Trend says Bengals bounce back

Posted by hobsonschoice1 on October 18, 2010 – 8:59 am

Take the five toughest losses in the Marvin Lewis era and signs are that the Bengals are going to come out well Sunday in Atlanta. If they have been anything under Lewis, they have been resilient when you least expect and isn’t that about where they are now?

Look what the Bengals did after last year’s opener. They had to go on the road to an NFC playoff contender with one of the league’s best quarterbacks, where no one gave them a shot, and with the help of two Quan Cosby punt returns and a reshuffled Packers offensive line they beat Green Bay. They need the same kind of all-around effort in Atlanta against Matt Ryan this Sunday:

1. Dec. 24, 2006: Denver 24, Bengals 23: With a win, the Bengals would have locked up a playoff berth for the second straight season. And they pushed the Broncos all over the place on the road. They should have won, 42-17. T.J. Houshmandzadeh dropped a TD pass. Chad Ochocinco illegally moved just before Chris Henry’s 75-yard TD catch. Rudi Johnson fumbled on the edge of the red zone.

Still, still, Palmer marched them one final time and got the tying TD in the last minute. But Brad St. Louis’ PAT snap unbelievably went awry. And if you saw head coach Marvin Lewis’ sweaty stare at the locker-room floor moments later, you would agree it is the worst loss in the last eight years.

The Bengals didn’t bounce back great at home the next week in the ’06 finale against the 7-8 Steelers, but they played well enough to win to get into the playoffs. Except for the small detail that Shayne Graham’s winning 39-yard field goal with eight seconds left went wide.

It was too much to take in seven days. The Steelers scored a TD shortly into OT.

2. Sept. 13, 2009: Denver 12, Bengals 7: You could make an argument the ’09 opener at Paul Brown Stadium is the worst. But they had 15 games to erase it. And, there was the sense they didn’t foul it up but fate did.

After Palmer led them down the field on a last-ditch 91-yard effort to save a miserable offensive day, they took the lead on Cedric Benson’s one-yard TD run with 38 seconds left. With 11 seconds left, Denver quarterback Kyle Orton unleashed the longest winning pass from scrimmage in the last minute of an NFL game when cornerback Leon Hall’s tip ended up in Brandon Stokley’s 87-yard TD catch with 11 seconds left.

But the next week may have been the biggest win in the Lewis era in that 31-24 game in Green Bay that got them to 1-1 for a home game against the Steelers.

3. Oct. 10, 2010: Tampa Bay 24, Bengals 21: The Bengals had the ball and the 21-14 lead with 2:28 left in the game facing a third-and-13 from their own 38. It looked like they were back on track after a bad loss in Cleveland. Palmer’s one-yard TD flip to Jermaine Gresham had given him his 12th fourth-quarter comeback win, they were back up over .500 at 3-2 heading into the bye week before a tough game in Atlanta, and pffttt….

All gone.

The Bengals tried to get the first down and Palmer threw a pick to set up Tampa’s tying TD with 1:26 left. Palmer got them rolling for a winning drive, but his pass to Chad Ochocinco with 25 seconds left that would have put the Bengals in field-goal range was dropped for a pick that led to the winning field goal.

Now they are 2-3, two games back in the AFC North, and headed indoors.

4. Oct. 15, 2006: Tampa Bay 14, Bengals 13: The Bengals were coming off their bye week at 3-1 and had two weeks to recover from their rocky first loss to New England. They look to go to 4-1 for the second straight season when defensive end Justin Smith sacked Tampa Bay quarterback Bruce Gradkowski back at the Bengals 40 in the last minute with a 13-7 lead. But “W” is suddenly turned into “L” when Smith is called for roughing the passer on what looked to be a simple tackle. Gradkowski ends up throwing a TD pass in the final 25 seconds and the Bengals go to 3-2.

And they had a lot more going on than that. Middle linebacker Odell Thurman had recently been suspended for the year for a DUI and the Bengals were going through a brutal stretch off-the-field with legal problems. The next game at PBS was viewed as make or break.

But Lewis kept their heads in it with a 17-14 win over Carolina in a wild fourth quarter. Palmer went deep to The Ocho on fourth-and-one in the winning TD drive and safety Kevin Kaesviharn picked off Jake Delhomme in the end zone to end it.

5. Nov. 12, 2006: San Diego 49, Bengals 41: The team with what people were saying had the most talented roster in the NFL came to PBS and proceeded to get blown out at the half with the Bengals taking a 28-7 lead as Chad Ochocinco closed in on a team-record 260 receiving yards. They would break a two-game losing streak and go to 5-4 before heading to a tough road game in New Orleans and pffft…

All gone.

This is what happens when you can’t run the ball. The Bengals were barely able to move the ball in the second half while Philip Rivers and Co., rolled it up at will and dumped them to 4-5 in extending their losing skein to three.

But with everyone predicting the end of Bengaldom as we knew it, Lewis summoned them for a great effort against the Saints indoors the next week. They survived 510 passing yards from one of the NFL’s best young quarterbacks in Drew Brees and allowed them just one touchdown in a 31-16 win keynoted by Ocho’s 190 yards that gave him an NFL record in consecutive games.

Just some footnotes after looking at the list. It always seems like Palmer is leading them down the field in the most desperate of times, and more often than not he seems to produce. Plus, it reminds you how devastating and frustrating 2006 was. It makes you wonder how different the last four seasons would have been if they managed to win one of those games and go to the playoffs back-to-back.

And, doesn’t it look like the Tampa-Atlanta scenario bears some resemblance to the San Diego-New Orleans script? An indoor game against one of the NFC’s best young quarterbacks?

Posted in Hobson's Choice | 14 Comments »

Steeler formula

Posted by hobsonschoice1 on October 18, 2010 – 7:30 am

Big Ben is back, but don’t let his return obscure what it really means.

Run the ball, play defense, and you can do anything you want in the NFL. Forget Carson Palmer. They are the only reasons the 4-1 Steelers are looking like they’re going to run away and hide in the AFC North.

How was the Steelers’ 28-10 win over the Browns on Sunday different than the Bengals’ 23-20 loss in Cleveland two weeks ago? Other than the Browns were on the road and the Steelers faced a better but more inexperienced quarterback?

Roethlisberger threw for three touchdowns and 257 yards. Palmer threw for two touchdowns and 371 yards. Roethlisberger threw a 50-yarder to Mike Wallace and a 36-yarder to tight end Heath Miller. Palmer threw a 78-yarder Terrell Owens and a 42-yarder to wide receiver Chad Ochocinco. Roethlisberger completed 59.3 percent of his passes. Palmer completed 69.4 percent of his passes.

But in between, Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall smashed it 27 times while the Bengals’ Cedric Benson got 15 shots. Mendenhall only got 84 yards while Benson had 60 in his, which proves the theorem even if you can’t run it, keep running it.

Plus, the Steelers allowed Browns running back Peyton Hillis just 3.4 yards per carry on 12 carries. The Bengals had the same kind of numbers and gave him just 3.7. But he had those 27 carries against them and was able to deliver the coup de grace with a 24-yard run that took the clock for good. The biggest run Hills could manage against Pittsburgh was 14 yards.

The Steelers keep coming up with stops. The Bengals play good but inconsistent defense and are struggling with breakdowns at key moments.  At the end of the half in Cleveland for a late field goal, for one, along with Hills’ big run. The same thing happened the next week against Tampa Bay at the end of the game after they played so well much of the afternoon.

Palmer’s numbers have sparked the wrong debate. There are those that want to argue that his skills have diminished even though just two weeks ago they were clearly on display and last week things collapsed around him just 2:28 away from another one of his fourth-quarter comebacks.  The real debate seems to be their move away from the Steelers formula that worked for them so well last year and has brought Pittsburgh through the Big Ben crisis into first place.

Posted in Hobson's Choice | 10 Comments »