BENGALS GAMEDAY: Photos, analysis, video highlights, stats, quotes* * *
Updated: 6 p.m.
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. - In another grinding game of keep away, the Bengals lost a costly volley late in the game on the way to a 33-21 loss to Buffalo. The backbreaking play came with 2:22 to play when linebacker Rashad Jeanty couldn't wrap up rookie running back Marshawn Lynch on a 56-yard touchdown run that sealed the Bengals' sixth straight road loss and ninth overall in their last 11 games.
Asked if this was the lowest point of the season for the 2-6 Bengals, quarterback Carson Palmer said, "No, we've been at rock bottom for a couple of weeks now. I can't begin to describe what the feeling's like in here."
To make the day even more miserable, Chad Johnson was taken off the field on a board with 1:53 left after he took a shot from Bills safety Donte Whitner over the middle at the Bills 35. Johnson always had movement in his extremities and after he passed a CT scan he was allowed to accompany the club back to Cincinnati Sunday night.
In a grim scene, players from both teams and the Bengals coaches huddled around the stretcher, where teammate T.J. Houshmandzadeh didn't leave his side and he later went with him to the hospital.
Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis said after the game that Johnson did not lose conciousness and was mobilized on a stretcher as a precaution because he had neck pain. Johnson has played in 95 straight games and hasn't missed a game since Nov. 18, 2001 in his rookie year.
"We all love Chad to death; it's scary when that happens to anyone," Bengals defensive end Bryan Robinson said. "I know that happened with the tight end up here (Kevin Everett). That stuff starts coming into your mind and it puts everything into perspective."
Whitner had words with Johnson after the Bengals receiver dropped a key third-down pass early in the fourth quarter, and let him know that he would be ready next time.
"He told me 'I'm going on that.' I said 'OK, next time you come across, I've got something for you," Whitner said. "We all saw what happened. I didn't try to hurt him. It was a clean, legal hit. When other teams see how physical we play, they're going to be looking. I hope he's alright. I heard he's able to move all his parts. I hope he's healthy enough to play next week or the following week."
Bengals defense struggles again
Johnson gave the ball back to the Bills with 13 minutes left in the game and the Bengals leading 21-19 when he dropped a third-down slant from Palmer that looked like he might haven taken it for a 78-yard touchdown.
"I saw Chad look at me," Whitner said. "He wasn't looking at the ball."
It was a rare miss. But with the defense unable to stop anybody or anything, the Bengals couldn't crawl back from the tiny margin of error. The Bills, who came into the game with the fewest plus-25-yard plays in the NFL with just four, turned into "The Greatest Show on Turf," with four alone on Sunday.
When Johnson dropped the ball, the Bengals had to punt into the wind and Buffalo had the ball at its 46. But the Bengals defense held when linebacker Landon Johnson applied pressure and cornerback Deltha O'Neal covered wide receiver Josh Reed.
But the Bills had won the critical game of field position, forcing a Kyle Larson punt in the end zone that resulted in an amazing three penalties that put the Bills at the Bengals 33 with 9:52 left in the game.
"That changed field position right there, which is horrible," Lewis said.
Safety Marvin White was called for going out of bounds on his own, linebacker Corey Mays was illegally downfield and cornerback Blue Adams was called for a hold.
The Bills responded by hammering Lynch (153 yards on 29 carries for his first career 100-yard game) six straight times before he stood up on the seventh play and fired an eight-yard touchdown pass to tight end Robert Royal to give Buffalo the lead for good with 5:51 left.
"Teams are making us run the ball and their offenses are running the ball, so they're wearing the clock down and not giving us as many possessions as most teams get," Palmer said. "And there have been a couple of games where we haven't been able to run the ball. We have to find a way to get the passing game to work."
Like they did on the previous third-down play, the Bills took away Palmer's top two receivers and he threw an incompletion to wide receiver Glenn Holt with a little more than four minutes left.
Lewis pointed to the three-penalty play, the third-down defense, and the Bengals inability to run the ball as the keys to the game.
"That was a big part of the game," Lewis said of the failure to run it. "As they put eight guys up there, we didn't get enough hats on them. Guys were sliding off blocks."
The Bills converted eight of their 13 third-down tries and had a 35:42 advantage in time of possession.
"Not tackling, man," said linebacker Robert Geathers of why the Bengals allowed their fifth 100-yard rusher in the last six games. "Just like on the last play. We had him in the backfield and he broke loose. There's no way that should have happened."
The Bengals took a 21-16 lead over the Bills with 3:07 left in the third quarter on Palmer's one-yard flip to fullback Jeremi Johnson.
It finished off Palmer's 6-for-6 drive for 59 yards (he finished 26-of-39 for 271 yards), but the problem was he rarely had the ball as the Bills kept pounding the Cincinnati defense. Palmer did get a huge 23-yard play from Chad Johnson when he grabbed one of his patented tip-toe jobs on the sideline on third-and-10.
When Houshmandzadeh hauled in a 17-yarder over the middle, the Bengals were finally in the red zone again.
And that's why they had the lead. While they scored on their first two trips, the beleaguered defense held the Bills to three red-zone field goals.
But the Cincinnati defense had no answer for Buffalo on the other 80 yards and was brutal again on third down. Bills wide receiver Lee Evans was dominant in his matchup against Bengals cornerback Johnathan Joseph, finishing the day with nine catches for 165 yards The Bills erased the Bengals' 14-13 halftime lead on Rian Lindell's 29-yard field goal, courtesy of Evans beating Joseph on a third-and-four for 10 yards that kept that drive alive for seven more plays.
"We can't get off the field," said defensive end Justin Smith. "That's our biggest problem. We can't make a play to get off the field and we can't get our offense back on the field."
Holt takes it to the house
Playing the Bills' highly-ranked specialists, the Bengals countered an egregious error on special teams with their first kick return for a touchdown in the 73 games under Lewis when Holt went 100 yards with 1:44 left in the first half as the Bengals took a 14-13 lead.
It was the first Bengals' kick return touchdown since Brandon Bennett did it against Baltimore in 2002, and the second-longest in club history next to Eric Bieniemy's 102-yarder against the Giants in 1997.
Holt said after the game that he had two of his front teeth knocked out accidentially by teammate Dhani Jones during the celebration following the touchdown when their facemasks collided.
But it was a miserable half for a defense that allowed 273 yards to an offense that came into the game averaging 244. Evans reached the 100-yard mark in the first half alone. The Bills offense, which came into the game with the fewest plays of plus-25 yards in the NFL this season with four, logged three against the Bengals in the first half.
After Holt's touchdown, the Bengals allowed the Bills to microwave 63 yards in 1:41 to get Lindell's 21-yard field goal with three seconds left in the half. Evans, who had five receptions for 118 first-half yadrs picking primarily on Joseph, got in front of him and muscled a leaping 23-yarder in the half's final drive.
Until Palmer took a knee on the last snap of the half, the Bengals offense hadn't run a play since a Palmer pass at the line was tipped by defensive tackle Larry Tripplett with 11:10 left in the half.
It was only Palmer's second incompletion of a half in which he was a seamless 11-of-13 for 131 yards, but he never had the ball and the Bengals could get no running game going with Rudi Johnson getting just eight yards on seven carries. Johnson said his hamstring was sore after the game, but that it was not a reason for his difficulties running the ball on day he had just 11 yards on nine carries.
After the tipped pass, the special teams miscue came on a Cincinnati punt just shy of midfield with 10:52 left in the half. The Bills were called for roughing punter Kyle Larson, but the Bengals were called for not having enough men on the line of scrimmage. The Bengals had to punt the ball again and this time the Bills got it at their 25, and in a flashback to last week's Pittsburgh game the Bengals offense didn't see the ball again for 8:47 and 15 plays.
The killing play in the drive came on Evans' 30-yard catch in the middle of a zone on third-and-10. The Bengals lined up in a three-man front and blitzed two, one of them being rookie safety Chinedum Ndukwe. But nobody got there and Losman, like he did all game in which the Bengals had no sacks, had plenty of time to write how he won back the Bills quarterback job, never mind complete a pass.
On one completion in the half's final drive, he literally had five seconds to throw before finding a receiver. He finished 24-of-34 for 295 yards.
But the defense didn't allow the Bills to score a touchdown on that 15-play drive. Robinson's tackle of Lynch for a four-yard loss on first-and-goal from the 1 forced Lindell's 23-yard field goal with 1:56 left in the half.
Offensive fireworks early
The Bengals and Bills secondary embarked on a shootout in the game's first six minutes when the Bengals answered a touchdown with a 15-yard touchdown pass from Palmer to Houshmandzadeh streaking past cornerback Jabari Greer on a post.
It was Houshmandzadeh's 10th touchdown reception of the season, and marked the NFL's second-longest touchdown streak to open a season at eight games, tying him with the Steelers' Buddy Dial at the start of the 1960 season. Houshmandzadeh had a season-low four receptions, but he did move into sixth-place on Bengals all-time receiving list (365) past Eddie Brown's 363. Chad Johnson had a season-low 48 yards on three catches.
A 43-yard screen pass to running back Kenny Watson and a 24-yard pass to Chad Johnson put the Bengals in the red zone.
But the Bengals provided just the right panacea for Buffalo's dormant passing game when Losman went up top three times in the game's first drive to Evans working on Joseph and came up with an eight-yard touchdown pass just 3:16 into the game.
On the game's second snap Evans ran right past Joseph on a bump-and-run for a 38-yard play. Then Evans scorched Joseph for 19 more on the next play on a drag across a zone to the sideline.
On second-and-goal, Evans again beat Joseph, this time on a corner route in the end zone. It was originally ruled out-of-bounds but the Bills won the challenge when it was clear Evans came down in bounds with both feet.
The Bengals appeared to bench Joseph on the game's third series and were rewarded with rookie cornerback Leon Hall's third interception of the season at the Bengals 5 on a bomb from Losman to Evans. Hall, burnt twice for long plays on double moves last week against Pittsburgh, played the out and up and got in front of Evans and was helped by a stiff wind that held up the pass.
The Bills got another play of plus-25 earlier in that drive when Losman worked a play-action pass on third-and-one and with safety Dexter Jackson coming up to the play run and he hit tight end Robert Royal for 27 yards.
"We've got to figure out how to win the game, rather than lose it," Lewis said.
Joseph returned soon after the Hall intercepton, but the rookie was one of the few that had a decent day in the secodary. He had four tackles to go along with the pick and a pass defensed.
PREGAME NOTES: Defensive tackle John Thornton missed just his second game in 72 as a Bengal Sunday when he didn't dress and backup Michael Myers got his first start in Cincinnati and 65th of his NFL career.
Thornton injured his neck last Sunday against Pittsburgh and came back to practice Friday but apparently didn't pass muster during pregame warmups.
Even with Rudi Johnson active, Kenny Watson got his fifth straight start at running back. But with Watson coming off a concussion against the Steelers and Johnson dressing for the first time since his hamstring tightened Oct. 14 in Kansas City, the Bengals figure to rotate them.
The Bengals also deactivated punt returner Skyler Green after he has returned all nine punts this year and wide receiver Antonio Chatman is expected to replace him.
It also means that wide receiver Marcus Maxwell dresses for the first time and should see extensive duty in a game that figures to be decided in large part by special teams.
The Bengals are trying to infuse the NFL's worst punt return against the league's best. Green has more fair catches (10) than returns and has a 4.2-yard average compared to the Bills' Roscoe Parrish's 21-yard average. The Bengals also need to cover dangerous kick return man Terrence McGee, the cornerback who has five career touchdowns with the most recent one coming against Dallas last month.
The one before that came against the Bengals in Buffalo's Christmas Eve 2005 upset in Paul Brown Stadium, a miserable day for special teams coach Darrin Simmons.
Simmons, one of the more superstitious men in the NFL, dreaded the game even before head coach Marvin Lewis decided to introduce the special teams during pregame for the first time that season. It came almost a year to the day that Bills tackle Jason Peters fueled another Buffalo victory at PBS when he blocked a punt in the end zone.
"He definitely has his routines," said safety John Busing of Simmons. "He's thorough. ... It's the kind of game where we have to be disciplined and stay in our lanes."
Also inactive for the Bengals were right tackle Willie Anderson, middle linebackers Ahmad Brooks and Caleb Miller, cornerback David Jones and offensive lineman Dan Santucci.
The Bills put quarterback Trent Edwards (wrist) on the shelf and made running back Fred Jackson the emergency backup behind starter J.P. Losman and Gibran Hamdan.
The Bengals showed up in their all white uniforms trying to break a 5-5 tie the right way. The game captains were tight end Reggie Kelly for the offense, cornerback Johnathan Jones for the defense and linebacker Dhani Jones for the special teams. They lost the toss and safety Herana-Daze Jones cut down McGee on the Bills 24.