8-29-03, 10:15 p.m.
8-30-01, 1:15 a.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
INDIANAPOLIS _ The Bengals offered one of their mind-numbing brain teasers here in Friday night's preseason finale against the Colts.
How did they dominate the Colts for 504 yards to 160, and lose, 21-20?
Fuming Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis had the answer after watching three botched field-goal snaps, a kickoff return for a touchdown, and three trips in the red zone for no points.
"We can't make mistakes," said Lewis, who somehow saw his team outgain foes, 1,485-971 in yards, and still finish 1-3 in the preseason. . "We're still making mistakes that help us lose the football game. We keep doing that and it's not the first time we've done it this year."
What happens when you lose, 21-20, despite rolling up 27 first downs, hogging the ball for 36:03 and getting a combined 220 yards from rookie receivers Lawrence Hamilton and Kelley Washington?
You have the head coach vowing there very well could be some roster revisions when the team is cut to 53 Sunday, and then again Monday when they scrounge the waiver wire.
"We're going to make sure we have the right 53," Lewis said. "At this point, the 53 we start with might not be the 53 we end with. I think we're going to have to have that kind of perpetual roster because we have guys (not getting it done). We can't accept mediocrity. We're falling back into those bad habits. We have to nip it in the bud and move forward.
"Whatever it takes."
Somehow, the Colts scored their three touchdowns on a kick return, a fumble, and an interception on which the shortest play was 70 yards.
Don't say they're not interesting.
Rookie quarterback Carson Palmer got rocked twice on the Colts' doorstep. With the Bengals going in for a 21-7 lead from the Indianapolis 9 on the first drive of the second half, he threw a pass into the flat that got picked off by cornerback David Macklin and he took it 93 yards for a touchdown that tied the game at 14 and marked Palmer's third interception of the preseason that got returned for a touchdown.
Then, in the middle of fourth quarter and still in a 14-14 game, Palmer steered them to the lip of their Twilight Zone at the Colts 21. He held the ball in the pocket, backed up into a sack, and coughed up the ball that bounced into the arms of defensive end Raheem Brock and he took it 70 yards for touchdown.
"What hasn't happened to me?" asked Palmer, who finished the night 15 of 20 for 192 yards. "I shouldn't have thrown the interception. They were in Cover 2 and I should have checked into a run."
He also thinks he should have thrown a better ball to wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh running an out pattern. He threw it high, and Houshmandzadeh didn't leap because he thought it was headed to Hamilton running a slant behind him.
Then on the fumble, Palmer had his first two options covered, backed up into a sack, and fumbled.
"I've got to get rid of it quicker," Palmer said. "Or, have better ball security. The guy made a good play and kind of swiped it out of there."
Palmer rebounded on his very next throw, hitting Hamilton on a quick slant and he ran away from the secondary for a 68-yard touchdown with just over seven minutes left in the game. Lewis then went for two and the win, but Palmer had his pass to Houshmandzadeh, his third option, broken up over the middle.
Hamilton, picked up on waivers just 24 days ago, may have asserted himself in a mix made murky by the fact wide receiver Danny Farmer didn't play with a bruised knee Friday. Or, he may have just made the practice squad. At any rate, he had four catches for 121 yards.
The Bengals went into Friday night's preseason finale here against the Colts emphasizing special teams, and proceeded to turn the kicking game into a circus during a first half they somehow took a 14-7 lead.
Would you believe three botched field goal snaps, a field goal wiped out by a false start, and a blown 36-yard-field-goal attempt?
"Obviously, we have to do a lot better," said Lewis of special teams. "We're just awful in the passing game and we've got to get it fixed."
That's what he said at halftime. After the game, he said of the snapping and holding, "It's unacceptable, it's not professional football. . .It's definintely in their heads because they don't do that in practice. Now it's going to be because it's on tape."
Lewis figures to cut one of the two holders who are also the punters in Nick Harris OR Travis Dorsch. But he indicated he's willing to find other people to hold even with eight days until the opener.
The Bengals did look impressive on both sides of the ball in the first half, with the defense holding the Colts to 83 yards while racking up 272 yards, 133 coming from Hamilton and Washington.
Backup quarterback Shane Matthews did the most damage, hitting 11 of 16 passes for 168 yards. Matthews attributed part of his success to the vanilla defenses played in preseason, but said, "It's good for us just to be able to go out there and move the ball up and down the field."
Yet the special teams snafus that just won't go away no matter the coaches or the players, cast a pall over the first half.
On the game's opening kickoff, the Colts' Brad Pyatt took Neil Rackers' kickoff at his own five-yard line and knifed through the middle of the Bengals' defenders for a 95-yard touchdown run.
Not only that, but on their second series of the game, Brad St. Louis' high snap didn't help Rackers' 42-yard field-goal attempt, but Harris dropped the snap.
Not only that, when wide receiver Peter Warrick called for a fair catch on a punt just outside his own 10 late in the first quarter, he collided with cornerback Artrell Hawkins when his blocker got pushed into him, and the punt rolled to his own 3.
Not only that, with Rackers prepared to kick a 28-yard chip shot for a 17-7 lead in the middle of the second quarter, Harris bobbled his fourth field-goal snap of the preseason. He dropped two in the rain in New York three weeks ago, but these two came inside in the RCA Dome.
And, would you believe, three tries for a chip-shot field goal in the last 11 seconds of the first half blew up on a)another fumbled snap on Dorsch's first hold of the season on third down at the Colts 13, b) then a false start on right tackle Willie Anderson that wiped out a made 31-yarder, and then c) a Rackers miss to the left from 36 yards.
"I still have to make it no matter what," Rackers said.
As if they needed more misery, wide receiver Chad Johnson left for good with a left ankle sprain early in the second quarter, but Lewis said he's going to be fine. Running back Rudi Johnson left in the third quarter with a quad strain, and Lewis said that's in the more serious day-to-day mode.
But the Bengals still managed to grind out the 14-7 lead with a 52-yard touchdown pass from Matthews to Washington, and the defense responded by stopping drives on outside linebacker Brian Simmons' sack, the secondary's first interception of the season by safety Kevin Kaesvihran, and a fumble recovery by safety Marquand Manuel that was forced by rookie defensive end Elton Patterson.
Back-to-back roughing calls on the Colts rescued the Bengals from the first muffed field goal and moved them to the Indianapolis 6. Running back Brandon Bennett then shrugged off tacklers at the goal line to finish off his six-yard touchdown run that tied the game at seven with 8:04 left in the first quarter.
Still, the Begals finished the preseason like they finished last season, woefully in the red zone. Out of 14 possessions inside the foes' 20, they scored just five touchdowns, and got no points six times.
Bennett got the nod because Lewis chose not to play Corey Dillon and finished with 30 yards on eight carries.
Colts head coach Tony Dungy countered by not playing his Pro Bowl runner, Edgerrin James, and pulled his Pro Bowl quarterback, Peyton Manning, after one series and two of three passing for eight yards.
Bengals quarterback Jon Kitna worked just one quarter, completing six of 10 passes for 63 yards and wasn't as sharp as he has been in this preseason. He threw behind Warrick on a crossing route at the Colts 10, and threw high to tight end Sean Brewer on a third down that Brewer maybe should have hauled in, but didn't.
Warrick atoned for the botched punt by keeping the drive alive with an eight-yard sideline catch on third-and-one. Then Matthews came into the game on the same drive at the beginning of the second quarter and found Washington wide open down the right sideline behind fallen Colts cornerback Clifton Crosby to cap the 97-yard march.
"It was a stutter step with a pump move. I guess the guy fell down," said Matthews after nearly getting hit on the play. "At first I didn't think I could throw it far enough (because of the rush)."
In the final 1:16 of the half, Matthews took the Bengals from his 29 to the Colts 13, which included a 21-yard throw to Hamilton on his way to a 53-yard first half, and 21 more yards on two throws to Houshmandzadeh, including a 15-yard run and catch.
But then came the kicking follies.
"It's unexplainable," Harris said. "This has never happened to me. Not last year. Not in college. I'm just determined not to let it happen again."
The Bengals' roster bubble decisions were made even more difficult when several players on the edge didn't go because of injury. Defensive end Reinard Wilson (hamstring), left outside linebacker Steve Foley (bruised lower back), and middle linebacker Armegis Spearman, all thought to be scuffling for spots, didn't play. Defensive tackle Glen Steele (knee) who looks to be OK, didn't play.
On offense, Farmer didn't go either, and with the influx of two waiver-wire receivers this week, that also seems to be a position under scrutiny if you're not Warrick, Johnson, or Washington.
The game captains were Warrick, linebacker Adrian Ross and cornerback Reggie Myles.