Election Day. Or election day, depending how you feel about it.
This year? Call it election day. When the campaign worker offered me some literature going in, I told him, “I’m just here for damage control.”
Which is about where the Bengals are, aren’t they? This isn’t the biggest flop in franchise history, which is the Doc-induced theme this week. There’s too much time left to put together a run. I would think the 4-12 team of ’78, the 7-9 team of ’83, the 8-8 team of ’89, the 7-9 team of ’97, the 8-8 team of ’06 and the 7-9 team of ’07 would have to lead the ballot.
But look around. The Bengals have been caught up in a classic NFL redistricting. Six of the defending division champs are in third or fourth place. Five of them have losing records. There are tears in San Diego, revolts in Minnesota and Washington, voter unrest in Dallas, Chicago and San Francisco.
The Bengals need a Give ‘Em Hell Harry finish like Truman beat Dewey ‘in 48 to pull anything out before the whistle stops. Here’s an Election Day (sorry, election day) swing through a campaign seeking traction.
NO ROSE GARDEN STRATEGY: While embattled President Obama searches for the magic of ‘08, quarterback Carson Palmer is searching for the karma of ’09 and it’s not exactly coming up roses.
Last year, Palmer seemed to have all the answers late in the fourth quarter. But in the Tampa Bay and Miami games, the old adage seemed to be in play. Sometimes your best throw is the one you don’t make.
It’s so easy to second guess. But with Terrell Owens covered on interceptions at the end of the Tampa Bay and Miami games, it reminds you that what makes Palmer so good in crunch time is that he usually makes the cool decision to live to fight another day and not risk a pick.
It’s a sign of how tight and up against it the Bengals have felt ever since they lost to Cleveland. The only time you ever really see Palmer visibly frustrated is when he tries to make a play when there is nothing there.
Offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski alluded to it Monday when asked how well he thought Palmer played against the Dolphins.
“I think when you start off like that, you expect it to be like that the whole day then you get to a certain point where it’s not that way and then a little frustration is building,” Bratkowski said. “Take some chances you couldn’t take. It happened a little bit yesterday.”
THE BILL CLINTON-SARAH PALIN LONG BALL: Both sides are pulling out the big guns and that’s what the Bengals did Sunday when they took a lot of shots deep downfield, especially on first down.
Go back to Palmer’s underthrow to Owens on a 39-yard bomb that would have tied the Atlanta game early in the fourth quarter and the murmurings are growing about Palmer’s arm strength. You could even go back to halftime of the opener when his Hail Mary only made it to the 3.
Bratkowski says there is nothing wrong with the wing. He says Palmer underthrew one ball Sunday (just by “a touch” on the Bengals sideline), but the others had nothing to do with arm strength.
The tipped 37-yard TD pass to Owens, he says, was a misread of the coverage. The 37-yard bomb on the last drive where Owens had the safety beat by five yards in the end zone and had to wait on the ball was because defensive tackle Randy Starks got off a block up the middle of the line and hit Palmer as he threw it. A deep ball to the middle of the field didn’t get to the middle enough.
If you’re thinking Palmer used to make all those throws with ease, that’s what I’m thinking, too. The fact they’ve got him chucking it deep often shows you they think he’s fine physically. But his accuracy going deep isn’t as sharp as it once was.
Maybe it’s because he’s still trying to get the timing with Owens. He had great deep timing with Chris Henry, T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Chad Ochocinco back in the day, but that’s because they were together more than one training camp. Maybe it’s because he’s 30. Maybe it’s because he’s got 88 games of NFL pounding.
But don’t take this as they’ve got to get rid of him. He’s had some issues, but he remains the least of their problems and keeps them a viable entity with all hell breaking loose around him.
THE NANCY PELOSI-HARRY REID EMBATTLED INCUMBENT: Speaking of The Ocho, never mind when is the last long ball he caught. When is the last time Palmer even looked at him deep?
The guess is on his last catch longer than 18 yards, the 42-yarder in Cleveland on Oct. 3. Right after the 78-yarder to Owens when it looked like they were going to bomb the Browns into submission.
Suddenly, nothing. Even when he’d been double-covered Ochocinco had been known to outrun it a few times a game and Palmer would take a few shots. He took one on Sunday at The Ocho down the right sideline but the bracket coverage was too much, and it just seems like Owens is the only consistent deep threat.
The Ocho is also taking some heat for dropping some easy balls. Owens has dropped far more, but that’s his M.O., and you can overlook it with his production. Chad has had his share of drops in the past, but he’s been more sure-handed than this.
And, look, The Ocho doesn’t get enough credit for being a competitor. He’s putting in the time watching tape with Marvin Lewis weekly and he’s a very prideful guy when it comes to football. He’s always around. And you get the sense that he’s pressing, too, and that he just needs some big catches in a win to get over the hump.
He knows Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, the head coach that drafted him in Cincinnati, knows him inside-and-out. He has yet to have a 100-yard game in his 12 matchups with the Old Coach. That should get him simmering.
MR. SPEAKER: They say John Boehner of Cincinnati, the greatest ninth-inning flamethrower in these parts since Rob Dibble, is going to have to be more diplomatic when he becomes Speaker of the House. He can take notes from Owens, the fiery radical that gained a reputation for blowing up bridges with missiles from his lips.
But on Sunday, Owens played the role of an old-time, consensus-building Speaker of the House, like Joe Martin or Tip O’Neill, and reached across the aisle and took the blame for the two big misses in the fourth quarter. He said all the right things about the play in the end zone and the pick.
While everybody waits for him to blow up, anyone notice he’s having a hell of a year? Sure, you wish he was more consistent catching the ball (if he was, he’d be Jerry Rice) and he could adjust a little better to the ball in the air. But I love watching the guy play. He’s competitive and exciting and he’s been their MVP, hands down. Just think if they didn’t have him.
THE ELIOT SPITZER CLOCK STRATEGY: How do you go from being a national joke to getting your own cable TV show in two years?
You just hand it off and let time take care of it.
Which is what the Bengals have to be thinking after the clock has blown up on them like health care in three of the four losses.
Just hand it off.
RICHARD NIXON RETURN EDITION: Remember how well the Bengals returned in the preseason? They were like Nixon in ’52, ’68, and in the ‘80s. You couldn’t stop them. If it wasn’t Adam Jones, it was Quan Cosby. If it wasn’t Jordan Shipley, it was Bernard Scott.
Anybody saying on Labor Day that the Bengals would be 27th returning punts and 30th returning kicks on election day would have a head MRI.
But that’s where they are. And with Jones out for the year and Shipley one of their best receivers, they now go back to Cosby and Scott, two guys that were key to their success last season. Now Scott meets the Steelers he beat last year with a kick return the last time they met.
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