Posted: 7:10 a.m.
MINNEAPOLIS - Boomer Esiason, the old Bengals quarterback, ripped wide receiver Chad Ochocinco for being a sideshow Sunday. But at the moment he is the only show in town for a Bengals passing game that has folded up like a circus tent.
Carson Palmer, the current Bengals quarterback, had the second fewest passing yards of his career in Sunday's 30-10 loss to the Vikings with a measly 94 on 25 attempts that somehow computes to less than four yards per pass for a guy who just three short years ago was the MVP of the Pro Bowl.
For the sixth straight game the Bengals failed to score a second half touchdown. For the 11th time in 13 games this season they failed to score 24 points. It's not exactly an anomaly. Since the Bengals lost the last three games of the 2006 season to miss the playoffs by a game, they've scored 24 points eight times in the last 48 games with a guy most pundits agree is one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. The Bengals offense leads the league in fines instead of fine.
"As a wide receiver he's the number one fined wide receiver in football, but he's 19th in receptions," said Esiason as he ripped The Ocho on the CBS pregame show. "This guy is no longer a Pro Bowl player. He's an absolute sideshow. He's an embarrassment to the franchise. The other aspect to all of this, you would think Marvin Lewis would have enough of it, sit him down and deactivate him. But Marvin Lewis can't. Any coach who has ever coached in Cincinnati, any player who has ever played in Cincinnati, knows who runs the franchise. It's Mike Brown. Mike Brown will never allow Marvin Lewis to sit down the sideshow that is Chad Ochocinco. It's a shame, because they're having a great season ... but in this particular situation, just an absolute reminder of what a sideshow Chad Ochocinco has become."
But on Sunday, Ochocinco scored the Bengals' only touchdown of the game on a 15-yard flare when he faked coming back for a reverse in that heady second quarter the Bengals cut the lead to 10-7 with 8:45 left in the first half. Since Palmer hit wide receiver Andre Caldwell for a touchdown on the first possession of the Nov. 8 win against Baltimore for his eighth straight scoring possession, he has thrown just two touchdown passes to wide receivers and both have been to The Ocho in a span of 23 quarters.
Ochocinco could manage just three catches for 27 yards even though Palmer threw him eight balls. But the most disturbing thing is Palmer didn't throw any balls to the other outside receiver, $7 million man, Laveranues Coles, and the slot man, Caldwell, who had just four catches for 25 yards on seven attempts. Which means Palmer decided that his Nos. 2 and 3 receivers were open exactly seven times.
"We need to do a better job with that," Palmer said. "They did a really good job with a game plan that took away Chad. We didn't do a good enough job of countering that and finding our other guys and moving the chains.
"They dropped underneath Chad with their zones and then when they went man we got them a few times and they went back to their zones. They did a good job in their zones. They did a good job covering us downfield and made me look for checkdowns and got me outside the pocket and run around."
In the end, Palmer got some heat from the vaunted Vikings front four but the NFL's top sack unit only got one all day. Left tackle Andrew Whitworth blanked right end Jared Allen and his 12.5 sacks that is second in the NFL. And the sack came on the first series from one of the unheralded Vikings in defensive end Brian Robison and not from Allen or the tackle tandem of Kevin and Pat Williams.
When Palmer did get hit, most of the time it looked like he was waiting for someone to get open. The Bengals opted not to do what Arizona did last week in their upset of the Vikings and didn't max protect.
"I thought we did a good job protecting Carson and not letting them get hits on him unless they had extra people coming," Whitworth said, and Palmer agreed.
"I thought it was good," Palmer said. "When you're going against one of the best D-lines in the league and the best D-end and the two inside guys are probably the best at their position, so considering that it was good. Whit did a really good job on Jared Allen all day. Shutting him down and we did some good things in the run game."
But Palmer also admitted the passing game is "struggling for a number of reasons. It's been one thing one week and another thing the next week ... there's no quick fix. All we can do is try to find things we do better and tailor our strengths to the strengths (our players) have."
That's a disturbing observation heading into the 14th game of the season, but it is clear that the losses of T.J. Houshmandzadeh to free agency and Chris Henry to injury have not been cushioned as much as the Bengals thought by Coles and Caldwell.
Palmer and the receivers don't look like they're on the same page.
After the Vikes took a 13-7 lead on a field goal, the Bengals got the ball back with 31 seconds left in the first half and the thinking was they'd hand it off the rest of the way. Head coach Marvin Lewis indicated he was looking to kill the clock and it looked that way when he didn't call one of his two timeouts after running back Brian Leonard ran for nine yards with 13 seconds left.
But Palmer said they were looking to get a field goal with a 10- to 15-yard play. He threw a screen pass to Leonard and cornerback Antoine Winfield came up to make his second big hit on Leonard in the half just as he caught it, and sent him head over heels to force a fumble that was recovered by linebacker Chad Greenway at the Bengals 26 with four seconds left.
Just time enough for Ryan Longwell to hit a 44-yard field goal and let the Vikings go from a 10-7 lead with 38 seconds left to 16-7. Also in there was cornerback Johnathan Joseph's dropped interception in the end zone. By the time the Bengals got the ball back again, it was 23-7 with 8:35 left in the third quarter.
Obviously the sequence of the game.
"It was a tough a couple of minutes," Palmer said.
Leonard said there wasn't much he could do about the fumble.
"He made a hell of a play," Leonard said. "I reached out to catch the ball and turned upfield. I didn't have time to bring it in and protect it and he knocked it out of my hands."
Winfield was all over the place in making his return from an injury that kept him out of the lineup for six games. He had a team-high nine tackles and the game's funniest moment when he dropped to The Metrodome to do 10 pushups after he dropped an interception.
He also was the first man to solve the Leonard Leap in high school, college and the pros. Earlier in the first half, Leonard tried to vault Winfield, but Winfield didn't go low and spun Leonard around.
"That's the first time I ever got tackled on the jump," Leonard said. "He must have watched some film."
Certainly Vikings defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier has watched plenty of film on The Ocho and the Bengals offense. He was Lewis' first defensive coordinator from 2003-04 who got fired and Sunday had to be sweet for him. He gave the Bengals a season-low 210 yards of offense and apparently he figured only The Ocho could hurt him because Palmer said Frazier basically triple-teamed Ochocinco at times with a linebacker in front of him, a safety over the top and a cornerback running with him.
"A well-coached defense," Palmer said.
When Palmer did get The Ocho one-on-one in the second half against cornerback Cedric Griffin from the Vikings 4 early in the fourth quarter, he didn't get the fade deep enough over Griffin and he batted it away.
"I should have thrown it a few yards longer and let Chad make a play on it," Palmer said.
Whether Esiason likes it or not, The Ocho is the one guy the Bengals have that is making something happen in the pass game.
And he needs some help.