CINCINNATI - NOVEMBER 21: Carson Palmer #9 of the Cincinnati Bengals walks off of the field after throwing an interception late in the fourth quarter of the Bengals 49-31 loss to the Buffalo Bills at Paul Brown Stadium on November 21 2010 in Cincinnati Ohio. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
In the first half, the Cincinnati Bengals scored four touchdowns through their first three offensive possessions. That, as they say, sounds a bit unconventional. Yet, Johnathan Joseph's interception return for a touchdown brings that euphoria and intense ninja kick out in the living room, followed by a few jabs that even Mike Tyson would fear without his Phil Collins' CD. It was great, the Bengals 31-point first half. Cincinnati recorded 141 yards in the first quarter, with Benson picking up 55 rushing yards on nine carries. Carson Palmer completed five of seven passes for 79 yards and a touchdown and life was good as a Bengals fan. Finally, I said, leaning back in my office chair with my hands interlaced behind the back of my head. The Bengals will win an easy one, a blow out perhaps. Either way, the Bengals are finally going to break their six-game losing streak. Little did I know that I turned into Al Michaels who has a knack for telling us about some streak a place kicker is enjoying, just before breaking it at the worst possible time.
With twenty four points in the second quarter, a Bills offense that stumbled through the air with two Johnathan Joseph interceptions, life was good. No, it was as spectacular as finding your father’s Playboy stash when you were ten years old. Shinning gold bounces off the walls, life seems brighter, hopeful with songs of awesome from angels with harps, echoing throughout the hallway.
Then the Bengals gave up 35 unanswered points in the second half in a 49-31 loss that increases Cincinnati’s overall losing streak to seven games on the season and ten games to the Buffalo Bills – a streak dating back to 1989. As suddenly shocking as that seemed, it was a slow death you saw coming a mile away; much like Wesley Snipes' career. While the Bills kept moving the football, only punting once throughout the game, their early mistakes were eliminated while the Bengals mistakes were intensifying. For example, Fitzpatrick threw two interceptions to Johnathan Joseph in the first half. Carson Palmer threw two interceptions in the second half. Can you guess which is worse? If you said anything that the Bengals do, you'd be correct.
The 49 points allowed is the most since the Bengals gave up 51 points in a shootout to the Cleveland Browns on September 16, 2007. The 35 points allowed in the second half is the most since giving up 42 points to the San Diego Chargers on November 12, 2006. If you're into numbers, 12 backwards is 21, today's date. So everything makes sense now, right?
Yet, and truthfully, there was a big difference between the Bills and Bengals on Sunday. When the Bills fell in the hole early, they fought like mad throughout the contest to outscore the Bengals by 35 points in the second half. When the Bengals started falling apart late in the third quarter, they watched in horror, experiencing one of the worst second halves of football I’ve seen as a Bengals fans in a long time. Sure, 42 points allowed to the Chargers will be remembered for a long time. At least San Diego was a playoff team. The Bengals watched like spectators as Buffalo won their second win of the season, and we’re less than a week from Thanksgiving.
THE GREAT SECOND HALF FAIL. Cincinnati did score 31 points in the first half, forcing a realistic expectation that the team with last year’s fourth ranked defense should be able to protect the lead. Instead the defense gave up 235 yards in the second half, along with 35 points. And while there’s no excusing the defensive second half fail, one could make a direct correlation to the team's sudden, and shocking nosedive in the self-respect and dignity category. Look no further than the Bengals injuries suffered in the first half. Roy Williams suffers a concussion, Johnathan Joseph suffers an ankle injury and Chris Crocker was lost early in the game with a knee injury. Three starters in the secondary were hurt in the first half, never returning by the time the Bengals kicked the football to begin the third quarter. And let's not forget that Jonathan Fanene was placed on Injured Reserve earlier this week, that Antwan Odom just came off a suspension and Tank Johnson and Frostee Rucker both missed Sunday’s game due to their own injuries.
But the secondary was a mess, leaving Chinedum Ndukwe, Reggie and Tom Nelson as the team’s safeties with Brandon Ghee playing opposite of Leon Hall at cornerback. It mirrored the second half of a preseason game where the starters took the night off after half time so the team can judge the lesser talent on the field. Ryan Fitzpatrick, completing 10 of 13 passes for 139 yards and three touchdowns, took advantage of that.
Carson Palmer, on the other hand, was the complete opposite. After completing 10 of 13 passes for 132 yards and two touchdowns in the first half, Palmer took the night off after his first interception, completing only nine of 21 passes for 98 yards passing with a second interception. It wasn’t just Palmer; the offense equally failed in the second half turning the ball over three times along with a missed field goal. A holding penalty negated a Terrell Owens touchdown on a 13-play drive that ended with a Palmer interception in the endzone. Terrell Owens dropped two passes and even though he was the most productive receiver in the game, Jordan Shipley dropped a third down pass on a drive that ended with a missed field goal.
People often talk about the talent on this squad. But the truth is, those same people aren't very mindful of including the team's backup players in that discussion. The Bengals are the type of team that falls apart because the team isn't talented enough to overcome those injuries. Yet, as the devil's advocate does reconnaissance, how many teams have seen this many injuries, specifically in the secondary and on the defensive line?
BENGALS DEFENSE GAVE ASSISTS. On the second offensive play by the Buffalo Bills, Dhani Jones intercepted a Ryan Fitzpatrick pass with 7:19 left in the first quarter. Michael Johnson was flagged for roughing the passer on a helmet-to-helmet hit that negated the turnover and gave Buffalo an automatic first down. On third-and-17, Fitzpatrick completed a pass that feel a foot short of the first down. Carlos Dunlap was called for illegal use of the hands, giving Buffalo an automatic first down.
And it wasn’t just the penalties. On third-and-eight with 4:14 left in the first quarter, Fitzpatrick hits Steve Jackson on a quick pass to the left. If the tackles are made, Buffalo is forced to punt. Chris Crocker misses the tackle on Jackson’s spin move and Brandon Johnson freezes. With no defensive player willing to play tackle football, Jackson ran across the field and down the right sidelines for a 36-yard gain and a first down.
And all of this was just on Buffalo’s first possession of the game.
WHEN BERNARD SCOTT CAME INTO THE GAME, THE BENGALS LOST YARDS. Out during the team’s two kickoff returns in the first quarter, Bernard Scott had an awful day. When Cedric Benson left the game with “vision problem” (aka, being poked in the eye), Bernard Scott came into the game with 4:22 left in the first half. On a call to the right side of the offensive line, Marcus Stroud broke through the line. Scott didn’t bother getting out of Stroud’s way, standing up and taking a three-yard loss like a defeated man. On the very next play, Scott caught a screen pass to the right. With Paul Posluszny unblocked and breaking through the line, Scott was dropped for a six-yard loss.
With 10:43 left in the third quarter, Scott takes the kickoff and juggles the football. After finally securing the football, Scott only returned the football to the 14-yard line. Scott finished the game with -9 yards from scrimmage on four touches (one reception) and a 21-yard average on four kickoff returns – five yards worse than Andre Caldwell’s 26-yard average on three returns.
It’s completely reasonable to blame the offensive line for Scott’s great offensive performance. Yet, it’s also reasonably justified to check the temperatures of those that demand Cedric Benson’s role be reduced in favor of Scott.
ON THE OTHER HAND, CEDRIC BENSON JUST LOSES FOOTBALLS. Yet, after Benson records 124 yards rushing on 25 carries and a touchdown, it would be completely reasonable to feel completely disappointed in Benson. I know, I know. How could one be disappointed with Benson, who arguably had the best game amongst the entire offense? With 10:04 left in the third quarter, Marcus Stroud forces Benson to lose the football on a standard run to the left. Drayton Florence returns the fumble 27 yards for a touchdown, reducing what was a 10-point deficit to three points for the Bills.
God, I hate Marcus Stroud.
THE SLOW AND SUDDEN DEATH HAPPENED HERE. Offensively, the Bengals death in Sunday's loss to the Bills, was slow, yet sudden. After Cedric Benson fumbled the football during Cincinnati's first possession in the second half that led to a touchdown, the Bengals still held a three-point lead. It was the drive that began with 9:54 left in the third quarter that accelerated a slow death into the sudden demise of a guillotine.
Bernard Scott, who had one of the worst days in his career when touching the football on offense, returned the ensuing kickoff to the Bengals 36-yard line. After a Cedric Benson nine-yard run on second down, Bobbie Williams was called for offensive holding. After an 11-yard reception by Benson, Palmer hits Andre Caldwell running a simple out route, converting the third down. They overcame the holding penalty and converted a third-and-seven. After back-to-back runs by Benson that picked up six yards, Palmer hits Jordan Shipley, who ran a quick pivot towards the left sidelines. Another third down converted.
Cincinnati was moving the football, already past midfield. After a dropped pass by Terrell Owens and a seven-yard gain by Benson, Carson Palmer looks back at Owens on a launched pass down the left sidelines that the Bills secondary deflected. Incomplete, right? Owens redirects his body as he falls backwards, hauling the deflected pass out of the air and landing into the endzone for a touchdown. Yay. Offensive holding on Andrew Whitworth. No. Yet, Palmer hits Chad Ochocinco on a quick slant from the right, forcing two defenders to miss tackles and picking up 17 yards. Another third down converted.
Cincinnati's offense was making mistakes, negating good plays; that much is clear. Yet, the offense, midway through the third quarter, was playing well enough to overcome those mistakes. After Benson burst through the offensive line for another 17-yard gain, right behind Nate Livings' domination of a linebacker, the Bengals stalled with a minimal two-yard gain and an incomplete pass to Chad Ochocinco pass.
Third and goal from the Bills five-yard line, the Bengals could take a ten-point lead and retake the game that they were losing control of. Palmer takes the shotgun snap with Terrell Owens and Jordan Shipley running slant routes on the left. The key here is obviously the safety. If he tracks Shipley underneath then that opens the passing lane for Terrell Owens, which is very similar to Chad Ochocinco's touchdown reception that opened Cincinnati's scoring during their first possession. Palmer watched Buffalo's safety George Wilson follow Shipley inside and tried to squeeze a pass to Owens in the back of the endzone, who was open and would have easily caught the reception. However, as Wilson followed Shipley, he unexpectedly broke off coverage and filled the passing lane that was supposed to be wide open. In other words, he tricked us! Wilson returned the interception to the Bengals 49-yard line. The Bills would go on to take the lead on an eight-play, 49-yard play, which would eventually become the game winner.
Offensively, the Bengals would finish the game with four offensive possessions that go three-and-out, missed field goal, interception and a couple Jordan Palmer sacks to end the game. But it was this interception that actually put the seal on Cincinnati's loss Sunday against the Buffalo Bills.
The Bengals have a short week this week, playing the New York Jets on Thanksgiving night.