The Bengals continued their slow but steady climb to peak form. In front of a raucous Paul Brown Stadium, the Bengals showed more poise—though the inconsistency was still very much present. This is after all the Preseason, a dose of what is to come and experimenting to serve as a prelude to the real thing—the regular season.
For Terrell Owens, the pre-season and season are shaping up to be a Christmas Carol of sorts as for the second preseason week, Owens faced a ghost of career's past. Though Owens past was tumultuous, a simple letter to the fans in Cincinnati (via the Cincinnati Enquirer) showed more poise and character than a TO team has seen in this aging stars entire career. Carson Palmer is looking more and more like the gilded leader in regards to TO. For several series on Friday night, the biggest mystery was not how TO would fit into the offense, but how Ocho would.
In the end the ghosts of the future showed where the Bengals are headed if they continue to make the right choices. Shipley was there, Bernard Scott looked even more agile, while Dunlap and Atkins made their presence known on defense.
While the fears of the absent unproven stars—Andre "Second Chance" Smith and Antonio "Knee?" Bryant—were noticeably absent, the worry of said absence slowly is fading as a growing veteran and youthful vibrance fills those areas where needs were most apparent.
(Photography courtesy of Bengals.com; NFL.com; The Cincinnati Enqurier: Joseph Fuqua II; The Associated Press: Tony Tribble, Ed Reinke)
It was a night to see the skill of TO in play. With one 43-yard strike, Owens emerged on center stage in a game against an old foe (i.e. team he played for). Meanwhile, the Ocho looked like Mason Dixon from the movie "Rocky Balboa" when Dixon took a full on shot to the kisser. Ocho would be slow to get up and then stagger like a wounded lion but would quickly bounce back to continue (for a second there I thought he might have gotten some smelling salts...). The Shipley Show would take a backseat (yes, other players need some attention to make a team of more than one), but overall the Bengals' offense continued to show the steady progress needed to make a run into the regular season.
In a week that culminated with an open and honest letter to the fans of the Cincinnati Bengals from Terrell Owens (via The Cincinnati Enquirer), Owens was true to his intentions being targeted four times, hauling in three, resulting in 67 receiving yards and temporarily putting the nay-sayers at bay by pulling in a 43-yard gem from Carson. Showing fleet of foot with a smile on his face, Owens helped the Bengals faithful forget about Antonio-what's-his-name and even continued to overshadow the Ocho in TO's Cincinnati rebirth. (Hey, being known a reformatory is not so bad when you consider how the Bengals are actually reforming players back into stars!)
Ced was on: he scored two touchdowns, carried 12 times for 47-yards (3.9 average per carry)—except his last name was Peerman.
This second-year Cedric may have been playing against the backups but he certainly made his case for being the temporary Brian Leonard replacement player—and maybe even something more....
The Other Ced—THE Ced—showed his usual fleet of foot style from the backfield and also worked on his skills as a screen pass-threat option.
Benson carried 10 times for 30 yards, breaking one run for a healthy 11 yards, but was more impressive in an area where he was weak last season—receiving. Benson led the team in receptions (five) and being targeted by the quarterback (six times). Ced's results: 29 yard with a 13 yard beauty to boot.
Bernard Scott would tweak a shoulder but looked great in putting the finishing touches on the drive highlighted by TO's breakout reception. Making a incision through the Eagles defense, Scott sliced through the line for a six-yard score to bring the first team a much needed and solidly complete scoring drive. After his touchdown, Scott would run one more time for seven yards and had a well-rounded day which had started with a 22-yard kickoff return.
Jermaine Gresham continues to show why he is not only a offensive threat but what a tight end needs to be in times of need: an intangible. Gresham certainly contributed, making three catches in four targeted situations for 34 yards—including one for 17 yards. With that said, Gresham's true contributions were his well placed blocks and filling the defensive zone with a distraction to free up the receiving team on short yardage attempts. Gresham did show a few rookie mistakes (a rushed incomplete pass in the second quarter sending Carson on his back) but other than than that, the sure but steady first-round pick is showing Bengals faithful that the Andre Smiths (who are starting to become the Dave Klinger, Akili Smith, Ki-Jana Carter types) do not happen every year....
Palmer looked like he was trying, which was not a good thing on a few occasions. While the Palmer-TO long range missile turned out to not be a training camp fluke (yes, we know they hooked up for a 50-yarder in practice) when Palmer nailed TO down the sideline for 43-yards, Carson still looked rusty, getting picked off in first and second quarters once each period respectively. Additonally, the off-target Palmer seemed to still be present and now the issue of timing is no longer pointed as much in TO's direction as it is Ocho's. The highlight catch of the night was when Ocho went several stories up in the air to pull down an overthrown pass for a respectable gain. Something has got to give as Palmer is showing strength but not consistent precision as of yet.
The defense was deep and strong throughout the game. Though backfield penetration was not what it needed to be in the first half (i.e. by the first string) the Bengals first-half defensive stand was very respectable allowing the Eagles to convert on one of seven third-downs while yielding only two field goals—one of which was destined to occur with a valiant red-zone stand after the Eagles had obtained the ball inside Bengals' territory on a Palmer interception.
The second half was a glorious affair. Draft picks Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap made Michael Vick misrable along with Brandon Johnson as they dragged the most famous (or infamous?) backup in professional sports down to eat dirt in the third quarter.
Carlos Dunlap showed that while the offensive rookies get all of the attention, the defensive rookies may be the true pieces to the puzzle needed to solidify the Bengals' potential 2010 championship run. Dunlap was in the Eagles backup backfield numerous times (just as in other opponent's backfields in weeks prior) collecting a trophy of his own in the process.
If this preseason is any glimpse of the future, NFL quarterbacks are going to want to be well deprived of Geno Atkins when his team rolls into town. This former Bulldog (as in Georgia Bulldog) got a measure of canine-revenge when he plowed Michael Vick into the turf during a Bengals' third-quarter free for all on the quarterback.
Aside from losing safety Gibril Wilson for the season, the Bengals have another area of concern looming which will need to be solved over the next two weeks before the regular season begins: the kicking game. While everyone is focusing on the impressive rookies on the offense and defense, two veteran kickers continue to create headaches. Nungent has not had a fair chance, coming off of a groin injury and David Rayner missed a 34-yarder in the preseason which made him look exactly like Shayne Graham did against the Jets in last year's wild card debacle: unnerved by the moment.
What moment may you ask? With Rayner clearly labeled by the consensus as the one who needs to prove himself and Nungent being the labeled the unproven default option, Rayner missed a field-goal that a pressure-less Graham would have had no problem nailing. Makes you wish Morten Andersen would come out of retirement, heck, even Jim Breech would be a relief to date...
Nungent hit an extra point and then was given a no-win 59-yard attempt to see how far he could go. It was not a very pretty sight but was not expected to be one.
The Bengals meet up with the first of two regular season opponents in the pre-season (the following week rounds out the pre-season in Indianapolis against the Colts) when they meet the Bills in Buffalo. Similar to the regular season, the final two opponents will be played in back to back weeks, flip-flopping weeks in the regular season along with the Bills coming to Cincinnati for the two team's respective contest in Week 11 (the Bengals will once again travel back to Indy to face the Colts at the climax of the season in the preceding Week 10 contest).
TO will be yet again reunited with his third team of the preseason in facing last years humbling (though some say humiliating) former host team credited as being his turn around experience. This contest should serve as a good experiment with a relatively young opponent very much at the beginning of a long rebuilding project.