Week 14 Recap: Numb With Defeat

PITTSBURGH - DECEMBER 12: Carson Palmer #9 of the Cincinnati Bengals drops back to pass against the Pittsburgh Steelers during the game on December 12 2010 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

In a game the Steelers dared Cincinnati to win, the Bengals stayed to true to form and beat themselves.

After opening the game with a touchdown drive, knocking Pittsburgh out of field-goal range on a sack, and marching back down field to the Steeler 27 yard-line, it felt like the Bengals would be real challengers on the day, but then reality set in. On the next play, Palmer was sacked on first down—and showing off the escape ability of a aged rhino in the process—followed by a disgusting screen to Benson that lost three more yards, and finally a three-yard give-up play to Jordan Shipley. A give-up play on 3rd-and-20 isn't the worst idea playing with a seven-point lead, but getting more than three yards when you need 20 shouldn't be all that hard to design. It's the small failures that have ruined this team and its season. If there are no specific individuals that can be identified as the reason for such consistent failure, than the group as a whole must be changed.

The first interception to Troy Polomalu was yet another forced pass to Terrell Owens up the middle. It is beyond comprehension why the ball is so often forced his way. An inexperienced safety on a bad defense can read the play when TO crosses to the middle, of course Polomalu is going to take it to the house. After the game, Owens talked about how the Bengals don't make the adjustments required to prevent predictable turnovers, and you can see it on the field. It was a bad read on a bad decision on a bad play-call. I think TO knew it was doomed when Carson called out the play in the huddle. The ridiculousness of the entire offensive brain-trust is probably still baffling for a player used in so many successful teams like TO. He likes getting the ball, sure, but I bet he would prefer to get it less if it means suffering less interceptions as a team, yet they still throw silly passes his way time and again. Simply crazy.

The ensuing possession after the pick-six seems inconsequential, but again exemplified the fallout of a series of small failures.

The drive started okay with a six yard pass to Chad Ochocinco, but then Bobby Williams was called for a false start setting up 2nd-and-9. Well, of course the Bengals run stretch hand-offs on second-and-long, everyone knows that, including the Steelers, so the play goes for zero yards. What happened on third down? Since the Bengals have to throw, and Carson moves about in concrete shoes these days, Dick LaBeau sent pressure with an extra DB and brought old No. 9 down for a sack. Shocking, I know. The Bengals punted, and the Steelers scored a field goal right before halftime.

Beating the Bengals is easy because they come with an instruction manual that literally tells you what it is they do and why they do it. Want the formula to stopping Cincinnati's offense? Stop the obvious runs to set up passing downs that, when pressured, result in either thrown balls out of bounds around the sidelines or forced throws into the middle usually to TO. There, now you too can beat the Bengals.

The defense wasn't masterful, but they played well enough to not get screamed at this week. The Bengals get after Ben Roethlisberger well for some reason, and I liked the blitzes Mike Zimmer dialed up with Chinedum Ndukwe and Dhani Jones, but the dropped interceptions were killers each time on Sunday. If Brandon Johnson catches that pick in the end-zone, he may get a good return and set up a score. Instead, it translates into three points for the Steelers, and the Bengals are once more playing from behind.

Eventually, Palmer ended up throwing his second pick-six , the latter to LeMarr Woodley, and essentially losing the game—his team's tenth loss in a row. He later claimed not to have seen Woodley when he made the throw, something he says often after throwing interceptions. It isn't that I don't believe Carson, it's just that I don't care if he saw him or not. The man throws a ton of interceptions, way too many, and no excuse holds up for them anymore.

It would be nice to hold off and evaluate Palmer until after the season, but what I saw on Sunday frightened me.

The California Kid was never a really fast guy. Maybe early on, before the knee injury, he had some nice straight line speed, but he has never been quick. Last game, however, he looked downright immobile, hurt and old. He has dealt with a host of injured body parts this season, and he is finishing up his seventh season of actually playing in the NFL, but if he can't figure out a way to get better, how much more of a career does he realistically have?

That sounds sort of ridiculous, right? A franchise quarterback who has put up solid stats in his career shouldn't feel threatened entering this eighth season, but what does Palmer still do well? He isn't mobile—we've belabored that already—he isn't accurate, doesn't put much of a zip on passes anymore, the deep ball hasn't been all that great since before the elbow problems, he makes a lot of bad reads for interceptions, he has a very limited sense of pocket presence, he goes down easily, doesn't manage the clock particularly well, still hasn't completely mastered the only offense he's ever been in, and he hasn't improved on any one particular skill nor is he likely to since he is so rapidly aging. I see no more upside in the guy and I feel admitting that closes an unfortunate chapter to this franchise's history: the squandering of Carson Palmer.

I'm probably being too hard on the guy. I think with a change of scenery, he could resurrect his career and be a starter for a few more years, but even then he won't be the face of any franchise. Instead of ending as the Peyton Manning or the Tom Brady-kind of quarterback we were convinced he would one day become, he is more likely to end up like the Kerry Collins and, of course, Drew Bledsoe-type instead—that comparison just won't go away. Sad to say, but Carson is officially now a shoulda-been.

Cincinnati could have pulled this one out and given us something to smile about, but they lived up to expectations and let us down again, on their own terms. Teams don't have to beat the Bengals, they will do it themselves. The second rebuilt team of the Marvin Lewis-era is a complete and utter failure; the system is broken. The future is doomed.

Mojokong—the emo blogger of goth football.

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