Bengals' defense better, offense humdrum as season winds down Print
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Monday, 24 December 2007 11:49
NFL Headline News

 CINCINNATI (AP) -It's tough to figure out these Cincinnati Bengals as their losing season winds down.
On defense, they're looking much better with young players filling in for injured veterans. The veteran-laden offense is a whole different story.
The Bengals have some reasons to be encouraged by their 19-14 victory Sunday that dealt the Cleveland Browns' playoff chances a severe setback. Two rookie safeties, a rookie cornerback and a second-year cornerback had big plays that decided the game.
``Defensively, other than the one or two plays in the running game, we played well,'' coach Marvin Lewis said Monday. ``All in all, the young guys did a good job in the secondary.''
The offense? Still a mess.
For the fourth game in a row, the Bengals failed to score at least 20 points. The last two games were against San Francisco and Cleveland, which are ranked in the league's bottom third in defense.
Receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh leads the league in catches, and receiver Chad Johnson is among the leaders in yards. On Sunday, reserve running back Kenny Watson ran for 130 yards to pace the offense on a windy day.
But all they could manage was 19 points. It's another indication that something has to change in the offseason.
``To be honest, I haven't thought much about what this year means going into next year,'' quarterback Carson Palmer said. ``I've just been trying to figure out how to get a win.''
Their latest came the easy way.
Derek Anderson's four interceptions allowed the Bengals (6-9) a rare afternoon of satisfaction. Two of them set up rapid-fire touchdowns in the closing minutes of the first half.
Rookie safety Chinedum Ndukwe got the first interception and returned it 44 yards to the 5, setting up Palmer's touchdown pass. Anderson threw into a crowd on the next play, and first-round draft pick Leon Hall got his fifth interception, returning it to the 20-yard line to set up another score.
On the Browns' opening drive of the second half, rookie safety Marvin White got in front of Kellen Winslow at the back of the end zone. The ball deflected off White's helmet, and Ndukwe made his second interception.
``I think it bodes well for the future,'' Ndukwe said. ``We're just out there trying to get some positive momentum for next year. They brought us here to make a positive impact on the defense, and I think we did that.''
Finally, second-year cornerback Johnathan Joseph anticipated a throw to Winslow and intercepted at the Cincinnati 5 midway through the fourth quarter, another major setback for the Browns.
That's four young players making the biggest plays.
``In this case, there have been some young players who have had opportunities to do good things,'' Lewis said. ``They've gotten their feet wet and they've experienced the expectations and the disappointment as well as the positives.
``This group continues to prepare very hard. It keeps you from getting stale when you have guys getting new opportunities to play.''
The offense is as stale as ever.
After taking advantage of those two late interceptions at the end of the first half, the Bengals did next to nothing. They failed to score in the second half, had the ball for only 10:31, and picked up only four first downs and 84 yards. Palmer was 3-of-8 for 39 yards with an interception.
The wind was a factor. So was the mind-set.
All season long, Palmer has been out of sync with Johnson, who hasn't run crisp pass routes. On a third-and-5 play Sunday, Palmer threw a sideline route for Johnson just past the first-down marker. Johnson kept going and didn't turn around until it was too late.
The receiver had another mental lapse on Cincinnati's final drive. He got the ball on a double reverse, followed Palmer's block down the sideline and ran out of bounds without getting hit, stopping the clock with 3:43 to go.
The Browns got the ball back at the end, and Johnson's poor decision gave them time to get in position for a desperation pass into the end zone that was batted away.
``Chad doesn't run the ball that much, so he may not have the usual awareness of the overall situation,'' Lewis said. ``He makes a big play like that and he runs out of bounds. If he stays inbounds, that's a good thing, but if he stays inbounds, gets hit and fumbles, that's not a good thing.''
Notes: C Eric Ghiaciuc sprained a foot and RB DeDe Dorsey sprained an ankle on Sunday. Both are out for the final game in Miami on Sunday. ... RT Willie Anderson played Sunday after missing eight games with an injured left knee. ``Willie came through it OK, just a little tired and sore,'' Lewis said. He is expected to play against the Dolphins.

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