Palmer had 247 yards passing but no scores. (AP photo)
Posted: 4:50 a.m.
The Bengals offense tried a little bit of everything Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium.
At least three times the Bengals went with an unbalanced line in which they overloaded one side with left tackle Andrew Whitworth and right tackle Anthony Collins.
A couple of times they rolled quarterback Carson Palmer out of the pocket off play-action.
They worked a successful fake in which running back Brian Leonard took a direct snap out of a Wildcat formation on fourth-and-two and followed pulling center Kyle Cook for a five-yard gain.
But it was the same old result that has haunted this offense with and without Carson Palmer as the quarterback for the last 36 games stretching back to the last three games of the 2006 season. For the 29th time the Bengals offense failed to score three touchdowns.
Shocking numbers for a quarterback who went to Pro Bowls in 2005 and 2006 that suggest the offense is beyond a malaise. The sickness is chronic.
Not only is Palmer is 7-17 in his last 24 starts, but when is it going to get any better? The defenses only get harder. Green Bay next week and the big, bad Steelers after that, and the Bengals could only get 3.2 yards per rush against a Denver unit that was rated 27th against the rush last year.
"It's unacceptable, and I'll take the heat on my shoulders," Palmer said. "It's my job as the quarterback to move the ball and get the ball in the end zone. I didn't do that today. Like I said before, when our defense plays that well, it makes the loss even harder. Knowing that you didn't do your job offensively, it's embarrassing. I'll take the heat for that, because I need to find a way to get us in the end zone, and I will."
But he had plenty of help after what he called a feeling of "disgust."
There were penalties, two alone on wide receiver Chad Ochocinco that wiped out a total of 33 yards, and twice (once by Cook and once by right guard Bobbie Williams) his offensive line was illegally downfield.
There were three sacks, one on which running back Cedric Benson got bowled over on a blitz and the club appeared to pay a price for Andre Smith's holdout when Collins looked to struggle on the other two in his first NFL start at right tackle.
There were dropped balls. The Bengals looked to pay another price for not having wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh's familiar reliability when his replacement, 10-year veteran Laveranues Coles, dropped at least two and maybe three if you count a tipped pass that was headed to him.
And there was the lack of Chris Henry, the wide receiver that scored a touchdown in every preseason game who had just two balls thrown at him. One was Palmer's first pass of the game for 18 yards over the middle, and the other was Palmer's last desperate Hail Mary on the last play of the game that got picked off by a tight end, of all things.
"I think one ball and one catch is a pretty good day," said head coach Marvin Lewis. "You can't tell who is going to get the ball thrown to them. They're playing the coverage and the quarterback is going to deliver the ball based on the coverage. You aren't going to be able to dictate the number of balls a receiver is going to catch in a day."
At one point during his first game in retirement former Bengals defensive tackle John Thornton tweeted, "Please throw the ball to Chris Henry. He is 6-4 and very fast." Henry looked to get sporadic snaps until Coles dropped a first down on third-and-seven on the first series of the second half.
"We had a lot of penalties that hurt us; we had some mental errors," Palmer said. "We had some really good plays. We had certain players make really good plays. We moved the ball effectively, but just not into the end zone. That's something we have to figure out. We'll go back and look at the film and find out what was happening with the penalties. It's always hard to tell until you go back and look at the film and talk to guys to figure out why one thing happened or another. That'll clear things up for us a little and we will iron it out."
Palmer floated a beauty on the sidelines to Coles right over the linebacker and Coles flat dropped it to end the first series of the second half.
"Yes," said Palmer when he was asked if he was surprised about Coles' snafus. "But, I don't have a worry in the world about Laveranues. He dropped the ball, but I missed plenty of balls, we missed blocks — a number of things happened offensively. Knowing Laveranues, and knowing the type of pro he is, he'll come in with the right type of mindset and shake it off. You won't see that from him again."
And, of course, it was Palmer's first game on his sprained ankle, the one that limited him to 18 snaps in the preseason opener 30 days ago and the rust was heavier than he thought.
"It took a little bit to get the rust off. I wasn't exactly comfortable, but I didn't expect to be," Palmer said. "I knew I was going to have some butterflies and some rust with some foot issues. It took a little while to get those out."
Palmer said the Broncos took away Henry's vertical game and everyone else's. His longest completion was Ocho's 34-yard catch-and-run underneath.
"They weren't going to let the ball go over their heads. They played two deep safeties — as deep as a safety that I've ever seen," Palmer said. "Their mindset was to not let us throw the ball downfield. We tried to a number of times, but you just can't force it. We had Chris on a number of deep routes, but if he's double covered ... you have to take your shots when the shots are there. You can't take shots just to take shots. They came with that mindset, and they did a good job. They have two really good cover corners and an experienced safety in (Brian) Dawkins. They lined up 25 yards deep and started backpedaling. They weren't going to let the ball go over their heads. They wanted to keep the ball in front of them, and they did a good job of that."
The Bengals took enough advantage of the zone to get Benson 55 yards on 15 carries in the first half, but only 21 yards on six carries the rest of the way, 20 coming on the big run in the 91-yard scoring drive at the end of the game. Then he got the one-yard touchdown over the right side with 38 seconds left.
"They had a different game plan in the second half. In the first half, they were going to sit back and play us in coverage," Palmer said. "In the second half they started bringing the pressure. They did a good job. We made some adjustments at halftime and they countered us. Late in the game, they tried to keep doing it, and we made them pay with some hot routes — getting our running backs out in space and getting some yards."
The Bengals came right out of the gate and threw six straight passes to start the second half in a series that ended at their 37 on the Coles drop.
"We just kind of stopped running the ball in the second half," Benson said. "I guess maybe we tried some new schemes and things like that but we didn't stick with what we had been doing in the second half. I guess maybe they figured something else would be better or something else would work. We didn't pick up where we left off in the first half. That's kind of our story here. We're just not picking up where we left off."
The offensive line, already thin with Smith's holdout and ensuing broken foot, is in critical condition. Backup guard-tackle Scott Kooistra (knee) wasn't active and left guard Nate Livngs left with a knee problem late in the first half and was replaced by Evan Mathis. The stats said the retooled line struggled at times.
Whitworth thought the protection was passable except for some isolated blitzes and believes the sloppiness is fixable.
"We finally got rid of a couple of stupid penalties," Whitworth said of that last drive. "I think protection-wise we were fine. The only time they really got us is when they brought some extra stuff. A couple of times we were in protections and they were bringing the right thing. We just kind of missed some things here and there as an offense. I think really the penalties were the only things that stopped us. And maybe a drop here and there."
The galling thing is the Bengals were headed to a 370-yard day at the half, did nothing for the next 25 minutes, and then got 91 yards in 5:43 to take the lead.
"It was definitely a little bit of a boost. We were talking all game about how we were shooting ourselves in the foot," Palmer said. "We were moving the ball, and we were effective on offense. We just kept getting little penalties that would push us back to second-and-10 with a holding call, or an illegal man downfield. We knew what the problem was — the problem was us. It took us too long to get it fixed."
Benson, who also had four catches for 32 yards, said he saw the same thing last year. When the Bengals were desperate, they moved the ball. Told it seemed like the Bengals could have done that all day without the mistakes, Benson agreed.
"That's a good point. Every time we get in a situation like that, even last year that I remember, we would go down the field and at least get in field-goal range. Or score a touchdown. But we need to be like that every snap, every down all the time."
But when does a slump become a trend for an offense?