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Yellow card

Posted: 6:45 a.m.

No report card. Just a yellow card.

At 2-6 at the halfway point, this is a warning.

This Midseason Review is what no one in Bengaldom thought during the long, cold offseason that began with three straight losses.

You could have thought 5-3, 4-4 because there was always concern about the defense. Particularly when the club decided not to make any major additions to upgrade the No. 30 defense.

But on pace to allow the most yards and most points in club history? On pace to allow 488 points, the third most of all-time?

And there was certainly concern that the Bengals offense would struggle without key third-down players Chris Perry and Chris Henry and the season-ending injury to rookie running back Kenny Irons.

But 28th in rushing? A total of eight receptions among the guys who were supposed to replace Henry, Tab Perry and Antonio Chatman?

Plus, there was some angst that losing veteran special-teamers such as Marcus Wilkins, Tony Stewart and Andre Frazier would impact a punt cover team that led the NFL and a top 10 kick cover team. The special teams has steadied itself after a rocky start, but 23rd in punt return and 26th in kick return?

You can't have a Midseason awards ceremony at 2-6. But you can have a garage sale as you try to unload some baggage.



MVP: WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh. The guy is like a cross between the mailman and the Marines. He always delivers no matter how tough the guy is waiting on the other shore. His 10 touchdown catches have kept the Bengals in more games than CBS even though defenses are beating up him and Chad Johnson at every turn as the running game careens inconsistently.

NEWCOMER OF THE YEAR: Linebacker Dhani Jones. It's quite telling how the defense is struggling that there is no Rookie of the Year. And Jones is so new that he didn't show up until the games started. His professionalism and experience proved to be just what the special teams needed to stop the bleeding.

PERFORMANCE OF THE YEAR: Carson Palmer's club-record six touchdown passes in Cleveland. Yes, it came against the NFL's last-ranked defense and he has thrown an un-Carson-like 10 touchdown passes in the other seven games. But without a third receiver and speed back, that's pretty good. And it shows where the Bengals would be without him.



COACH OF THE YEAR: Running backs coach Jim Anderson. When the Bengals lost Rudi Johnson in Seattle, it meant Anderson had lost his top three tailbacks if you also count Chris Perry and Kenny Irons. But Anderson, in his 24th season with the Bengals as the most senior assistant in the NFL, had Kenny Watson ready to go and Watson responded with a solid October that included a career-best 130 yards in the win over the Jets. That marked Anderson's 10th different 100-yard rusher in Cincinnati.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT: The 51-45 loss in Cleveland back on Sept. 16 in the second game of the season. Don't say this season wouldn't have been different if the Bengals didn't put away a Browns team just waiting to quit down 7-0 early.

Now look. They unleashed a contender and haven't been able to do anything right since.

It is the obligatory microcosm of the season. If the defense came up with just one stop, turnover, or sack, it's over. Cleveland quarterback Derek Anderson, seemingly one more duck away from the bench, turns into Ken Anderson and his five touchdown passes start the secondary's season of misery. And the defense can't tackle Jamal Lewis, a pedestrian runner that suddenly performs like it's 2003, and foreshadows five more 100-yard rushers in the next six games.

It is truly a team loss. The offense, feeling the heat knowing it can't make a mistake, makes enough. The battered special teams gives up an 85-yard kick return.

Forget that Cleveland is now in second place. If the Bengals play with the intensity they had six days before in the opener, the AFC North is a different place this morning.

MOST MISLEADING STAT: The Bengals are ranked fifth in offense. But for a variety of reasons, including the next-to-last ranked defense, they can't score. Since the last-minute loss in Seattle, the offense has scored more than 21 points just once and generated just 14 points or less in three of the last five games.

MOST TELLING STAT: The Bengals can't get off the field or stay on the field when they need to. They've had the ball more than 28 minutes just once in October and November.



NATIONAL ENQUIRER STORY OF YEAR: The Chad Johnson trade story from ESPN. It was supposed to be an analytical comment, but in this day and age of Anything Is News in the 24-7 maw of nothingness, it passes for a week-long headline.

But it fits. Johnson is having a whacky year straight out of Entertainment Tonight. He's been first or second in the NFL in receiving yards all year, but all anyone talks about (and he has to take the heat) is the wrong-route interceptions against Cleveland and New England, the drop in Buffalo and the trade stuff.

BIGGEST MYSTERY: The Bengals have proven pass rushers in Justin Smith and Robert Geathers and, led by free safety Madieu Williams, have one of the most athletic secondarys in the NFL. But they hardly come up with any plays. Smith and Geathers have a combined two sacks and the secondary is on pace to have just 14 interceptions all season in a year the Bengals have already allowed 19 touchdown passes.

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