Bengals 7, Saints 17
The Cincinnati Bengals fell to the New Orleans Saints in their preseason opener, but all the scoring action took place with the second and third squads on the field. The Bengals first-string offense moved the ball largely at will, with Carson Palmer and Cedric Benson combining for 161 yards in less than a quarter’s worth of action.
Unfortunately, they also combined for two turnovers and no points. The first, a fumble by Benson, gave the Saints the ball at the Cincinnati 6, but the first-team defense held firm and Saints K Garrett Hartley shanked the chip-shot FG. The second, an interception by LB Jonathan Vilma, was nearly returned for a TD, but WR Andre Caldwell stripped the ball away at the Cincinnati 4, where it was recovered by a hustling Andrew Whitworth.
The Bengals took that field position and drove to the Saints’ 13 before Palmer left the game with what is being described as a mild ankle sprain. While an injury to Palmer is the last thing anyone wants to see, this doesn’t appear to be serious, and Palmer says that he plans to play next week in New England.
Between the turnovers and a couple holding penalties, the offense looked sloppy, but all things considered it could have — and arguably should have — been worse. With four of five offensive linemen starting for the first time or at new positions, a QB who hasn’t played since week 5 of last year, a QB and RB who have never taken a regular-season snap together, a starting FB who didn’t play at all last year, and the team’s top two TEs lost in training camp, would anyone really have been surprised if the offense had been eaten alive by a stacked Saints defensive line?
Instead, for all their foul-ups, the starting offense looked miles ahead of last year’s train wreck. C Kyle Cook got blown up once that I saw but otherwise appeared to be a huge step up from Eric Ghiacuic. Despite drawing a holding call apiece, tackles Whitworth and Anthony Collins generally kept Carson clean and were opening holes for Benson. WR Chad Ochocinco looked like his old self, WR Laveranues Coles took a licking and kept on ticking, and WR Chris Henry stuck it out the whole game, piling up 100 yards and a TD.
Defensively, the Bengals had a big goal-line stand early and held the Saints to something like 14 yards in the first quarter. After Saints SS Darren Sharper briefly knocked Coles out of the game with a big hit, SS Chris Crocker delivered a return blow that briefly forced Saints WR Robert Meachem to the sidelines. The Bengals didn’t get much pressure on QB Drew Brees, aside from one blitz by Dhani Jones, and they still can’t defend the tight end, but overall if you were looking for signs that last year’s No. 12 ranking was a fluke, you didn’t see any last night.
Special teams were mixed. P Kevin Huber looked good early but faded over the course of the game, and franchise kicker Shayne Graham missed his own short FG.
As for the newbies and backups, QB J.T. O’Friday’s was better than I expected, RB Bernard Scott looked like he belonged, and DE Michael Johnson displayed some skills. On the other hand, neither RB Brian Leonard nor QB Jordan Palmer did anything for me, and corner depth is basically nonexistent. I expect the Bengals will sign players at both corner and tight end once cuts start.