Third and angst

Posted: 6:15 a.m.

KANSAS CITY - Carson Palmer admitted he couldn't name the Bengals starting linebackers Sunday. But he did know that they played well enough to give his offense a chance to win the game and it didn't come through with an appalling 1-for-11 on third-down conversions in a 27-20 loss to the Chiefs.

It wasn't until 3:30 left in the game that the Bengals converted a third down, their first one in October and first since 3:22 left in the Seattle game back on Sept. 23, a shocking span of 18 straight.

"I need to play better on third down. It's the quarterback's responsibility to get third down," Palmer said. "I need to go back and look at what I need to do to improve."

It was only two years ago the Bengals had the second-best third-down conversion rate in the NFL at 42.8 percent and the tempting thing to do is to point to an offensive line that underwent another traumatic change at Arrowhead Stadium. The kind of meltdown the team never endured on '05.

For the first time in three games center Eric Ghiaciuc returned to the lineup. But Pro Bowl right tackle Willie Anderson was back in Cincinnati missing his first game in 117 weeks nursing injury. And then just 17 minutes into the game head coach Marvin Lewis had to make another move when left tackle Levi Jones allowed Jared Allen's 2.5 sacks and Palmer's fumble.

That put Scott Kooistra at left guard for the first time this season, moving Andrew Whitworth from guard to left tackle. The left guard all of this season before Sunday, Stacy Andrews, stayed at right tackle.

By the time the line got squared away, the offense did all right and moved the ball in the second half.

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Palmer

"Other than a couple of times, when we needed it I thought I had time to throw," Palmer said. "There aren't many quarterbacks in this league that can just drop back and throw. Even with our two best tackles not playing, I still think we have a damn good offensive line and one of the best in the league."

But the damage was already done. In the first half, Palmer was sacked three times, one drive got blown up when running back Rudi Johnson lost four yards up the middle and running back Kenny Watson lost a yard on third-and-one when linebacker Donnie Edwards penetrated the right side.

Hand it to former Bengals defensive line coach and Super Bowl nose tackle Tim Krumrie, now the Chiefs line coach. Because his guys handed it to the Bengals.

"It's as good as front four as we've seen all year. Jared Allen is one of the most underrated players in the league," Palmer said. "Plus there's Tamba Hali on the other side and they've got some good-looking rookies in the middle in 90 and 93 (Turk McBride and Tank Tyler). They get a lot pressure and you have to find ways to counter it. And we started doing that. They were getting a little tired. We were wearing them out with some misdirection stuff."

Watson did manage 5.2 yards on his 13 carries, but the third-down mess could never get the Bengals in sync.

In the postgame, Jones offered no excuses to Bengals radio analyst Dave Lapham, telling him it was the worst he's ever played, that it was his first time getting benched, and that he would have to look at the tape after Allen flat beat him.

It's a mystery because Jones played pretty well in his first start of the season Oct. 1 against the Patriots. After insisting he was healthy and criticizing the club for not putting him back in the lineup after completing his rehab, Jones and Lewis indicated his knee wasn't the reason for the move.

"We were a little unnerved early in the game," Lewis said. "Jared did a good job of getting two or three good rushes there at the beginning of the game, but we were able to settle down and get back on track a little bit."

Whitworth had trouble grappling early on with Allen even though he didn't give up a sack. Once he got settled back at tackle ("I didn't expect to be there this week," he said), he kept Allen at bay. He said Allen's main weapon is his ability to get off the ball so quickly and once he gets into a tackle's body he is talented enough to use his power, or turn on his speed.

But everybody took turns whiffing on the third downs.

There were two third-down sacks. A third-down interception in the second quarter came with Palmer looking at third-and-14 after Rudi Johnson lost four yards. Palmer got chased out of bounds a yard shy of the first down when there was no one open. He threw third-down incompletions to each wide receiver, Chad Johnson, T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Antonio Chatman.

"It's a combination of things; not necessarily pass protection, but just a combination of things," Lewis said. "We have to approach it differently and we just have to go back and figure it out and do better not being frustrated by it and understanding that if we don't get one, don't let that play get into the next one."

Houshmandzadeh said its killing the team on two fronts: "We can't keep our defense off the field and we can't string anything together so we can get down the field and score."

But for all the talk about third down, it was a fourth-down play that sealed Cincinnati's fate. Trailing, 20-7, with about eight minutes left in the third quarter, the Bengals had a fourth and about two footballs to go from their own 36.

But Watson was stuffed as the 34-year-old Edwards (and let's hear no more of old linebackers) came in from the right edge to wrap up Watson's ankle.

"I asked Marvin. I begged him to go for it," Palmer said. "He said, 'You better get it.' We had the momentum. That's why I asked him. I think he thought there's no way we couldn't get it, especially with that field position. That's the head coach trusting his offense, expecting us to make plays. We let him down. We let our team down, our defense down."

There looked to be some unblocked backers on the play, but even though he was on the other side, Whitworth said the play was wide open because the Chiefs blitzed left. He said it appeared that Edwards got blocked by the play, but that he fell into Watson's ankle and was able to slow him and he was surprised the officials didn't let Watson extend the ball.

Still, the Bengals survived when rookie safety Chinedum Ndukwe forced a punt with his first NFL sack on third down.

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