ATLANTA - If the identity the Bengals is seeking is balance, then Bengaldom is bloated out of proportion after Sunday's whacky 39-32 loss to the Falcons that has put them closer to last place than first place in the AFC North at 2-4.
The Bengals rolled up their most yardage in three years and 52 games with 469 at the Georgia Dome but allowed their most points and second-most yards (452) in their 39 games under defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer.
The Bengals, who like to use their no-huddle offense as a change of pace, used it virtually the whole game as Palmer threw 50 passes for just the fifth time in his career and 400 yards (412) for just the third time while the offense scored 30 points for just the sixth time in the last four seasons.
But when the Bengals needed to stop the bleeding in the first half, they could only get field goals on their two red-zone trips and Palmer never could find the touch on his long ball to wide receiver Terrell Owens that accounted for touchdowns in the two previous games.
If the offense was out of whack, what about the defense that before Sunday had allowed 30 points just three times in the previous 25 games? The Bengals came up with two huge turnovers in the second-half comeback. Cornerback Leon Hall had a leaping interception on a Matt Ryan rainbow to wide receiver Michael Jenkins that set up the score to cut the Falcons lead to 24-19, and cornerback Adam Jones then stripped wide receiver Roddy White of the ball, scooped it up, and gave the Bengals that short-lived lead at 25-24 late in the third quarter.
But the Bengals gave up seven plays of at least 22 yards and while they blitzed and played pretty much man-to-man, Ryan was able to play pitch and catch with White for 11 catches and 201 yards while the Bengals came up with no sacks again for six in six games.
Get blown out in the first half, 24-3. Win the second half, 29-15.
"It showed we have the resiliency, capability and talent," said middle linebacker Dhani Jones of a scream-fest second half. "When we're on, we're on. But we have to maintain that on switch."
In fact, the only thing that looked balanced was the locker room reaction. Maybe because the Bengals staged one of the great road comebacks in team history. If they could have finished off what they started in the third quarter, it would have been the greatest road comeback in club annals, better than a comeback from 21-3 down against a Marvin Lewis defense in Baltimore in 1996.
"Everybody's got an opinion, but it's not a reality on this team. People have been saying we are going to explode the last three or four weeks," Palmer said. "It's about one game at a time. We're 2-4 and we've got to find a way to get to 3-4."
"Who's going to implode or explode?" asked safety Chris Crocker. "Everybody's made mistakes. I can't name any who's having a Pro Bowl year. Everybody's made their share of mistakes."
With all eyes on Owens to fan the flames, he responded with a huge second half. He muscled in his third touchdown in three games on a 19-yard screen pass and finished off wide receiver Jordan Shipley's 64-yard touchdown run when he buried cornerback Brent Grimes with the final block inside the five. After his 88-yard day on nine catches, Owens bit his tongue when asked where his team is mentally.
"I don't know where we are mentally; I know where I am," Owens said. "I'm going to stay positive with the attitude I've had since I've been here. I'm going to try and make myself available to Carson and try to do whatever I can without saying too much and it being taken out of context, and do whatever I can to get this team to where it needs to be.
"My goal is to get this team to the playoffs and to do some special things. Right now I'm not sure what we need to do different, but all across the board, from the coaches down, we need to be doing something different. Because there is no excuse to have all the talent that we have on this team and play like we're playing. We need to put every phase of the game together. As a team we need to do it collectively together. I don't know how we're going to get out of this hole. It's definitely embarrassing for myself and the offensive guys to be 2-4. It's embarrassing."
For the third week in a row, the Bengals looked at the stat sheet and wondered how they could lose when looking at the numbers.
"Nobody is physically whipping us," Crocker said. "It's more (mentally)."
Left tackle Andrew Whitworth was left scratching his head. Except for the last series when it was open season and the Falcons were able to pin their ears, the Bengals offensive line held up pretty well. That's when sack ace John Abraham got his two sacks, one each off Whitworth and right tackle Andre Smith. But Palmer said his protection was good all day and Bengals radio analyst Dave Lapham said he thought the line was improved and that Smith was an upgrade over Dennis Roland.
And the stats said so. The Bengals were able to convert seven of 12 third downs.
"I mean, when you look at it, Carson threw for over 400 yards and we rushed for four yards per carry," Whitworth said. "What more can you do? It's the same problem all year. We've got to come out like that. We've got to move the ball like that the whole game. We take too long to get going."
Lewis, a picture of frustration with the sweat streaming down his face, is still trying to fit together jagged pieces after six games. With the Bengals trailing, 17-3, he got a 45-yard kick return from Adam Jones, but a holding call on tight end Daniel Coats. He got a head-banging performance from running back Cedric Benson (his eight-yard run in the first quarter knocked safety Thomas DeCoud out of the game), but Benson had a huge fumble to set up what proved to be the winning touchdown. The defense was good on most of its snaps, but buckled on third down (the Falcons were 7-for-13) and couldn't tackle running back Michael Turner on two runs that accounted for 51 of his 121 yards.
"We've got to do it more consistently. We can't get behind in every situation and get our back up against the wall and then all of sudden we do things right," Lewis said. "I don't think we're in a hole. We're letting opportunities get by, no question, but we've got a lot of football left."
But it's when the Bengals play their football.
"We've got to put it together for an entire game," Whitworth said. "We know we can do it. We've got good players. It's not like we're saying, 'We've got to get new guys in here.' "