The Cincinnati Bengals were supposed to come out strong and have a hard fought battle with the New England Patriots. It was supposed to be a close game from start to finish. Instead, the Bengals found themselves down 24 to 3 after two quarters—despite having greater possession time.
The first drive of the game had Palmer show some flair with a 14 yard-er after trying to light up the Pats on the first play of the game (which went incomplete to TO). Unfortunately, after two Cedric Benson runs, Palmer found himself on his back, being sacked and ending the drive.
From there, the debacle went into gear as Brady and Welker would hook up twice (the second reception resulting in a touchdown) but the highlight of the drive was a 45 yard reception by Aaron Hernandez which brought Pats to the Bengals 14.
Then it was all down hill, a three and out for the Bengals, a field goal for the Pats, loss of the ball by Benson on a fumble, lucky break with the Pats missing a field goal, another three and out by the Bengals, another Welker touchdown reception, then the coup de gras as Palmer would throw an interception which looked much like his younger brother when it was returned 59 yards for a touchdown by the Pats defense. Finally, the Bengals scored on the strength of Mike Nugent's 54 yard missile to make the game 24 to 3 and then the Pats would attempt to end the half with a field goal, which was missed from 56. Out of nowhere, Shipley would come in and catch a 51-yard reception but he would come up short for the score. What did not help any was that while the Ocho left early for an IV (according to Joe Reedy of The Cincinnati Enquirer), TO left early (before the Shipley hail mary) because "he thought the half was over," according to Reedy. The only player affirmed by the first half was Mike Nugent as being the right choice for the kicking job.
The most obvious issue with the first half though, was that the Bengals resembled the bungling past teams that were so inept. Aside from Carson's desperate 51 yard pass to Shipley to close the first half, he looked as bad as speculated by the pundits—a has-been, never-will-be-again. The defense looked as anemic and aged as the Bengals' defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer has appeared to become since his very difficult past year.
The second half appeared to be more of the same, when a decent Mike Nugent kickoff trickled into the hands of Brandon Tate—a second year player out of North Carolina—and a few seconds later he was the latest hero in the Patriots revamped campaign, scoring a 97 yard kickoff return.
Then the Bengals woke up....
A 13 play drive, covering 84 yards (five were because of a false start) and Jeramaine Gresham scored his first NFL touchdown.
Following a three and out (was four if you include a holding penalty) by New England, the Bengals commenced to score again with Ocho Cinco tying Carl Pickens for the franchise record for touchdowns—with his 63rd as a Bengal.
The quarter would basically end at this point and opened the fourth in familiar fashion with the Patriots taking nearly half of the fourth quarter to give their rookie tight end—Rob Gronkowski—his first NFL touchdown.
The Bengals would answer with another TD by Cedric Benson to make it 24 to 38 in favor of the Pats, but the damage was done and the game had been ended with the ensuing onside kick which was recovered by Michael Johnson before going the prescribed 10 yards.
Yet what was a debacle with three specific key errors (Benson fumble, Palmer interception for TD, and kickoff return for touchdown) and general failures (slow start by the offense and timid defense) showed what could be in the second half as the Bengals outscored the Patriots 24 to 14.
It appears the Bengals' first string on both sides were not ready for the regular season—surprisingly the defense more so than the offense. The Bengals' offense was on target in the second half but did not favors for the defense by not maintaining ball control, turning the ball over, and generally not setting up defendable field position. At the same time, the offensive line allowed only one sack but again, it was on the first drive which showed that the Bengals were generally not ready.
Yet the defense was shockingly bad after a 2009 campaign which pointed to an even better 2010, giving up 118 rushing yards and 258 passing yards (not too bad) but several key touchdowns and allowing 9 of 13 third downs to be converted. The defense never came around and this in and of itself is a greater concern than the offense which did finally start playing football in the third quarter.
The offense found tremendous success in the no huddle but started late. The defense never started.
The keys to next week at home is to start early and attack often. The Bengals will need to be aggressive and not tentative on either side of the ball. Marvin Lewis will need to not move on but teach his players a lesson from this game, otherwise, next Sunday will most certainly be a repeat against the Ravens.
(Photography Courtesy of The Associated Press; Getty Images; Bengals.com; NFL.com)