Carson Palmer passed for two touchdowns but also a season-low 156 yards.
The Bengals went into Sunday's 22-14 loss to Miami at Paul Brown Stadium not knowing how long cornerbacks Leon Hall (hamstring) and Morgan Trent (knee) could go. They ended up going all the way in a gutty game by a secondary that got no help from its offense or from a front that produced no sacks for the second straight game.
Trent, getting his first NFL start in place of the injured Johnathan Joseph, came up big. He had his first NFL interception that set up the second Bengals touchdown, as well as a game-high 11 tackles. Trent, playing with an aggravated PCL he's had since last season, according to the Bengals radio network, didn't practice Wednesday or Thursday and was questionable coming in. Hall, who kept his skein intact of starting every game since he came into the league at 55 despite not practicing Wednesday or Thursday, was probable and the Michigan duo helped make sure the Miami pair of Brandon Marshall and Davone Bess didn't go off.
Marshall and Bess did make some big plays. Each had a ball of at least 20 yards. But with the aid of safety Chris Crocker moving into the slot in three receivers to cover Bess, at times, with Hall depending on the call and personnel, they didn't take over the game. Marshall had five catches for 64 yards and Bess was seven for 53.
They were the AFC's two top receivers on third down, but the Bengals held the Dolphins to 33 percent on third down at 5-for-15. Bess caught three balls for first downs on third down and Marshall none. Bess had two big ones, a four-yarder in front of Trent on third-and-one that preceded Dan Carpenter's career-long 54-yard field goal at the halftime gun, and a 20-yarder on third-and-nine working against Crocker in the drive that set up Carpenter's go-ahead field goal late in the third quarter.
It was a resourceful performance by a rebuilt secondary that until three weeks ago had been playing with Hall in the slot and Joseph and Adam Jones on the outside. Jones replaced Joseph in the starting lineup last week and suffered a season-ending neck injury.
According to the Dolphins, the Bengals bracketed Marshall and Bess and let wide receiver Brian Hartline go one-on-one and Hartline only hurt them on one of his five catches for a 24-yard gain.
"I told Brian when he gets his opportunities, he's going to have to make plays," Marshall said. "Today, Cincinnati did a great job of trying to bracket me and Davone in situations where they knew we were passing."
Trent came up with his interception on third-and-10 from the Dolphins 10 off SAM linebacker Rey Maualuga's blitz with 2:59 left in the game when he cut in front of Hartline at the Miami 37.
"Any time you come in and fill the shoes of Johnathan Joseph, who' s done a lot of great things over the years for us, it's a hard job for him but I think he did pretty good," Hall said.
Trent said he undercut the play with the help of the pressure.
"Right place, right time," he said. "I undercut it and had a chance to make a play on the ball. That's part of our defense, making a play on that specific pay. It was a good call by Zim."
Hall said "we were kind of back and forth" on both receivers depending on the defense. The DBs didn't falter until 14:04 left in the game, when they were back on the field again after spending 11:01 playing in the third quarter.
"That's no excuse. We weren't tired or worn down, we just didn't execute," Trent said.
Backed up on his 2-yard line after a false start, Miami quarterback Chad Henne hit Marshall for 25 yards on first down, threading it over Trent in a Cover 2 zone on the sideline.
"It was kind of a trail technique; that's a tough play to make on that specific route," Trent said. "I'm sure I could have played it better, but that's a good play on their part."
It opened the gates. On the next snap, Henne hit Hartline on the left sideline with a short pass and it turned into a 24-yard gain when Hall missed the tackle. Hartline then ran a reverse for 30 yards and running back Ricky Williams did the rest with an 18-yard waltz up the middle on some misdirection and he finished it off with a one-yard run.
"In that coverage, I have to make that tackle, plain and simple," said Hall, who usually does as one of the surest and best tacklers on the team. "Exactly. Just real inconsistencies. That's hard to overcome in the NFL."
Crocker wouldn't say the defense was tired on that touchdown drive.
"I can't say so. We practice up-tempo and we do things we need to do as far as conditioning," he said.
Crocker knows people are going to say the Bengals are done.
"That's OK. It's rightfully so. Who cares about what people say now? We're 2-5," he said. "It's not over. You still have nine games. See how it turns out. The Tennessee Titans were 0-6 last year. It's not like we can't do it.
"Nothing else bad can happen to us. You can't break us ... not one person can walk off the field feeling good about themselves. We're all in this together ... we had a lot guys beat up, but the guys we had out there they played as hard as they could and I'm happy we at least fought."
NO ANSWERS: Sunday's riddle consisted of trying to figure out how the Bengals could look so good on the first drive, decent on the second, and then not move the ball 100 yards until seven minutes left in the game? They moved it 99 from the beginning of the second quarter until the last Bengals drive started with 7:05 left.
Running back Cedric Benson said he saw no significant changes. Right guard Bobbie Williams said he saw nothing major. Left tackle Andrew Whitworth saw one of the biggest changes. After the opening Bengals touchdown drive, the Dolphins moved leading sacker Cameron Wake from over him to over right tackle Andre Smith on third down. That appeared to be factor because even though Miami had no sacks, Wake got pressure on some third downs.
Quarterback Carson Palmer saw the most changes in the secondary.
"They did a good a job adjusting after we had a couple fast drives at the beginning of the game. They did a good job of not showing us a lot of the same thing throughout the rest of the game," Palmer said. "That's what they do. Their coordinator's a guy (Mike Nolan) that does that. He shows a couple things early, then doesn't come back to them until later. They do a good job of not coming back to things that aren't working and sticking with things that are."
Palmer said the Dolphins did a good job not giving many one-on-one looks on the outside to wide receivers Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco by double-teaming both. Owens had two touchdowns on five catches for 65 yards. And after converting two third downs on the first drive, The Ocho didn't get another catch until another third down on the last drive of the game and finished with just three catches for 34 yards.
After Owens fried cornerback Jason Allen early (Owens couldn't hang on to one bomb where he beat Allen deep before running away from him on a slant on a seven-yard TD pass), he saw Miami bench him in favor of Sean Smith.
"He played a lot more Cover 2 and took a lot of the deep shots away," Owens said. 'We weren't able to let the plays develop as much. There were enough mistakes made out there to grant us the outcome that we had. They realized No. 32 (Allen) was a liability out there on the field. Once we exploited that a few times, he didn't see the field. They played a lot of Cover 2 and tried to take myself and Chad out of the offense."
When the Bengals missed 10 straight third downs, the average distance was third-and-seven. They threw on every one and were 2-for-9 with Palmer scrambling on third-and-two and coming up a yard short.
"We had some really good third downs early. We were executing early and just weren't able to execute in the second half," Palmer said. "We put ourselves in some third and long situations instead of using the run game to get into third and short or third and mediums. Being able to bring a four-man rush and still get coverage is a good combination for a defensive team. That they're able to do that is one of the reasons why they're one of the top eight-to-10 defensive teams in the league."
Whitworth said he wasn't too surprised the Dolphins switched sides with Wake.
"That's what good rushers sometimes do," he said. "Sometimes that's what the defensive alignment calls for. You never know."
TIMED-OUT: For the third time in the four-game losing streak, the Bengals gave up crucial points at the end of the half or game after not being able to get the yards needed to kill the clock.
It happened when they got a field goal blocked with 1:10 left in the half in Cleveland, which led to the Browns' last-snap field goal that broke a 10-10 tie and gave them the lead for good. It happened against Tampa Bay when the Bengals couldn't get a first down with 2:28 left in the game leading, 21-14 and ended up losing, 24-21. It happened Sunday when they took a 14-6 lead on Miami with 2:45 left in the half and gave up two field goals in the final 54 seconds.
Mike Nugent's short kick to the 15 following the Bengals touchdown set up Patrick Cobbs' 40-yard return, setting up Dan Carpenter's 24-yard field goal with 54 seconds left. When the Bengals got the ball back with 49 seconds left, Miami had all its timeouts left, and they could only move it enough to milk 18 seconds off the clock.
Owens dropped what would have been a first-down pass on first down, running back Brian Leonard got two yards and when Wake blew up a screen pass, Palmer had to throw it into the ground with just 31 seconds left. Kevin Huber's poor punt, combined with wide receiver Andre Caldwell overrunning Bess, the returner, resulted in a 17-yard play that put the ball on the Bengals 49 with 21 seconds left. On third-and-one with eight seconds left, Bess was able to catch a four-yard pass and get out of bounds to set up Carpenter's career long 54-yarder with three seconds left.
"The play that we had there to Davone, we knew that we needed five or six yards," said Dolphins coach Tony Sparano. "This is one of those situations that we talk about. We call it a 'get six' play. We needed to get six there. Davone got six, and he was able to get out of bounds. I had a timeout in my pocket, so had he caught it and gotten tackled, I was going to get the timeout. But he was able to get out of bounds, and it worked out good."
TOUGH FOOTING: The odds said Carpenter wasn't going to make the 54-yarder. No one had done it in 26 years against the Bengals. It was the second longest ever against them, second only to the 60-yard bomb Steve Cox hit for Cleveland in 1984. The only other 54-yarder had been delivered by the Lions' Eddie Murray in 1983.
The Bengals kickers went the other way Sunday in an 11 mile-per-hour wind that was stronger above than below. Punter Kevin Huber averaged just 39.9 yards on nine punts, but said the wind wasn't the reason.
"I had a lot of hits I'd like to have back," Huber said. "I didn't have a very good warmup pregame and I just didn't hit the ball."
Nugent was upset with his three kickoffs, a skill he has been very good at this season. But on Sunday they went to the 17, 15 and 18. That helped put the ball on the Dolphins 30, the Bengals 45, and the Dolphins 34, respectively, and led to two field goals.
"It was real weird day. It was one of those days you felt like you were kicking a whiffle ball," Nugent said. "You hit it good and it just doesn't go anywhere. I guess I don't really want to see what field position was really like. We gave them such good opportunities, especially in the big return. Luckily they only got a field goal out of it, but you don't want to give them even a field goal. You get a big return like that and not only is it great field position but it gets your team kind of hepped up. ... I just wasn't giving my guys an opportunity to get downfield."