Not a midseason report card. We don’t believe in report cards. There is one report card.
The AFC North standings.
But here are some classroom observations at the halfway point:
HEAD BANGERS: While the Bengals have everybody in the NFL scratching their heads about their record, they decided to bang some heads against the Steelers. Some of it is because of that Monday Night adrenaline. Some of it is because of the rivalry with the Steelers. Some of it is the style of the two teams. Some of it is Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis’ ability to get his teams to play hard no matter the circumstance.
That is going to be his challenge now over the last half of the season. He did a hell of a job with an 0-8 injury-riddled start in ’08 and finished 4-3-1 with backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick to set the table for ’09. But there weren’t the crushing expectations since Carson Palmer was out. The irony is that Fitzpatrick brings a Bills team into Paul Brown Stadium in 12 days that is already 0-8 and could be 0-9 after playing Detroit at home this Sunday.
For the record, ProFootballTalk.com reported Tuesday that three Steelers suffered concussions Monday night. Safety Will Allen, running back Mewelde Moore, and fullback Isaac Redman went down, as did guard Chris Kemoeatu with a knee injury. Rookie center Maurkice Pouncey came back to play after bruising his tibia while left tackle Max Starks got some stingers.
All the Bengals did was make it easier on the visiting Patriots this week.
SHORT STUFF: Some people were surprised with the Bengals’ decision to pass on third and about half a yard (they got a great spot) on their first possession Monday night. That was after running back Cedric Benson pounded the NFL’s No. 1 run defense for 20 yards on the first four snaps.
But that’s how they’ve been attacking short yardage. Coming into the game they had faced 29 snaps of third-and two or less. They had dropped back to pass on 19 of them, completing seven of them for the first down. They had run it 10 times and made it six times, twice on Palmer sneaks.
They went 0-for-2 Monday. Palmer’s pass to wide receiver Chad Ochocinco was incomplete and on third-and-two from the Pittsburgh 26 early in the third quarter, tight end Reggie Kelly couldn’t get a block on inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons and he dropped Benson for a one-yard loss. That led to Mike Nugent’s missed field goal from 45 yards out. Before that play, Benson had been successful on four out of five third-and-short runs.
GRAHAM JOINS PATS: Reports have surfaced that former Bengals kicker Shayne Graham has signed with the Patriots to be a stopgap for the injured Stephen Gostkowski just in time for the Pats’ visit to Heinz Field this Sunday.
Of course Benagldom is ready for the gags and are advising Bill Belichick it better not come down to a 39-yard field goal for PatriotsNation.
PALMER HANGS IN: Monday night is why I’m a Carson Palmer guy. He’s tough and never gives in. He had less protection than credit card fraud and put his team in position to score 27 points, counting the two missed field goals, against a defense that came in giving up 14.5 points per game. You could count the number of guys in the league on one hand that could have made the 27-yard touchdown pass to Terrell Owens with James Farrior gnawing on his limbs.
The next-to-last play of the game shows you how much Palmer values Owens these days. He didn’t look at anybody else even though he had three defenders collapsing on Owens. He threw what amounted to a jump ball that only Owens could catch, but it was too high.
Not a bad percentage play these days in the red zone. Owens is on pace for 14 TD catches. The Bengals record is Carl Pickens’ 17. The next best is a dozen by Pickens and T.J. Houshmandzadeh.
WORST DAY? Special teams coach Darrin Simmons has spent the last eight seasons legitimizing a unit that constantly killed them in the eight years before he arrived. But Monday night had to be the worst of his 122 games. Two missed field goals. A blocked punt. A fumbled kickoff return. They led to a combination of 16 points they gave up or didn’t get.
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