Offense, Leonard limping

Cedric Benson rushed twice for seven yards. (AP photo)

Updated: 11:30 p.m.

CANTON, Ohio - Have we seen this movie before?

The Bengals opened up the preseason in Sunday night's Hall of Fame Game liked they closed last season: With an offense on life support. The defense held the Cowboys to three field goals in the first three quarters and then quarterback Jordan Palmer's interception throwing out of his own end zone turned into Cowboys linebacker Brandon Sharpe's six-yard touchdown for a 16-0 deficit with just over nine minutes left in the game.

The Bengals did avoid being shut out when Jordan Shipley returned a punt 63 yards to the Dallas 2-yard line with 1:52 remaining and two plays later Jordan Palmer connected with tight end Darius Hill from a yard out to cut the Dallas lead to 16-7. That would be the final score as the Cowboys then ran out the clock to end the game.

And the Bengals couldn't escape what appeared to be the devastating injury. Brian Leonard, their ace third-down back, needed to be helped off the field when he was unable to put any pressure on his foot after he caught a pass with 26 seconds left in the first half and was done for the game. The initial diagnosis is a mid-foot sprain, but he is subject to more tests in Cincinnati.

After the game Leonard said his injury "doesn't look good."

"Someone fell on the back of my heel and compressed my foot," he added. "I'll know more later when they do tests."

Jordan Palmer's second interception of the night came when he never saw Sharpe lurking in the middle on his bid to find Shipley. Palmer's interception earlier in the quarter set up David Buehler's 23-yard field goal with 9:04 left in the third quarter that made it 9-0.

The highlight in a half the Bengals had just three first downs, two by wide receiver Terrell Owens in the game's first 12 minutes? Cornerback Adams Jones' lightning-quick 31-yard kick return.

The half ended symbolically when backup quarterback J.T. O'Sullivan fired an interception to roaming safety Danny McCray on an overthrow to wide receiver Andre Caldwell.

The fourth quarter also began symbolically after the Bengals finally got across midfield for the first time all game. That happened with 3:33 left in the third quarter when Palmer found wide receiver Matt Jones for a 28-yard pass play. Jones, not known for his speed, caught the ball on the sideline and then made a nifty move on Sharpe for a bunch of yards after the catch and the longest play since Owens' 11-yard catch 30 minutes before.

Then on fourth-and-17 tight end Chase Coffman pulled down a 21-yard pass at the Cowboys 14 to end the third quarter. But on the next play rookie running back Cordera Eason not only fumbled at the 11, but added to the running back woes when he left with a right foot injury.

How brutal of an effort after three quarters? Those two long plays gave the Bengals just 151 total yards and their three passers were just 12-of-28 for 126 yards.    

The Bengals defense took 11 snaps to get warmed up here at Fawcett Stadium before forcing three straight incompletions by Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo on their 2 as Dallas took a 3-0 lead on Buehler's 25-yard field goal 5:35 into the night.

Buehler would later add a 34-yarder against the Bengals backups to make it 6-0 with 6:11 left in the half.

And the defense couldn't get out unscathed on the injury list, either. Safety Chris Crocker, who injured an ankle late last season, injured his right ankle covering a punt, was helped off the field, and did not return. Right end Antwan Odom also got poked in the eye, but he looked fine coming off.

Crocker said after the game he doesn't think his injury is major. He only twisted it and has a sprain.

On second down from the 2 defensive tackle Domata Peko pressured Romo around his knees and he overthrew receiver Roy Williams working on Adam Jones, but the Bengals blew a golden chance to recover running back Felix Jones' fumble in the end zone caused by safety Roy Williams. Cornerback Leon Hall hopped on it, but defensive lineman Jon Fanene was called for offsides.

Until then, Romo had his way with the Bengals secondary, picking on Hall for a 21-yard completion to Roy Williams to convert a third-and-12 as the Cowboys got out of a first-and-20 hole.  Hall was also covering wide receiver Miles Austin on Romo's 16-yard completion. In his one series Romo was five-of-10 for 59 yards.

The Bengals offense was far from crisp on the No. 1s' first two series directed by Carson Palmer. He did find Owens twice for gains of seven and 11 yards, but that's all he could get in the passing game. Palmer couldn't hook up with Owens two other times and he finished two-of-five. His other ball was an incompletion to wide receiver Chad Ochocinco.

"We're a work in progress," Owens said. "We're getting there. It felt just like practice. I don't think there was a plan to throw to me early. He just assessed the defense and took what they gave him."

"They are on point," he said of Palmer's passes. "I'd call them receiver friendly."

The first drive got short-circuited when Ochocinco drew a motion penalty and Palmer got sacked on third down when defensive lineman Stephen Bowen appeared to bull rush right tackle Dennis Roland back into Palmer. The second drive evaporated when middle linebacker Leon Williams tipped pass at the line and on third down Palmer got some more pressure and had to hurry an incompletion.

The Romo quote at the half is the one the Bengals wish they had from Palmer.

"We were able to move around a little bit and get into a rhythm," Romo said. "Some of the things we were working on in training camp carried over, and it was nice to see that we were able to move the ball."

The No. 1 Bengals offensive line played on the third series early into the second quarter, but all that netted them was their third straight punt. Veteran Clark Harris and rookie Mike Windt appeared to be alternating long snaps.

The Bengals have plenty of tape on both of them because each of the half's six possessions ended in punts before O'Sullivan's interception.

The second offensive line that has struggled at training camp couldn't protect O'Sullivan on his first two series that resulted in two three-and-outs. On that second series, rookie right guard Otis Hudson was called for a hold on running back Bernard Scott's three-yard run and on third down Bowen came unblocked off the right edge and forced O'Sullivan into an intentional  grounding penalty.

That set up Windt snapping to Kevin Huber, his former University of Cincinnati punter, standing a step away from the back line of the end zone. They teamed to uncork Huber's 57-yarder.

Then, would you believe, a fifth straight punt? This time with Harris snapping a good one, Huber could only get off a 28-yarder with 4:10 left in the first half. That followed a miserable series in which O'Sullivan overthrew a bomb to wide receiver Jerome Simpson when he had the cornerback beat and rookie receiver Jordan Shipley lost the first down by a yard on a third-and-10 when he tried to gain ground backing up. Then the team that led the NFL in delay of games last year picked up its first one this year before getting off the punt.

With the half winding down to the two-minute warning, the offensive struggles spread to the specialists. Windt got called for a hold on a punt return and then on the next snap Bengals tight end Dan Coats was called for a hold to blow up the sixth drive of the half before it even started. O'Sullivan and Caldwell couldn't hook up on a slant on third-down.

O'Sullivan finished just four-of-11 for 33 yards before giving way to Jordan Palmer at the start of the second half and the Bengals had just 67 yards on 24 plays.

The Bengals defense did get sacks in the half from SAM linebacker Michael Johnson rushing off the right edge and rookie defensive tackle Geno Atkins, and a fumble recovery by backup middle linebacker Abdul Hodge.

PREGAME NOTES: With injuries to Johnathan Joseph and Rey Maualuga, Adam Jones and Michael Johnson drew their first Bengals starts at cornerback and SAM linebacker for Sunday night's Hall of Fame Game against Dallas.

Jones returns to the NFL for the first time since these Cowboys cut him late in the 2008 season and Johnson's offseason conversion from defensive end to linebacker gets a national television debut on NBC.

Also starting against his old mates after leaving Dallas in a cloud of controversy is wide receiver Terrell Owens, making his first appearance for the Bengals after signing 12 days ago.

Head coach Marvin Lewis' lineup had few surprises after the first eight days of training camp at Georgetown College. The club returns to the Georgetown, Ky., campus Tuesday for the final three days and four practices of camp before the Aug. 15 Paul Brown Stadium opener against the Broncos.

Wide receiver Antonio Bryant (knee), right tackle Andre Smith (foot), and fullback Fui Vakapuna (shoulder) had already been scratched and Lewis added to the list before the game kicker Mike Nugent, running back Cedric Peerman (hamstring), center Jonathan Luigs (hip) and left end Carlos Dunlap (concussion). Safety Tom Nelson (knee) and SAM backer Rashad Jeanty (foot) have yet to be cleared to practice.

With Nugent sidelined with what has been called a lower body strain, Dave Rayner gets first dibs in the Bengals kicking derby to replace Shayne Graham.

Also starting against his old mates after leaving Dallas in a cloud of controversy is wide receiver Terrell Owens, making his first appearance for the Bengals after signing 12 days ago.

Before a sold-out, standing-room crowd of 22,364, the Bengals came out of the locker room that usually houses the team from Canton McKinley High School in their first appearance in the Hall game since the Bengals started the 1988 run to the Super Bowl.

Their former head coach, Dick LeBeau walked across the 50-yard line as a member of the Hall class of 2010 and only one of the Bengals lined up to his left played for him, Chad Ochocinco. But quarterback Carson Palmer offered a handshake and the man who succeeded him, Marvin Lewis, embraced him. The Ocho was soon tied up with Owens in a pre-kickoff interview with NBC's Andrea Kremer.

Lewis sent out Palmer as one of his captains, as well as left tackle Andrew Whitworth, safeties Chris Crocker and Kyries Hebert, and middle linebacker Dhani Jones. Rayner got a shot right away when the Cowboys won the toss and chose to receive.

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