. The Bengals had the football on the Colts 40-yard line with 2:33 left in the game and cheerful Bengals fan willing to forget all of the bad, if only they pull out a win. On the very next play, Palmer hit Jermaine Gresham on a five-yard reception. Gresham didn’t go down, fighting hard for another yard. And just as he picked up another yard, Dwight Freeney striped the football from Gresham’s possession and the Colts recovered the football.
Gresham will learn that in the NFL, you’re more likely to lose the football than you are to break three tackles for a touchdown. Unfortunately, this was a bad time to learn that lesson.
YET THE GAME WASN’T QUITE OVER. With just under a minute left in the game that prolonged Cincinnati’s death on Sunday, after three straight runs keeping the clock rolling, Peyton Manning brought the entire offense to the line of scrimmage to catch the Bengals in the middle of a transition to field an eventual punt. Instead, Manning was called for a false start, essentially giving the Bengals an additional 20 seconds in the game. Quan Cosby called for the fair catch – as if he that is a surprise – with 46 seconds left in the game at the Bengals own 21-yard line.
THEN THE GAME WAS FINALLY OVER. Robert Mathis beat Dennis Roland on the first play for a quarterback sack. Dwight Freeney beat Andrew Whitworth on the next play, dropping Palmer for a quarterback sack at the Bengals own five-yard line. The game was over when Chad Ochocinco dropped Carson Palmer’s quick pass on a slant route.
Even though Cincinnati lost their sixth straight game of the season – none of which were lost by more than one possession by the opposing team – there were some bright spots.
CARLOS DUNLAP COMES ALIVE. Even though the Bengals lost, primarily thanks to turnover-prone offense, the defense played well. Peyton Manning didn’t record a touchdown, nor did he reach 200 yards passing. The Colts, with one of the league’s lesser rushing offenses, picked up only 76 yards rushing.
More impressively, on the individual scale of performances, was Carlos Dunlap. With 40 seconds left in the first half on second-and-ten at the Colts 29-yard line, Carlos Dunlap worked around right tackle, Ryan Diem, penetrating just enough to get a momentary grip on Manning’s passing arm. Dunlap’s momentum from Diem’s block, forced him to release his grip just as Manning tried to throw an incomplete pass to Donald Brown over the middle.
A few plays later, on second and ten, at the Bengals 25-yard line and the Colts driving to end the first half, Dunlap popped Diem on the initial contact, knocking the tackle away from Dunlap as if he were hit with a stun gun. The rookie defensive end came around and sacked Manning for a four-yard loss, forcing the Colts to kick a field goal to end the half and take a 20-10 lead.
Early in the third quarter on with six yards to go on second down at the Colts 13-yard line, Manning hands off to Donald Brown in shotgun. Carlos Dunlap takes an inside step on Diem with Robert Geathers, playing left defensive tackle, looping around. Dunlap shed the initial block and popped Brown a yard short of the line of scrimmage. Dunlap would finish the game with a pedestrian two tackles and a quarterback sacks. No, he didn’t take over the game against the Colts. But Dunlap showed both speed and strength coming off the edge that could led to the Bengals having a decent play-maker on defense, something that the team has lacked on the defensive line for some time.
CHAD OCHOCINCO SHOWS HIS TOUGH SIDE. I’ve shared the same complaints about Chad Ochocinco as many. Today isn’t that day. Even though it’s hard to differentiate blame based on miscommunication – was Chad supposed to go out while Carson wanted Chad to curl?
But what really impressed me was Chad’s heart.
With 5:15 left in the third quarter, Chad Ochocinco lined up wide left and sprinted past the entire Colts secondary. He wasn’t just open; Chad was four steps beyond the Colts secondary and a pass anywhere near Chad would lead to an easy touchdown. Palmer’s pass was way off target, forcing Chad to dive for the football. As he came down with the reception, the football bounced on the turf and rolled away for an incomplete pass. On the very next play, the Colts secondary gave Chad a ten-yard cushion. Chad ran five yards and turned towards Palmer, who hit Chad just as he turns. Ochocinco runs past covering defensive back and picks up 25 yards on the play.
Unfortunately the tackle on Ochocinco forced the receiver to land on his shoulder, forcing him out of the game momentarily on an injury that was theorized as being either a separated shoulder, or even break in his collarbone. Instead, Chad returned during the next possession, catching another two passes for 26 yards receiving.
Chad would go on to lead the team with 86 yards receiving on seven receptions and a touchdown.
BENGALS ACTUALLY SACKED A QUARTERBACK. For only the second time this year, the Bengals recorded multiple quarterback sacks in the game. Brandon Johnson and Geno Atkins split one sack, with Dunlap recording the other. Cincinnati’s defense also recorded three quarterback sacks, still a season-high, against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
JERMAINE GRESHAM – GIVER AND TAKER OF HOPE. One pass was intended for Jermaine Gresham that led to Palmer’s second interception of the game. Gresham is always responsible for losing the fumble on Cincinnati’s last gasp after recovering the onside kick with over two minutes left in the game.
Yet, through it all, Gresham set career highs with nine catches for 80 yards receiving and his third career touchdown in the fourth quarter.
More impressively is that seven of Gresham’s nine receptions came in the fourth quarter.
CARSON PALMER – GIVER OF HOPE FOR THE OTHER TEAM. Carson Palmer completed 31 of 42 passes for 287 yards passing and two touchdowns. Based on those statistics alone, you’d think the Bengals had a great passing offense. And maybe they would have, if not for Palmer’s three interceptions that led to 10 points. A pick-six quickly put the Bengals in an early 10-point hole in the first quarter.
Yet, Palmer was serviceable until the fourth quarter when a bad pass intended for Gresham was picked off by Tyjuan Hagler. If not for Palmer’s leg barely brushing against Hagler’s shin, Palmer nearly threw a second pick-six in the afternoon.
Palmer’s third pick? Well, let’s just say that if Terrell Owens was more of a player than a spectator, the pick doesn’t happen.
Either way, turnovers are a reoccurring theme with this offense and you don’t have to look beyond Carson Palmer.
PLAY OF THE GAME, COURTESY BRIAN LEONARD. With 4:24 left in the first half, the Bengals had just failed to convert a third-and-one at their own 24-yard line. Already down by 14 points in the game, turning the ball over the Colts after a punt would give them decent field position. So the Bengals do what they predictably always do. Totally go for it on fourth down inside their own 25-yard line. The Bengals lined up in Wildcat formation with Brian Leonard behind center.
After taking the snap, Leonard sweeps left, cuts through the line of scrimmage and bolts down the left hashmarks for a 42-yard gain. Not only was the call very risky – and completely uncharacteristic – it rewarded the Bengals several times over. The Bengals offense would eventually score on a beautiful five-yard touchdown by Chad Ochocinco cutting Cincinnati’s deficit to ten points. But it also shifted momentum, albeit momentarily, back to the Bengals.
COLTS OFFENSE WAS SIMPLY AVERAGE AGAINST BENGALS DEFENSE. Peyton Manning completed 20 of 36 passes for 185 yards passing and no touchdowns. In fact, the Bengals defense was nearly flawless in the second half, forcing the Colts offense to punt five of six possessions – three of which were three-and-out.
In the end the Bengals defense held the Colts to 256 yards of total offense and a 36% third down conversion.
BENGALS OFFENSE WAS WORSE THAN AVERAGE. Here’s a simple look at the Bengals offense: three interceptions, four punts, two fumbles, a field goal and two touchdowns. The Bengals had the ball 13 times against the Colts. Can you tell me which three possessions resulted in something good?
O’ BENSON, WHERE ART THOU. Maybe you have to give the Colts defense credit. Yet, when you read that the Bengals rushed for 72 yards rushing, you have to remember that 42 yards came on Leonard’s fourth down run earlier in the game. So that’s basically 30 yards rushing on 19 carries. Combined, Bernard Scott and Cedric Benson rushed for 32 yards on 18 carries.
THE OFFENSIVE LINE WAS _______. Sitting here and charting how many times Nate Livings or Bobbie Williams were picking themselves off the ground after failed running plays would simply take too long. Charting how many times Dennis Roland was doing his awesome 360 spin butt block would be too embarrassing. Yet, aside from Mathis’ and Freeney’s late sacks in the final plays of the game, the offensive line’s protection was incredibly solid all things considered coming into Sunday’s game.
On the other side of the spectrum, Cincinnati’s rushing offense averaged 1.8 yards/rush if you discount Leonard’s 42-yard run.
STORYLINE OF THE GAME. The Bengals offense recorded 341 total yards, yet only converted five of 13 third down opportunities. Yet, the primary storyline you can take away from Cincinnati’s offensive effort against the Colts is five turnovers; three interceptions by Carson Palmer and fumbles by Cedric Benson and Jermaine Gresham.