CHARLOTTE, N.C. - The Bengals found themselves in an ugly tractor pull Sunday here at Bank of America Stadium when their struggling offense could barely keep up with the Panthers’ elementary package scaled back for rookie quarterback Jimmy Clausen’s first NFL start.
But the defense came to the rescue with about nine minutes left in the game to lift the Bengals to a 20-7 lead when middle linebacker
The last two passes on the game-clincing drive came off play-action, the first a 17-yarder to rookie tight end
It was a rare moment of execution for Palmer. He finished the game 19-of-37 for 195 yards with two picks and a passer rating of 53.3.
Big plays? The Bengals didn’t allow wide receiver Steve Smith’s first catch until 9:34 left in the game and right end
The Bengals were ruling the clock and field position, but as the third quarter became the fourth the Bengals could go only 18 yards on seven plays and had to get Nugent’s 50-yard field goal to take a 13-7 lead with 14:53 left in the game. The Bengals turned to Benson on the ground in the third quarter, where he got 38 yards on 12 carries. Benson finished with 81 yards on 27 carries as the Bengals went 29-1 under head coach Marvin Lewis when a back carries at least 25 times.
Benson was getting checked out on the bench by doctors when the Bengals started the drive to salt it away with 3:44 left. Huber took care of that with his third punt inside the 5.
The sledding was brutal. On third-and-three (the Bengals could convert only four of their first 12 third downs), cornerback Richard Marshall knocked away Palmer’s pass over the middle for wide receiver
Clausen cut Palmer’s lead to 10-7 midway through the third quarter when he broke out of his 0.0 first-half passer rating with an eight-play, 75-yard drive capped by running back Jonathan Stewart’s one-yard run with 8:16 left in the third quarter.
Clausen used some mix of play-action and quick throws and hit Stewart over the middle on play-action for a 15-yard pass. When defensive tackle
Bengals wide receiver
To underscore just how tough it is for the Bengals to get anything down on offense, they blew a chance to kick a field goal on the last play of the half when Palmer couldn’t spike the ball in time from the Panthers 5.
The Bengals sheepishly took a 10-0 lead into halftime on the strength of Palmer’s 22.2 passer rating, 22.2 points better than the goose egg laid by Clausen in his first NFL start.
Trailing 10-0 with 42 seconds left, the Panthers gift-wrapped points on running back Michael Goodson’s fumble that Bengals cornerback
After safety Sherrod Martin knocked away a pass to Owens over the middle, Palmer didn’t opt for the end zone and hit Gresham over the middle but the Bengals couldn’t regroup in time to bring on Nugent.
Nugent extended his skein to seven straight to open the season with a 33-yard field goal with 1:10 left in the half to give the Bengals a 10-0 lead despite the horrendous offense. Palmer had two interceptions and three more passes that were dropped. Benson wasn’t getting much either to that point with 43 yards on 16 carries.
As usual, the defense showed up and held the Panthers backfield of Williams and Stewart to a combined 42 yards on 10 carries in the first half.
The Bengals survived a shaky first 10 minutes to take a 7-0 lead over the Panthers when Benson shook off two tacklers on a sweep to the left to score from one-yard out with 4:21 left in the first quarter.
After nearly throwing his third interception of the game, Palmer got a 27-yard catch from Gresham on a screen that featured him bowling over a couple of Panthers. After Palmer and Owens hooked up for a first down on a third-and-four with a seven-yard play over the middle (Owens’ fumble at the Carolina 15 was negated on forward progress), Palmer had to get a third-down pass interference call on safety Jordan Pugh in the end zone working against wide receiver
So much for the Bengals starting fast and striking first.
Palmer threw a pick in the first two minutes of the game when Panthers cornerback Captain Munnerlyn got a ball thrown right to him in the middle of the field on a route to wide receiver
Then Williams took his club’s second snap 26 yards up the middle to the Cincinnati 25. But on his third NFL snap as a starter, Clausen fumbled and Bengals safety Roy Williams recovered.
But on the ensuing series, Benson lost four yards on his first carry and on third-and-two disaster was narrowly averted when cornerback Chris Gamble dropped a pick-six pass in the flat headed to The Ocho.
With the Bengals leading, 7-0, late in the first quarter, they again traded turnovers to negate a Palmer interception. He had Owens running past the linebackers and into the open down the middle and when Palmer tried to jack up a long one, he was hit as he threw from pressure up the middle and the ball ended up terribly short and in the hands of safety Charles Godfrey.
His 38-yard return put Clausen in the red zone, but on his first snap he tried to hit Smith inside on a slant and cornerback
But the Bengals offense somehow managed to slip into neutral despite embarking on a 16-play drive. How many teams you see go 16 plays and punt? And while the ball may have been wet, it wasn’t raining when the Bengals embarked on the march.
Palmer almost threw another interception that got dropped when Gresham slipped on a quick outside throw and The Ocho dropped an eight-yard pass that he let get in on his chest. But he came back to catch a 14-yarder on third down and the Bengals converted a fourth-and-two when running back
But the Bengals could get nothing running the ball and Palmer looked out of sync. On a third down he wobbled a low ball to Leonard out of the backfield for an incompletion that forced a punt.
Huber obliged in this grind job of an effort and rolled it to the Carolina 1 and after Clausen’s obligatory three-and-out, the Bengals were at the Carolina 42 with 5:23 left in the half. When Palmer threw low to The Ocho on third-and-one, the Bengals needed another fourth-down conversion from Leonard as he followed pulling left tackle
The Bengals, hounded by penalties in their first two games, didn’t get one until the last three minutes of the half when Gresham was called for holding that pushed the Bengals out of the red zone. They couldn’t overcome it and the Panthers got a hand on another Palmer pass on third and nine when he tried to hit The Ocho in bracket coverage. The underneath defender, linebacker James Anderson, batted it away, to bring on Nugent.
The Bengals came into Sunday trying to unleash their offensive weapons in a regular-season game for the first time this year. Palmer’s longest pass remained a 51-yard Hail Mary to Shipley in the opener and his longest throw to his starting wide receivers was a 29-yarder over the middle on Owens’ run-and-catch last Sunday against Baltimore.
But even though the Bengals had the ball 21:15 in the first half, they showed no signs of coming out of it. Owens had two catches for 24 yards and The Ocho had two for 19.
PREGAME NOTES: The Bengals did the expected and sat cornerback
Moments after the inactives were announced, a downpour enveloped eerie Bank of America Stadium lit up at 11:40 in the morning.
With Jones inactive, rookie cornerback
Also inactive for the second straight week was wide receiver
Think the Panthers are going to run it? They went into the game with just three active wide receivers when they sat Dwayne Jarrett and Armanti Edwards. Look for the Panthers to try to get rookie quarterback Jimmy Clausen comfortable in his first NFL start with quick throws to tight end Dante Rosario and running back Mike Goodson.
The fiancée of late Bengals wide receiver Chris Henry and their children visited the Bengals hotel Saturday night and had dinner in the team dining room with Jones, his teammate at West Virginia. Henry died after injuries in a truck accident last December in Charlotte.
Wide receiver Chad Ochocinco made the Sunday morning paper outside the sports section, landing on the front page of The Charlotte Observer's Local & State section. Via Twitter he set up a dinner with the first 85 people that could get into uptown's China Brazilian Steakhouse. The bill came to $8,000 with a $1,000 tip, the paper said.