Here's the irony in everything. After a week of whining and complaining about the Cincinnati Bengals offense, Carson Palmer delivered. Completing 25 of 36 passes for 371 yards (fourth most in his career), along with two touchdowns, his performance Sunday translated to a quarterback rating of 121.4. That's the second highest quarterback rating that he's recorded in his career during a loss -- the first being the epic loss against San Diego in 2006. Because the opinion of a "elbow problem" translated into multiple passes of over 40 yards, Palmer spent Sunday proving doubters wrong -- and doing it beautifully. Terrell Owens stepped up, recording 10 receptions for 222 yards receiving, including a 78-yard touchdown reception. The man that wants this team to have an identity, Cedric Benson, averaged four yards a rush, mostly thanks to a 44-yard effort in the second half on nine carries. Six different receivers on the Bengals roster recorded at least two receptions and three separate receivers recorded at least one reception of over 20 yards. Nine plays by the Bengals passing offense went for 15 yards or more.
Unfortunately, this is one of those years. Critics lose their minds because the team isn't doing what the superior intellect of the maddening elite (in their minds) suggests. Throughout the week, Carson Palmer was strung alive for his inferior performances during the preceding two victories before Sunday's 23-20 loss to the Cleveland Browns. Want irony? Want something that will blow the minds of those that honestly believe that they know a vast of infinite knowledge more than the coaching staff of the Cincinnati Bengals?
When Carson Palmer throws like a crazy man on a mission forced to continuously prove doubters wrong, the Bengals simply lose. During both their losses, Carson Palmer has a combined 104.6 passer rating, recording four touchdowns against only one interception, while completing nearly 70% of his passes, averaging 358 yards passing. When the Bengals lose, Palmer's rating drops to 56.6, only recording a touchdown and his combined yardage total dips four yards below the yards he's averaging in both losses.
No, we're not factoring other things; such as a poor defense or an uninspiring rushing offense. But really, we don't need to. Claims against Palmer are now dead. He can still throw the football and the passing offense is able enough to take over the football game. This doesn't mean he won't battle his own struggles. That's just a fantasy that deserves time at the Madden Reality Detoxication centers. He's not God, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees or Tom Brady. He's Carson Palmer and based on what we saw Sunday, he's just fine.
So what happened then against the Browns on Sunday?
First and foremost, as an advocate of Brown-hating love, I'm going about it the way we should. Cleveland simply smacked our boys upside the head and said, you can't win if you don't want it. Along with some nasty hits that put some of our boys out, Cleveland's rushing offense wore out Cincinnati's defense. Specifically, Peyton Hillis' punishing running style that picked up 102 yards on the ground. His 3.8-yard average isn't impressive, but each time he ran the football, he did it with fury and he dropped some of our boys as a result.
That being said, much of the same happened on Sunday typically happens when the Bengals lose any of their games. All three phases of the game aren't coming together. Carson Palmer and the offense recorded 413 total yards, 21 first downs -- 16 through the air -- and converted five of 11 third downs. However, the Bengals red zone offense failed to score two touchdowns on three red zone attempts. The other two phases of the game? They had their problems.
While Kevin Huber dropped all three punts inside the 20-yard line, the field goal unit had a field goal blocked, which would have given Cincinnati the three points for an eventual tie. Bernard Scott and Adam Jones finished with an embarrassing 39 yards on four kickoff returns. Quan Cosby averaged three yards on punt returns and of Mike Nugent's five kickoffs, only once did the Browns start inside the 30-yard line. Defensively, the Bengals struggled. While Cincinnati still held an opponent inside 300 yards of total offense, the Browns quickly jumped to a 10-0 lead on back-to-back drives that combined 17 plays and 121 yards. Cincinnati's struggle to score touchdowns in the redzone didn't help one bit, but the Bengals inability to stop Peyton Hillis at the end of the game proved to be their demise.
Then there's eight penalties that cost us 79 yards or the fact that Cincinnati's starting field position was eight yards worse than Cleveland's.
Much of the same. That's granted for the game, but also specifically for the team at the end.
As an offense, you can't pick up 56 yards on nine plays and consume 4:43 off the clock, only to have your superstar receiver flagged for an offensive pass interference that drops you outside of field goal range. And as an offense that's down by three points, you can't have your starting right tackle be Dennis Roland, whose guy dropped Carson Palmer on third down forcing the Bengals to punt with 4:41 left in the game.
As a defense, when you're down by three points with 4:41 left in the game, you have to dig into your guts and do everything you can to get the ball back. Letting the opposing offense, the Seneca Wallace led Cleveland Browns no less, run down your throat, assisting them with defensive holding calls, only proves to be as embarrassing as only teams that aren't ready for championships prove to be.
Don't get me wrong. As a football fan, Sunday's game was exciting. We saw the Bengals go down early, but never giving up without a fight. We have to commend them for that. I know, only losers say that, but it's true. The Bengals aren't a team to easily give up. They'll screw up sometimes, sure. They'll embarrass themselves with bad penalties or brainless actions. But they still fought as hard as they could. When it came down to it, they didn't have what it takes to finish this one out.