BENGALS GAMEDAY: Photos, analysis, video highlights, stats, quotes* * *
Posted: 4:30 a.m.
The Cardinals are a mediocre team in a mediocre conference and after blowing a Sunday full of chances to beat them at Paul Brown Stadium, the 3-7 Bengals realized what that means about them.
"You can look at us and see we're a good example of that; talent alone doesn't win games," said wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh. "Or maybe we don't have as much talent as people think we do."
It was where the Bengals have the most talent, on offense, that wasted Sunday's clutch effort on defense in the fourth quarter and the first blocked punt for a touchdown since the Filmore Administration.
Not only did Cincinnati's two best players commit the five turnovers with quarterback Carson Palmer throwing the first four-interception game of his career and wide receiver Chad Johnson fumbling away a red-zone chance with a careless run after catch as well as a red-zone false start; but the once feared running game also melted for the third straight week on 3.6 yards per carry and the offensive line absorbed five of the season-high 11 penalties that included four holds, while wide receiver Chris Henry dropped two first-down catches in the dreadful fourth quarter.
"I blew the opportunity; I took my eye off the ball," said Henry, whose 37-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter was the only pass longer than 19 yards. "I just missed them. Pretty much, that's what I was trying to do (run before the catch). I was trying to see where the defender was so I could catch and run with the ball. I just bobbled it."
After watching the defense force three punts while allowing just two first downs in the fourth quarter and getting off the field 73 percent of the time on third down (8-for-11), Palmer observed, "I thought the defense played great. They kept giving us chances and did a great job on third down all game."
"You can't throw the whole blame on Carson," said tight end Reggie Kelly. "We all had a hand in this loss. As a unit we made a number of mistakes, dropped balls, or penalties, whatever. You can't put the blame on No. 9. No. 9 is No. 9. He's been doing a great job keeping us in every game this year."
Indeed, with the Cards dropping into deep zones the Bengals could respond by only running the ball for 72 yards on 20 attempts as Palmer ended up setting a career high in completions (37) and tying his career-best in attempts (52) on the way to 329 frustrating yards that largely came underneath.
"You can't blame Carson; he's trying to make plays," said Houshmandzadeh, who continued his MVP season with eight catches for 87 yards to keep his 120-catch pace alive. "He's taking chances because we're behind and trying to win games. They guessed right. They were well coached, I guess. Defensively they played into our tendencies. It doesn't matter. They can know what we're doing and we can still complete it. We've been doing that since I've been here."
But the first interception and the first of nickel back Antrel Rolle's three interceptions came with the Bengals ahead, 7-0, late in the first quarter. Palmer was looking at second-and-six from the Bengals 46 and Rolle baited him into thinking he was going to stay behind Houshmandzadeh in double coverage. Palmer took a shot over the middle on a crossing route at the Arizona 45 that he said Houshmandzadeh is virtually open on all the time.
"He cheated on the route. He just jumped inside of T.J. I don't know if they knew the play or what," Palmer said. "But I've got to see that. I've got to check the ball down in that circumstance, pull the ball back and take off and run with it."
Noting how teams pay "all these corners all this money and draft them in the top 10 and they can't play man-to-man so they have to play Cover 2 (zone)," Houshmandzadeh said he sensed Rolle.
But it was Rolle moving on to a 55-yard touchdown return that got Arizona back in the game for good. Rolle matched it with a 54-yard return late in the third quarter that was the real killing play. It came just a little more than a minute after DeDe Dorsey's blocked punt for a touchdown pulled the Bengals within 28-27.
It was a third-and-three from the Arizona 49 and Palmer tried to hit Chad Johnson in a crowd on the perimeter. It was another play on which Rolle said he reacted to tendencies.
"We had seen (the route) earlier in the day," said Rolle celebrating his career day after a three-year career of two picks before Sunday. "I came close to grabbing it the first time, but my reaction was too slow. I reached back and got my glove in on the ball."
Johnson continued his struggles and his media ban Sunday. Besides his two red-zone miscues, he's now gone eight straight games without a touchdown and he still has only one catch longer than 40 yards this season. He hasn't had a catch for at least 25 yards in four straight games.
But like Kelly said, he had plenty of company Sunday. Palmer flogged himself for the second and fourth picks, seemingly because the defenders were in positions he didn't anticipate.
Inside linebacker Karlos Dansby set the tone for the second half on the first play when he grabbed a ball in front of Houshmandzadeh at the Bengals 24, and returned it 28 yards to set up a touchdown that made it 28-13.
"It was a play across the middle of the field. I saw T.J. running around the outside linebacker but I didn't see the guy in the middle of the field," Palmer said.
When the last-gasp toss with 33 seconds left in the game got picked by Rolle on a ball intended for Antonio Chatman (and it would have been another 71-yard touchdown for the Cards if Antonio Smith wasn't called for a late hit on Palmer), Palmer said Rolle "wasn't supposed to be where he was" as a middle safety.
"They guessed and they guessed right," Houshmandzadeh said.
If Houshmandzadeh said the Cards didn't change what they were doing in the secondary as far as coverages, the offensive line got a different Cardinal front than what was seen on film. Particularly in gumming up the running game. After his 25 yards on eight carries, running back Rudi Johnson has 82 yards on 39 carries since he came back from a hamstring injury.
"A lot of what they do is penetration and they did that today with a lot of line games," said left guard Andrew Whitworth. "It makes it tough on everybody, not just one guy, because everybody is kind of looking for which guys (to take)."
"We prepared for the games," said center Eric Ghiaciuc. "But we didn't know they were going to do as many as they did."
It didn't help that Houshmandzadeh wasn't on the field for the offense's last 12 snaps, leaving after converting a third-and-one on an 11-yard catch. He immediately bolted off the field to the sidelines after taking a shot on his back hip. He's expected to be fine.
Which is a lot better than the offensive line. It allowed just one sack and its sack per pass will dip after Palmer's 52 throws. But three of the four holding calls came on running plays. Ghiaciuc got called for a crucial hold with 55 seconds left after running back DeDe Dorsey pushed the ball to the Cards 28 on an eight-yard catch, the third holding call of the fourth quarter.
"Penalties and mistakes," said Ghiaciuc of the problems. "There really is no explanation except that we have to do it the right way in practice and then come out there and do it the right way in the game."
"Whether I was holding or not is not really what was getting me mad," Whitworth said. "I didn't feel like the back judge (Tony Steratore) can make a call when the guy is diving on the ground and I'm landing on top of him and he's throwing the flag back there behind all the linemen. I don't know how he can see it.
"He called me 'lousy' and acted real unprofessional. That what I was mad about. He didn't seem like a real professional referee to me. 'I got you,' and 'That was lousy,' or 'You're lousy.' I told him I didn't think he made the right call and he got offended, he got mad. Both (holds). He just seemed to be excited to be calling the play. I've got to do my job better. I've got to bury (my man) and maybe he won't make that call."
Whitworth agreed that Palmer can't do much without a running game.
"When you're asking guys like Peyton (Manning) and Carson who are great quarterbacks to throw into all kinds of coverages because you're not able to (run) the ball, you're going to have bad days because you have to run the ball better," he said.
"It's all rhythm and movement and we kept breaking it," Whitworth said, "where we'd have a positive run and then something else would happen on a run, or a penalty, or maybe we don't (keep the) momentum. We never got the momentum in the running plays."
It was a four-pick day, but Kelly took solace in never seeing his quarterback waver.
"You could see it in his eyes. He thought for sure we were going to win that game," Kelly said. "When you have a quarterback that, regardless of what the score is, regardless how much time you have left on the clock, he feels like we can win ... he feels like he can drive us down to a victory ... well, I got his back."
But it was little consolation for Palmer.
"It was a really sloppy game offensively; sloppy mainly on my part," Palmer said. "Way too many penalties. We would have a positive play, then suddenly would move back because of a penalty. You put yourself in a tough spot when that happens. ... Like I said, when I throw four picks, it makes it tough."