CHARLOTTE, N.C. - The first three downs for the Bengals might not have been always very good Sunday in the 20-7 win over Carolina. But they were golden on fourth down.
Running back Brian Leonard played for the first time this season and didn't miss a beat in his role as a fourth-down magician while Mike Nugent continued to be perfect on field goals and punter Kevin Huber drilled three inside the 5.
Playing for the first time since spraining his mid foot in the Aug. 8 preseason opener, Leonard ran three times for 16 yards and two of the runs converted fourth downs. The first one came out of a semi-punt fake on a fourth-and-two but didn't lead to a score in the second quarter. The second one came on the next series, a six-yard run on fourth-and-one behind a block by pulling left tackle Andrew Whitworth and led to Nugent's 33-yard field goal that made it 10-0 with 1:10 left in the first half.
The semi-fake punt (Huber wasn't on the field) came from the Bengals 40 with Leonard in a shotgun formation behind a mix of regular and punt personnel. He took the snap and swept right behind a mass of tackles in a mismatch.
"It's something we worked on during practice; if we got the look we were going to do it," Leonard said. "They were expecting it. I could hear them calling their signals. But we got them in a good look."
On the fourth-and-one, Leonard was offset in the backfield to the left and Palmer simply gave him a long pitch and nobody touched him as he hid behind Whitworth.
Nugent and Huber were money on a day not made for specialists. Even though it didn't pour during the game, the ball was wet from intermittent light showers and a pregame monsoon. Which amazed Nugent that the operations for his seventh and eighth straight field goals to start his Bengals career from 33 and 50 went so smoothly. He raved about Huber's holds and Clark Harris' long snaps.
"When you have a wet game like that, the refs can only do so much," said Nugent about keeping the balls dry. "It's unbelievable how those guys did it. I don't know how Clark snapped the wet ball like that and Kevin didn't bobble it or fumble it. Probably the easiest thing was kicking the field goal today.
"The more a kicker is on the field it means the offense is doing a good job getting down the field. A lot of credit goes to Kevin's punting. He was ridiculous. He hit the ball so well. It was a major reason for the field position. Especially his last one. That was huge."
After Huber hit it to the 4 with 2:18 left, he said the pregame conditions had calmed down and it wasn't as windy and wet.
"There was some light showers during the game, but it wasn't bad," he said.
BROKEN CLOCK: It's a good thing the Bengals didn't lose by three because in the worst example of clock management by a team that has been plagued by clock management problems, they ran out of time to kick a field goal on the last play of the half from the Panthers 5 when quarterback Carson Palmer had no timeouts left and couldn't get his guys regrouped in time to spike the ball and stop the clock.
The Bengals lost their last timeout when right tackle Dennis Roland false-started on a play Lewis now says should have started with a spike so it wouldn't have been so hurried. Then Palmer made a mistake by completing a pass to Jermaine Gresham at the 5 instead of throwing an incompletion and stopping the clock.
"We've got to learn from that. It's a great learning situation for us to have; for the quarterback to make sure if he's going to get it to Jermaine (Gresham) that Jermaine is going to fall into the end zone, or else it's got to go out the back so we can get the points," said Lewis, sounding like he had the rookie QB. "That's a good one to have on tape. Again, we hurt ourselves with the penalty. That's one of those things where everybody is talking about why you clock the ball. Well, there's an instance of why you clock it instead of getting up to run a play and having to have the cadence and all of that."
SMITH DISAPPOINTED: Right tackle Andre Smith, referring questions to co-agent Jimmy Gould, was surprised and disappointed with Sunday's decision to deactivate him against the Panthers.
"He was able to practice during the week, he was able to play, and he thought he was going to play, and he was told just before the game that he wouldn't play," Gould said Sunday night. "We're disappointed."
The Cincinnati-based Gould, who says he helps represent Smith with Alvin Keels, wouldn't say what Smith's weight is, but he says it is within the 350 pounds he has to be in order to get his game check.
"He's worked very hard to get into shape and he's done what the team has asked him to do," Gould said. "He had the (foot) surgery when they asked him to. It was elective and he's worked hard to get the weight off while he rehabbed from the surgery. He wants very much to be at the center of the team."
The Bengals need Smith rather quickly to realize his No. 6-in-the-draft potential. Right tackle Dennis Roland showed his strength and weaknesses against Carolina on Sunday. He's a good run player but struggles in pass protection.
ENOUGH CED: Running back Cedric Benson never went more than two straight games without a 100-yard game in 2009. Now that he's opened 2010 with three straight, he says he's going to stay out of the play-calling game after he talked last week on national radio about the team not having an identity and moving away from the run game. But it was hard to say the Bengals did that Sunday after his nine-carry third quarter.
"We've had plenty of time to get it together," Benson said. "We're going into the fourth game of the season now. We've had plenty of preseason games, minicamps, training camps. We've had plenty of time to get things together. I'm just not going to get involved with it. I'm going to just make sure I'm well prepared every Sunday for any type of situation. And take it as it comes. I have no control over it and I don't want to step on anyone's toes or cause any issues. It was a great win today, guys played hard, our defense played great. I'll take it how we can get it."
Head coach Marvin Lewis apparently heard the comments during the week.
"He won't let you guys or any media lead him down that path anymore that way," Lewis said. "Some days he'll get some carries. Some days he may not. Sometimes we might throw it. We're going to win some games. We're going to play 16 games, and hopefully play 16 games with Cedric. Bernard (Scott) is going to carry the football this year more than he did last year. Cedric is going to have less carries at the end of the year. But hopefully he's going to have 16 games where he carries the football and on into whatever is after that."
Benson admits he's not wild about a rotation and maybe the Bengals aren't, either. Scott carried it just twice Sunday, one for 12 yards.
"Bernard's a good spell when he gets in there to make a quick play, a good play," Benson said. "I'm not a big fan of a whole lot of rotating during the season. I've already expressed to those guys when to keep them fresh during the week and let the dogs loose on Sunday."
Benson's seven-yard touchdown catch after quarterback Carson Palmer faked a run to him was wide open in the flat to salt the game away with 8:11 left. "I've never been that wide open on a pass," he said about his first receiving TD since, he thinks, his junior year at Texas.