Football is a team sport. Often you hear coaches say it takes an entire team to win. In Cincinnati the converse is true; it takes an entire team to lose.
After leading by a touchdown and having the ball with 2 and ½ minutes to go and somehow losing the game in regulation to Tampa Bay 24-21, the Bengals go into their bye week by lighting the fuse to the end of their season.
This was a true team effort starting at the top with the coaching staff. Despite a 23 carry, 144 yard day by squeaky wheel Cedric Benson the coaching staff called pass plays three separate times on 3rd-and-4 or less and failed to convert any of them. Benson averaged over 6 yards per carry yesterday and even when the Bengals lined up for a two-point conversion and everyone in the building knew a run was coming, they managed to get the two yards needed to convert. Yet they failed to get 1, 2, or 4 yards through the air on those failed occasions.
Flash forward to a 3rd and 13 which they haven’t converted without help from a penalty all season, and the Bengals “brain trust” calls for a pass play, over the middle, into the heart of the defense, with 2:28 left in a game, against a team you are beating by 7 points, and by the way has no time outs left?!? Result: interception at midfield.
If Carson Palmer had fallen down, let the clock run to the 2-minute warning and put it into the hands of Bengals MVP, punter Kevin Huber, at worst the Buccaneers would have had to go 80 yards with no timeouts left just to force overtime. Instead this was the beginning of a meltdown. Actually using the word meltdown to describe this game would be an insult to ice. This was an utter implosion.
The game situational coaching is dreadful and as far as leading the three phases?
The offense is plodding and predictable. Just ask 7th round draft pick Cody Grimm who picked off Palmer at the Bengal 11 for the first Tampa touchdown. They lack all sense of discipline and precision. The defense played admirably at times but can’t get to the quarterback outside of a designed corner or safety blitz. The special teams returned well and recovered a fumble, but also allowed a punt block yesterday. They have yet to play an error-free game.
Moving on, Carson Palmer was a big contributor to this team effort throwing 3 interceptions including Grimm’s gem in the 2nd quarter. His abysmal QB rating of 58.7 was reflected in his performance. Bad throws, poor decision making, and with the Reds out of the playoffs the biggest topic of conversation returns to “What the hell is wrong with Carson Palmer?”. To quote Nicholas Cage in Con Air when asked a similar question about Steve Buscemi’s Garland Green character, “My guess would be…a lot.”
As a fan, you hope that Palmer is hurt. That those “frayed” elbow tendons from 2008 didn’t re-attach themselves (is that even possible?) or he has some degenerative arthritic condition in his shoulder. Not that you hope for injury in any fashion for him or anyone else (well maybe TJ Ward, and any Pittsburgh Steeler) but you hope that there is a physical reason for his ineffectiveness. You hope it’s not just because he has “lost it” or that he’s just not a very good QB. You don’t want to believe this, but the evidence piling up is making this hard to defend.
“A little off” was the phrase used by Chad Ochocinco, T.O., Marvin Lewis, and Palmer himself to describe the Bengals passing game. I’m guessing their definition of “little” is slightly different than the 63,888 sitting in (or the empty seats disguised as patrons to proclaim the game a sellout) at Paul Brown Stadium.
The offensive line also contributed to this Bengal debacle yesterday. Sure, they blocked well enough to let Benson run amok but they also added four more false start penalties to stretch their NFL lead to 12 in this category. Marvin’s response: “Bring your shovel and go to work.”
Note to Marvin: This shovel analogy is beyond old and it clearly is not having any impact. If you are trying to compare yourselves to manual laborers that dig ditches, just stop. You have a group of men who can’t seem to remember what the snap count is from one play to the next. If the no-huddle offense is too confusing for this group to run, don’t run it. Know your personnel. They aren’t digging ditches; they are digging your coaching grave.
The wide receivers pitched in as well, with three drops including one that ended up bouncing off the hands of Robin, (or Batman, hell I can’t keep them straight) into Tampa DB Sabby Piscatelli’s hands with 14 seconds left allowing the Bengals to complete their masterpiece of horror. Chad later referred to this pass as being “a little off”, but upon further review it did hit his hands. A tougher catch than the T.O. drop on 3rd-and-2 or the Andre Caldwell drop on 3rd-and-1, but a drop nonetheless.
Side note: Chad was the 4th most targeted receiver for Carson Palmer’s passes yesterday. Vegas will be setting over-under lines for the week of the Mount Ochocinco eruption, if 85 continues to be the 4th option and the Bengals losing trend continues, bet the under. The only thing that Chad hates more than losing is losing AND not seeing the ball.
The defense kicked in some help as well with a couple of key penalties. Leon Hall may want to see the video of his pass interference call and he may be right that it wasn’t justified, but frankly he needs to focus his energy on things like making sure the receiver that he’s covering is touched when lying on the ground in front of him so that he doesn’t get up and run for a 1st down.
Johnathon Joseph had an interception, but he also got beat in the corner of the end zone by Mike Williams to give up the 20 yard game-tying score.
While the defense doubled their sack total for the season from three to six, they also gave up huge chunks of yards at the worst possible time. They still have shown zero ability to cover an opposing tight-end with three of Kellen “The Soldier” Winslow’s six catches resulting in a first down. This wasn’t Brady, Moss, and Welker beating them; it was Freeman, Williams, and Spurlock that hung 10 points on the board in the last 1:26 of the game.
Last and certainly not least, we’ll include the referees as contributors in the loss. The Chad Ochocinco catch that was ruled not a catch at the end of the first half was a far more legal reception than the one-tiptoe-down-one-tiptoe-up-lose-the-ball-when-he-hit-the-ground “catch” that Micheal Spurlock made with 5 seconds left on the clock ensuring an easy game winning field goal for Connor Barth. If the replay official has 4 angles to look at, why couldn’t they see in two of them that one of his toes was off the ground? I mean it was a pretty catch…if he were in college, but in the NFL that’s not a catch, especially with the ball spurting out of his hands when he hit the ground.
The only non-contributors yesterday were:
• Kevin Huber who averaged over 51 yards a punt despite having one partially blocked, including a 72 yard bomb midway through the 4th quarter.
• Mike Nugent who had another perfect day (although most of them are failed red zone efforts by the offense).
• Chris Crocker who had 10 tackles, 9 of them solo, 1 of them for a loss in addition to his 2 sacks, and another QB hit on the elusive Josh Freeman. Additionally, he had the most accurate quote of the year thus far: “We are how we look on tape. We are a 2-3 team and not a good team.”
Other than these three, this was a total team effort to collapse in this way. In the locker room, everyone to a man was eager to take the blame for the loss. Respectable, and in this case it was 100% accurate. Marvin, Carson, T.O., Chad, Andrew Whitworth and many others all lined up to take the blame for yesterday’s loss.
Most see this as admirable, which it is as a unique occurrence. However when it becomes commonplace, it grows tiresome and worse, it masks any individual accountability for those who are contributing more than their fair share to the disastrous effort that this season has suddenly become. Of course in yesterday’s loss, despite the large number willing to take their share of blame, there was more blame to be passed than there was to take it, and then some.
It’s difficult to say that the season is over after only 5 games, but when questions are already being asked about “keeping the locker room together”, the schedule still has seven games left against winning teams this season, and two of the “penciled in wins” that this team needed early are now in the loss column, it’s a reasonable statement to consider. If I were a CSI agent examining the forensic evidence on this team, this conclusion would be easy to support to David Caruso or a court of law.
Plus before the game Carson Palmer called this a “must win” game. So if they didn’t win a “must win” game, then….
At least there will be plenty of those willing to accept the blame, remember it’s a team effort.