Carson Palmer's 345 passing yards were not enough. (AP photo)
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. - While the defense wondered if it had put too many schemes in for Sunday's opener, the Bengals offense wondered why it took so long to adjust to the obligatory wrinkles unveiled by Patriots head coach Bill Belichick.
In the end, the Bengals no-huddle offense revived a team that came out with no edge and while most of their 428 yards came in what would be described as garbage time, the offense did show it can throw the ball as compared to years past with quarterback Carson Palmer's biggest passing day in three seasons on 345 yards.
"I'll take you to years past when we started this way offensively, we stayed that way," said left tackle Andrew Whitworth said. "This year I thought a step up is we started back and got into a groove and drove the ball consistently and scored."
Still, Belichick, whose roster is supposed to be inferior and in transition, celebrated his seventh straight Opening Day victory. Some say he's unbeatable when he's got five months to prepare. The Bengals offense said they beat themselves.
"The way we started off … it took us too long to get going," Palmer said. "They got going right away and we were playing catch-up midway through the first quarter. It's tough to beat that team from behind. For years they have played with leads and they are a very good team when they have the lead."
The no-huddle couldn't prevent no controversy. It took wide receivers Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens less than a half to get embroiled in a tabloid jam. Both were in the locker room when the Pats missed a field goal with one second left in the half and the Bengals had to send Jordan Shipley and Jerome Simpson deep for a Hail Mary.
The media was all over Owens when they didn't like his "Coach said he would address it" answer three times.
This is how Lewis addressed it:
"We had 85 go in for an IV, which is kind of normal for him any time we are on defense, particularly early in the season. Later in the year we don't have to do that. But the doctors want to get him and get him out so he's ready to go at the start of the second half. And Terrell went in to get work done and get looked at and so we had the other guys ready to go."
Lewis wouldn't elaborate on Owens.
"He was just getting looked at, and that's our business," he said.
The Ocho getting fluids at halftime is business as usual.
"Ask Coach Lewis; he'll explain it you," The Ocho said. "It's the same thing I've been doing the past 10 years."
But if the Bengals offense looked unkempt next to Brady's software crispness, it just wasn't them. The Bengals played tight and tentative in all three phases, bearing no resemblance to the team that swept the AFC North last season. From the running game to the pass rush to special teams.
Exhibit A: Mike Nugent stopped some of the bleeding with the Bengals' longest field goal in eight years, a 54-yarder that made it 24-3 the half. But on the second half kickoff, with what appeared to be a scheme designed for Nugent to kick it deep to the right, he hit it short and to the left and rookie wide receiver Brandon Tate took the bouncing kick 97 yards blowing up the middle to officially make it a blowout at 31-3.
Then with the Bengals inching to 38-24 with 3:57 left in game, linebacker Michael Johnson illegally touched an onside kick.
"Well, I think that obviously, that kind of puts a chink in you right away," said Lewis of Tate's return. "But guys came back and fought and made some production on offense and moved the ball and we didn't stop them much today on defense. We played against a good offense, a great quarterback, we know that, and we didn't play very well and they played a lot better. So, hats off to them. But obviously you allow a kickoff return for a touchdown and an interception for a touchdown and those are hard to overcome. And we weren't able to overcome it."
Two things took observers by surprise Sunday when the Pats lined up against the ballyhooed new Bengals offense of diverse passing weapons. New England, with its undersized front seven and inexperienced secondary, moved around its front guys before the snap in unleashing Rex Ryan-like confusion. In the back, the Pats unveiled for the first time this season a five-man secondary with safety James Sanders in the box gumming up the middle on passing downs.
"I felt when they got into no-huddle situations, we were fine," Whitworth said. "We really had trouble in the base on first and second downs early in the game and just didn't play as well as we should have in the beginning. We weren't really surprised by what they did, we just didn't execute. We said if we made mistakes, this team will beat you and we made mistakes."
Palmer wasted no time going after the young Pats secondary. On the game's first snap he went right after rookie cornerback Devin McCourty working against 15-year veteran wide receiver Terrell Owens and Palmer floated it about 20 yards down the left sideline in good shape. But when Owens hauled it into his body, the ball bounced off McCourty's helmet. The Bengals then didn't get two first downs in a drive until they were down 17-0 midway through the second quarter.
And right after he got those first downs, Palmer threw a pick-six to linebacker Gary Guyton draped all over rookie tight end Jermaine Gresham running across the field.
"Just a bad decision," Palmer said. "A ball I shouldn't have thrown and our team paid the price for my mistake. I can't do that to our team."
Palmer got back 24 points with the Pats playing prevent and 51 of his yards came on the Hail Mary to Shipley at the end of the half. But he also made some big-time throws with the Patriots teeing off on him. Ochocinco caught 10 of his career-best 12 balls in the second half, including a 28-yard touchdown pass with 22 seconds left in the third quarter on a sideline bomb that cut it to 31-17.
"We figured they'd be going after us and try to get the ball to Gresham on some plays inside," Belichick said. "I don't think that's any secret; that's kind of what they do anyway and that's what they've done through preseason. I think it's a pretty good attack. We had trouble with it in the second half. They did a good job of keeping us off balance with the running game, the inside throws, the outside throws. And they hit them; they made some great throws and great catches. But we definitely expected them to try to get the ball to those two guys. Sometimes they did. Sometimes they didn't, but they're tough to cover."
The Ocho, with 159 yards, had his biggest day in three years. He was counseling, "We'll be fine," and pumping up the no-huddle.
"It's only Week 1. A blueprint has been set for the offense and what we need to do," The Ocho said. "What works and what doesn't work. What we need to work on. We know we can move the ball in no-huddle. What we need to do (better) is just execute regular plays coming out of the huddle."
Palmer spent time talking to Whitworth and center Kyle Cook before he left the locker room for his postgame interview as they picked through what just happened. As usual, Palmer kept his cool. He had no reaction about The Ocho and Owens not around for his Hail Mary.
"Ship did a good job of going up and making the play. He did it twice, on the third down over the middle and the ball fluttered up in the air, he went up and got that one," Palmer said. "Somehow the guy that's 5-7 goes up and catches the ball. He's got a lot of heart, a big play by him. I didn't even notice. I noticed Ship was moving down the middle of the field and Jerome Simpson, our guy that has a 42-inch vertical. Those guys went in and figured out a way to make a play."
Owens kept it upbeat after a tough Bengals debut (seven catches for 53 yards), knowing a lot could have changed on that first play.
"I think I should have had that first ball. I think I had it and I was bringing it down and I think it popped out on his helmet, or what have you," Owens said. "Those are some of the mistakes - I would say they are mistakes - we need to (correct) and plays we need to make.
"We had some opportunities where we had them in Cover 3 and man-to-man and we didn't take advantage of that. That's what I alluded to earlier on, the first ball that he threw to me. Those are things that we're going to get better with. We've just got to take this game and take it for what it's worth. We know that we had some opportunities that we let go. We've just got to play better in all phases of the game. ... Trust me, we're disappointed about the loss, but at the same time, there's a lot to build from. My message to the guys is it's not how you start; it's how you finish. Honestly, I think we know that we were capable of winning this game. Offensively we've got to help the defense out."
Palmer knows his team can't survive throwing 50 times a game and he knows how he got Sunday's numbers. But, like Leon Hall, the victim of last year's stunning loss in the opener, he was thinking about how the Bengals bounced back to win four straight.
"Being down as much as we were down, we had to come out and throw the ball," Palmer said. "We will figure it out, we will keep working and keep getting better. We are not going to let this game dictate our season, we didn't let that happen to us last year, losing an early one in a tough way. This was a tough loss, because we were excited and fired up for this game. To come out with a loss was difficult, but we won't let this effect the rest of our year."
But the Bengals know they can't start the game next week against Baltimore like they did Sunday.
Look at Lewis to reemphasize the motto of training camp that looked quite ironic Sunday night.
"Strike Fast. Strike First."