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Offensive woes persist

A half yard.

Twelve feet.

They turned into a marathon Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium.

The Bengals had to settle for a field goal when they couldn't move it that far for a touchdown as the first quarter turned into the second quarter of the 13-13 tie the Bengals should have had 17 points before the game went an extra quarter and lasted 14 minutes shy of four hours.

"There's almost no excuse for it," said running back Cedric Benson, who got stuffed on first down. "The goal line is more of an attitude thing. You can call anything you want. But it's more of an attitude. You've got to take pride being on the goal line that you're going to score no matter what."

Offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski went on first down with what has been a successful play for him in years past, the counter. But just like all day, there was nothing. And when quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick got sacked on second down and then saw his third-down pass for a potential touchdown dropped by wide receiver Chris Henry on a slant, there was the Triple Crown.

The Bengals had trouble blocking the Eagles in the running game, only getting 1.9 per carry. They had trouble blocking the Eagles in the passing game, giving up eight sacks for the first time in 12 years. They had trouble holding on to the ball with Henry suffering two other drops.

"Anytime that you have the ball in the red zone and can't convert the field position into points, it usually comes back to bite you," Fitzpatrick said. "We need to be able to pound the ball into the end zone no matter what it takes."

The team MVP remains wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh. The Bengals can't seem to throw or run but Houshmandzadeh still makes plays. He tied his career high of 12 catches for the second time this season for 149 yards. His three on third-down accounted for 75 percent of the third-down conversions on a brutal 4-for-20 day that underlined how important he is to this Carson Palmer-less offense.

"I think it was the play-calling most of the time. A lot of times, the ball wasn't supposed to come to me so I was surprised when it did," Houshmandzadeh said. "Fitz just had confidence in me and was throwing me the ball. In a lot of cases, the ball was originally designed to go somewhere else.

"Brat just calls the play, and it is going to go to a certain guy, depending on the coverage. When Fitz needs someone to bail him out, he comes to me."

According to Houshmandzadeh's running mate, wide receiver Chad Ocho Cinco, the Eagles weren't letting him do anything but catch three balls at the end of the first half and another one later for just four catches for 34 yards. The last one was his 600th career catch, but The Ocho shrugged.

"I need 600 yards," he said. "T.J. got 149? Whew. When was the last time I had a game like that?"

Ocho Cinco
The '07 finale in Miami. The Ocho still hasn't caught a 20-yard pass since the opener. But Houshmandzadeh knew why it didn't happen Sunday. He thinks the Eagles heard what The Ocho said during the week. "There are some things we can do that expose some of the things they do," and Philly changed its M.O. Instead of jumping routes on blitzes, the DBs sagged back.

"They were wary of that," Houshmandzadeh said. "When they have an all-out blitz, they sit on everything. They didn't do that at all."

Ocho Cinco agreed: "Every time they did it on film, they won. They either intercepted it or knocked it down."

Houshmandzadeh: "I don't think they thought they could do that against us."

With 73 catches, Houshmandzadeh is on pace for 116, four better than his Bengals record 112 of last season. He has gone off against the NFC East. He had 12 catches back in the overtime loss to the Giants on Sept. 21 for 146 yards.

"I had the luxury of being able to move inside and outside. That helps me out when they double team and bracket me a lot," Houshmandzadeh said. "I'm getting used to that. I kind of have a feel where I need to sit down and find the hole."

If there is anyone who can sum up just how whacky this season has been, it's Houshmandzadeh. The Bengals had the ball eight more minutes Sunday, a plus-3 turnover edge, and their quarterback's passer rating was nearly 40 points better than his foe.

"That's weird," he said. "The whole season has been like that."

And when wide receiver Antonio Chatman left with a cervical injury late in the first half, Houshmandzadeh found himself early in the third quarter returning his first punt since 2004. Not only that, he took it 15 yards. He took another one 22 yards, but a penalty on fullback Dan Coats cut it back to 12. He dropped back four other times, but Sav Rocca just couldn't get it to him with some brutal punting.

"I was feeling real good," Houshmandzadeh said. "I was seriously thinking in the overtime, I'm going to end the game with a punt (return) and just run into the locker room. (But) on the last few punts, I felt like he was treating me like I was Devin Hester. Marvin (Lewis) probably thought I'd fumble back there, huh? Just me catching it is a plus."

But while Houshmandzadeh was feeling good, Bratkowski was having a heck of a time. Injuries to left tackles Levi Jones (it could be his bothersome knee) and Andrew Whitworth (high ankle sprain) seriously hampered Cincinnati's pass protection, the worst since a Nov. 17, 1996 loss in Buffalo in which the Bengals last gave up eight sacks.

When Whitworth left the game late in the third quarter, Jones had to come back into the game in what left guard Scott Kooistra called "One of the gutsiest performances I've seen. I've seen Willie (Anderson) gut out some games like that and I've seen him gut out some games like that, but this one ... the game ball goes to him."

That was right guard Bobbie Williams' thought after observing, "When we were out there, I was telling him, 'Thank you for fighting it, big man. We need you in here and I'm glad you're sticking it sticking it out.' We've got a bunch of fighters."

You have to put Fitzpatrick in that category after he posted a gutty 89.3 passer rating in the face of Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson's varied blitz looks. Bratkowski praised how Fitzpatrick's intelligence kept the Bengals in it.

"He's real smart, knows his hots (blitz reads) are coming and he handles those," Bratkowski said. "He does such a good job of managing and understanding where his problems are."

Bratkowski said the Bengals went with more empty backfield sets and a good diet of five wides.

"It spreads the defense and if you've got five out there, they can bring only so many pressures and if they want to come after you with more than you can block, he's real good at getting the ball out and understanding where it goes," Bratkowski said. "When they're all spread out, it gives him a chance to run the ball. He gets to run a little bit and they just got him a couple of times by the ankles today. They made some great plays. Otherwise he was going to go for some yards."

Yes, the Bengals actually threw it (44) more than they ran it (30) but the 64,633 didn't seem happy with that many runs when it was getting two yards a shot and they really let Bratkowski have it with 8:17 left in the overtime when he called a wide run to running back Kenny Watson on third-and-seven from the Eagles 47.

But Bratkowski was damned no matter what he did because his people couldn't pass block (eight sacks) or run block (1.9 per rush). He said at that point Lewis said the Bengals were in four-down territory with the thinking to get enough on third to make fourth-down manageable.

"We were hoping to get three or four yards to make it fourth and short," Bratkowski said. "It was a run-pass check. If they were going to come, we were going to throw it. if they were going to lie back, we were going to run it. We didn't get enough out of it. That was the case with the entire run game today."

Watson got stuffed for no gain by, who else but right end Trent Cole and the Bengals had to punt.

Houshmandzadeh was incensed the ref didn't give him a timeout just before the snap because he noticed the Bengals lined up with receivers on different sides than what was called.

"It didn't hurt us all that much," Houshmandzadeh said.

Benson, who had just 42 yards on 23 carries, said he liked the fact Bratkowski hung with the run after his 104-yard outing the last time out against Jacksonville.

"I'm glad he did; that says a lot about him," Benson said. "He's got to feel good. I'm feeling good. I thought a big crease was going to open up in here in a a minute. But we got some guys.

"They moved around pretty good. They flowed into our zone plays and that challenged our guys a little bit."

But, in the end, a game that never seemed to end came down to half a yard.

"It's very disappointing," Williams said. "They had the right defense lined up. Guys were on guys. It's very frustrating. As offensive linemen we take pride in that and to not get a touchdown is very frustrating to have to settle for three."

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