Caped Crusaders can't save offense

CANTON, Ohio - After Sunday night's 16-7 loss to the Cowboys in the Hall of Fame Game, Batman (Terrell Owens) and Robin (Chad Ochocinco) stood at their lockers and began assigning other players to roles in the 1960s hit series they hope to revive in time for the NFL's regular season.

Alfred the butler is quarterback Carson Palmer.

"The Penguin is Bobbie (Williams)," Owens said, "and Collossus is Roy (Williams)."

Sunday's mystery was if the real villain was the pass protection in an uninspiring offensive effort that netted just 136 of 179 yards through the air, particularly when Palmer mustered just a first down in of each of his two series, both on passes to Owens just 12 days after he joined the offense. But he was sacked once, had one ball tipped, and got hit as he threw another incompletion.

"The first group, I wasn't disappointed with that," said head coach Marvin Lewis. "That was not an issue. I thought we did pretty well with that. ... I think we got beat in one game inside where Carson had to deliver the ball."

Palmer, who threw four of his five passes to Owens (the other went to The Ocho), didn't seem fazed at all. His two completions went for 18 yards to Owens for first downs, but he knows the fan base will have a lot of angst Monday morning.

"I'm not worried about anything," Palmer said. "You want to score every time you get the ball. When you get only two shots you have to make them count and we obviously didn't get in the end zone. It's early. It's still a work in progress. We're still gelling as a unit, as an offense. We have to go back and work and grind because that's what we do and that's what Marvin preaches."

Lewis preached more efficiency and getting tighter after racking up 12 penalties on 90 yards. He was steamed at The Ocho's motion penalty on the second series and there were three holding calls that gummed up drives by the backups (tackle Anthony Collins, rookie guard Otis Hudson, tight end Dan Coats).

"Loose hands, sloppy hands," Lewis said. "We've got to get better at it."

When asked about Ocho getting in sync with Owens, Lewis said it's matter of him "getting in sync with our offense."

A relaxed Owens held court forever in the jammed locker room of Canton's McKinley High School team while The Ocho left his adjoining locker and met the media elsewhere. It didn't take Palmer long to start the Owens era, hitting him on a sideline pattern on the left for seven yards and a first down on the second snap. On the next series he hit him for 11 more on the other side as he easily worked against man-to-man coverage. Palmer connected with Owens again over the middle for a short gain, but The Ocho had moved early to wipe it out.

"Excited; anxious," said The Ocho, looking at another fine for some yellow shoes that didn't find the yellow brick road.

Owens looked just at ease in the postgame locker room, only objecting to an ESPN question about how far he is along in picking up the offense with, "Next question."

"We were just trying to take what the defense was giving us and Carson was going through his progressions," Owens said. "The first 12 to 15 plays we game-planned. We had some opportunities depending on the coverage whether we wanted to throw the ball or not. I appreciate the timing and the chemistry we're trying to work on out there. It's obviously different from practice and I'm definitely trying to do whatever I can to learn the offense in a timely manner and try to get in sync with Carson. What a lot of people don't understand is that Chad's been with this guy for about eight years, so it's like clockwork with him. For myself I just have to keep working hard in practice. Keep communicating with him and try to grasp this offense as fast as I can so once we hit the regular season we can hit on all cylinders."

The backup passing game and protection was not good. Backup quarterback J.T. O'Sullivan completed four of 11 passes for 33 yards. No. 3 Jordan Palmer played the entire second half and his two interceptions led to 10 points, one out of his own zone that turned into linebacker Brandon Sharpe's six-yard touchdown return that made it 16-0 with 9:23 left.

"Never saw him, but I never should have thrown it to him," said Palmer, who went 10-of-20 for 102 yards while getting sacked three times. "My best throw was to No. 58. It was good being back out there going against different stuff after the last couple of weeks. I'd love to have a couple of plays back. Right when you let it out of your hand you realize that he's not the guy to go to."

No. 58, middle linebacker Jason Williams, picked off a pass early in the third quarter on a wayward pass over the middle. But Palmer finally got the offense ignited in the final 3:33 of the third quarter, when he hit wide receiver Matt Jones on the sideline for a 28-yard play to put the Bengals in Dallas territory for the first time all night. Before rookie running back Cordera Eason fumbled the ball away at the 11, tight end Chase Coffman pulled down a 21-yard catch from a crowd in the middle on fourth-and-17.

"We weren't going into this game thinking this game film was going to decide what kind of team we're going to be and this could make or break our season," Carson Palmer said. "We obviously have things to clean up and work on. That's what camp is all about."

In fact, usually the Bengals are still in camp at this time. The intrasquad scrimmage would have been Friday and the Mock Game Saturday night.

"For us, this is when we would have our first weekend scrimmage and we almost looked like it," Lewis said, "which is the disappointing part. But that being said, it's all part of the process. We have to go back to work and get better."

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