Defense subdues Big D, 26-3
BY GEOFF HOBSON
Posted: 11-7-04, 6:30 p.m.
The Bengals served themselves to a helping of Tuna Sunday in taking a page from Cowboys coach Bill Parcells' playbook during Cincinnati's 26-3 victory here at sold-out Paul Brown Stadium.
A stingy run defense generated five turnovers, a big play from a tight end jump-started the offense, and a push-the-pile running game sat on a fourth-quarter lead in a win that gave them the same 3-5 record they had at the halfway point last season. It also lifted head coach Marvin Lewis' record to 8-4 at PBS and the club's home record this season to 3-1 before the second-largest Bengals crowd ever at 65,721.
"That's about as bad as you can get; I give Cincinnati credit," Parcells said. "They did a good job. We helped them a lot. I'm really embarrassed for that kind of performance. I really am. There's no explanation for it, except we're poorly coached and we played bad. I don't know where we go from here, if anywhere. I'll try to answer your questions but I really don't have much to say, fellows, except we were poorly prepared, we played poorly, we're inefficient and we're just awful."
"Big Play Schobel"
Quarterback Carson Palmer pulled off the Bengals' longest play of the season early in the second half on third-and-six out of the shotgun when he hit tight end Matt Schobel down the middle of the field for a 76-yard touchdown pass that blew open a 9-3 halftime lead and stunned the Cowboys at 16-3 with 9:36 left in the third quarter.
Until that point, Palmer had passed for 66 yards all day, Schobel had caught 75 yards all season, and the longest catch by a Bengals tight end this season had been Reggie Kelly's 14-yarder.
But Schobel raced past middle linebacker Dat Nguyen down the middle, caught the ball breaking into a seam, shoved a stiffarm at Pro Bowl safety Roy Williams before running off, and just like that the Bengals had their longest catch by a tight end since M.L. Harris's 80-yarder 20 years ago against the Jets.
"It was a double-moving route and we're trying to work on the (middle linebacker)," Palmer said. "He made a great move, then cut open and showed some great wheels a lot of us didn't expect. It was a big momentum killer for them and exploited a big gash in their defense."
'D' turns it up
The rest was left to a defense that posted Lewis's first no-touchdown game as a head coach, and the first one since a 38-3 win in Houston two years ago.
"Maybe we're getting over the injury bug a little bit. We've got guys fitting into roles now," Lewis said. "We are who we are. No Hall of Fame player is going to drop out of the sky and ride off with us, but we're going to keep our guys doing what they do and they'll get better doing it every week."
Interceptions by cornerback Deltha O'Neal and rookie safety Madieu Williams set up the final scores, Shayne Graham's fourth field goal of the game on a 30-yarder that made it 19-3 early in the fourth quarter and Palmer's two-yard touchdown run on a bootleg with 2:20 left in a game that made it 26-3. It was Graham's first four-field goal game of his career, and makes him 9-for-9 in the last three games since he missed a 44-yarder in Cleveland.
Palmer's first NFL touchdown capped a clock-sapping 14-play drive that consumed 8:19 as the Bengals reversed their third-down woes. After whiffing on seven of their first eight, they hit on seven of their last nine as Palmer finished with 212 yards on 21-of-32 passing in overseeing an offense that didn't turn it over and his first game he didn't throw an interception.
It was also the first time he didn't get sacked in saluting his offensive line and Pro Bowl right tackle Willie Anderson. Anderson, told this week by a doctor in Birmingham, Ala. that he needed to rest the torn cartilage in his knee for three weeks, chose to play as he tries to ward off an arthroscopic surgery that would take him out for five or six weeks and possibly end his season.
"That's leadership. I wanted to show this team how much I'm committed," said Anderson, replaced by Scott Kooistra with about four plays left in the last drive. "They say it can get worse, but I don't want to miss any games. I'll go until they tell me to stop."
Running back Rudi Johnson stole the clock, pounding for 68 of his 95 yards (on 26 carries) in the second half. On that last drive, Johnson banged it nine times for 44 yards after a first half he had 27 yards on nine carries.
"You know when we got the lead like that, I'm licking my chops," Johnson said. "That's what I do. Move the chains, get first downs, run the clock."
Wide receiver Chad Johnson outdueled cousin Keyshawn with eight catches for 74 yards to Keyshawn's four for 58.
Rookie steps up
But the day belonged to defense, and if there had to be a game ball, it would have to go to rookie defensive end Robert Geathers. After a sack, forced fumble, and tipped pass in the first half, Geathers took the Cowboys out of field goal-range on their first possession of the second half when his pass rush forced Dallas quarterback Vinny Testaverde into an intentional grounding call on third down to set up the Schobel play.
Testaverde, who threw three picks for the second straight week, finished 18-of-30 for 207 yards.
Bengals cruise to halftime lead
The Bengals forced three turnovers during the game's first 20 minutes and ended up in a slugfest with Dallas's dangerous defense in taking a 9-3 halftime lead.
Cincinnati knocked loose its NFL-leading 22nd and 23rd fumbles inside the Dallas 36, cornerback Tory James came up with his NFL-best fifth interception, and Geathers ended his splendid first half by tipping Testaverde's third-down pass at the Bengals 5 to force a Billy Cundiff 24-yard field that gave Dallas its first points with 18 seconds left in the half.
But the Bengals had to be thinking what might have been. They could only get Graham field goals of 35 and 45 yards off those drives as they ended with just one more first down (four) than turnovers at the half.
The Bengals couldn't deliver a killing blow, not to mention a touchdown, as their offense continued a miserable skein on third down in coming up empty on six of seven such snaps in the first half. Rudi Johnson couldn't get untracked and Palmer's longest completion was an 11-yard slant to Chad Johnson on 9-of-16 passing for just 53 yards.
The Bengals tried to go up top once after the fumble, but Palmer's pass that hung up for wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh working one-on-one got tipped away by cornerback Terence Newman in the corner of the end zone.
On third-and-11, Palmer got pressure inside from Cowboys Pro Bowl tackle La'Roi Glover and he had to step up and run before hitting Houshmanzadeh for an eight-yard gain that extended the Bengals miseries in the red zone.
Dating back to the Monday night win over Denver two weeks ago, it marked the eighth time in nine trips inside the foes' 20 that the Bengals didn't get a touchdown. Palmer's touchdown run at the end makes it two touchdowns in 11 red-zone trips in the last three games.
Houshmandzadeh set up the second score on a 28-yard punt return when it translated into Graham's 47-yarder that made it 6-0 two minutes into the second quarter.
James then knocked a ball off the chest of wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson after an eight-yard gain and linebacker Brian Simmons plucked it to go 18 yards and give Cincinnati a first down at the Dallas 29.
But the Bengals had the ball all of 51 seconds after a two-yard dump pass to Rudi Johnson and two incompletions to wide receiver Kelley Washington. Graham saved the day again with a 45-yarder that made it 9-0 with 9:57 left in the half.
With the Bengals swarming the run (running back Eddie George had 20 yards on seven first-half carries and finished with eight for 23) and Testaverde having trouble against the Bengals' retooled nickel package (18-of-30 for 207 yards), the Cowboys needed a bad punt to score.
Kyle Larson got off a 31-yarder from his own 24 with 2:13 left, and the Cowboys only had to go 49 yards to get the field goal.
Stuffing the run
The Cowboys made no bones about trying to revive their dormant running game against the Bengals-last-in-the-NFL run defense and they did exactly that for the game's first five minutes until the Dallas braintrust made two curious calls on third-and-1 and fourth-and inches from the Bengals 22. Cincinnati stuffed a running back option pitch on the perimeter on third down and then defensive tackle John Thornton blew up a quarterback sneak in not allowing Testaverde to stretch out over the right side of his line.
PREGAME NOTES: The Bengals can't seem to get to an opening kickoff this season without having their lineup reshuffled. This Sunday, both backup safeties got the start with Kim Herring (knee) and Kevin Kaesviharn (hand) hurting.
Madieu Williams got his fifth start and first since Oct. 3, and came up with his second interception in as many games. Rogers Beckett, who started the opener and Oct. 3 in Pittsburgh before leaving both games early with a concussion, started and played for the first time since the loss to the Steelers.
Herring, a seven-year veteran, was on Sunday's inactive list for the fourth game. Both Herring and Kaesviharn played last week after getting hurt in Tennessee, but Kaesviharn was active even though he broke a small bone in his wrist, and did play some on passing downs. The Bengals were trying to prevent George from gaining his first 100-yard day of the season, but they did what they had to do in Pittsburgh and turned to rookie cornerback Keiwan Ratliff to play some safety. With Williams also playing corner in three-receiver sets (that's how he got pick when he read Keyshawn Johnson's inside move), Mitchell, an early-season pickup, also took some snaps at safety.
Another rookie, Landon Johnson, made his third start in the last four games at middle linebacker.
Anderson, making his team-best 72nd straight start despite being limited with the condition for virtually the entire season, didn't practice this week. Lewis said Friday Anderson and the club are going to see if it can be delayed until after the season.
The Bengals put starting wide receiver Peter Warrick on injured reserve Friday with his broken leg, but they still didn't activate rookie running back Chris Perry on Sunday even though he practiced last week. The Bengals first-round draft pick goes into the halfway point of the season with just two games played. He was downgraded from probable to questionable when he missed Friday's practice with an abdominal strain.
Chad Johnson honored Warrick before the game when he ran out on the field waving his No. 80 jersey on a day the Bengals broke out their orange tops for the first time.
The Cowboys also started a rookie in the secondary with Lance Frazier getting the start in place of injured cornerback Tyrone Williams (hamstring). The Cowboys plucked Frazier, a rookie free agent out of West Virginia, off the Ravens practice squad last month when fourth-rounder Bruce Thornton blew out his knee.
In his first NFL game last week in the Cowboys' 31-21 win over Detroit, Frazier had an interception and a 55-yard punt return.
Also out for the Cowboys with a hamstring injury was wide receiver Quincy Morgan.
Other inactives for the Bengals: tackles Alex Sulfsted and Stacy Andrews, newly-signed defensive tackle Terrance Martin, and cornerback Rashad Bauman.