These are desperate times for the defending AFC North-champion Bengals, whose record fell to 2-5 after a 22-14 loss to Miami on Sunday. Cincinnati is now three games out of first place in the division race with nine games left to play, and a win vs. 5-2 Pittsburgh on Monday night appears essential to harbor any real postseason hopes in the second half of the season.
The Bengals broke out to a 7-0 lead with an impressive 15-play, 86-yard drive to begin the game, but they would gain just 176 yards thereafter, and their only other score came on a deflected pass that could have been intercepted by Dolphins S Chris Clemons. QB Carson Palmer completed just 8-of-22 passes for 52 yards with no TDs and an interception in the second half. The pick came on Cincinnati's final drive in which a pass intended for WR Terrell Owens was intercepted by Dolphins CB Sean Smith with 2:54 left.
The Bengals' defense also disappointed in the second half, surrendering 196 yards to Miami in the final 30 minutes. The Dolphins moved 96 yards on just six plays in 2:49 early in the fourth quarter to take a 22-14 lead on Ricky Williams' one-yard TD run. Cincinnati allowed passes of 25 and 24 yards and rushes of 30 and 18 yards on the drive. The touchdown was Miami's lone TD of the game, with PK Dan Carpenter booting five field goals.
"As the game unfolded, we didn't do a good enough job in the second half," head coach Marvin Lewis said afterward. "We didn't get them (the Dolphins) stopped. Defensively, we allowed them to drive the field for the 96-yard touchdown (drive), and offensively, we didn't convert third downs. In the kicking game, we had opportunities to take advantage of some field positioning and didn't get that done. We had some opportunities on kickoff returns with all the field goals they were kicking and never really made a field-position play."
The PFW Spin
Why have the Bengals taken a step back this season? Here are three reasons:
• The defense hasn't played as well as it did in 2009. Let's count the ways: The Bengals are 18th in yards allowed after ranking fourth in this category a season ago. They are 23rd in rushing yards allowed (seventh in '09); 20th in passing yards allowed per game (sixth in '09) and tied for 19th in yards allowed per play (fourth in '09). Moreover, the Bengals have just six sacks, tied for fewest in the NFL.
• While the offense is gaining more yards per game than a season ago because of an improved passing game (355.4 yards per game compared to 309.1), the Bengals' scoring isn't up much. The Bengals are averaging 20.9 points after averaging 19.1 points in 2009. However, the Bengals are surrendering 23.3 points (tied for 20th in the NFL) after allowing 18.2 last season (sixth in the NFL). The Bengals are 24th in red-zone efficency. Also of note: the Bengals are running much less this season, and their yards per carry average is down (3.8 ypc vs. 4.1 ypc last season).
• Mistakes, a lack of execution and a lack of consistency have hurt this team. Two late interceptions were game changers in the Week Five loss to Tampa Bay. On Sunday, the Bengals surrendered a field goal at the end of the first half after failing to be able to run out the clock and allowing a 17-yard punt return to the Cincinnati 49 with 21 seconds left. Miami drove 13 yards and set up Carpenter's 54-yard kick through the uprights to cut Cincinnati's lead to 14-12. Late in the fourth quarter, Palmer's interception helped the Dolphins clinch the win. Palmer's pass to Owens was too far to the right, and Sean Smith made the pick.
“We had a little bit of a busted play and I tried to make something happen," said Palmer, who took responsibility for the play, regarding the throw to Owens. "They knew what play was coming and they jumped the route. I was trying to throw him out of the route and he wasn’t thinking the same thing I was. We missed it, and it was completely my fault. I was trying to make something happen when we needed to score, down by eight, and we didn’t convert on it.”
Asked about the inconsistency of the offense, which has racked up 413 yards or more in three games this season but was held to 262 yards Sunday after the fast start, Palmer said: “It’s extremely frustrating. I don’t know if there’s a word to describe losing four games in a row. The feeling where you’re just not doing things right all the time. The margin of error in this league is so small. You can’t be wrong on three or four plays, you have to be right all the time.”