It took more than half a season for the Cincinnati Bengals’ offense to wake up. They can not afford to have their defense fall asleep with hopes of returning to the playoffs hanging in the balance.
After an improbable second half in which they gave up 42 points, the Bengals will be looking for more consistent efforts on both sides of the ball Sunday when they meet the New Orleans Saints at the Louisiana Superdome.
In the final 30 minutes, though, the defense gave up three of LaDainian Tomlinson’s four rushing touchdowns and three TD passes by rookie quarterback Phillip Rivers—including a 5-yard strike to tight end Brandon Manumaleuna with 2:29 to play that sealed the Chargers’ 49-41 victory.
Now Cincinnati (4-5) is looking for answers following some of the worst play in franchise history.
“We picked a bad time to have a bad half of football,” Bengals defensive lineman John Thornton said. “Nobody’s ever been a part of that, playing or coaching, where somebody scored 42 points in a half. But it happened, and now we’ve got to deal with it.”
Prior to the collapse, the Bengals had yielded 97 points in the second halves of their games this season. Cincinnati’s 217 points allowed overall is second worst in the AFC, better only than the Tennessee Titans’ 243.
Tennessee is in last place in the AFC South while Cincinnati is coming off its first playoff appearance since 1991. The Bengals have lost three in a row— by a combined 16 points—and five of six after a 3-0 start.
“We’re facing a level of adversity we may have not faced before,” Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said. “But we can still do what we set out to do when the season began. They key is we have to do it one week at a time and one game at a time.”
The offense, which has struggled to find consistency this season, finally broke out in the loss to San Diego. Palmer had his finest day as a pro, completing 31 of 42 passes for 440 yards, and Johnson set a Bengals’ single-game record with 260 receiving yards in 11 catches with two touchdowns.
The 545 yards of offense also was Cincinnati’s most in 16 years.
“We’re going to dig out of this,” Johnson said. “Our offense is going to carry the load. To play like we did today … I just know we’re not going to go backward.
“They say defense wins championships, but I’d like to be the first person to say the offense is going to carry us.”
New Orleans (6-3) also will be looking to bounce back from a poor second half. The Saints gave up 21 points—including two short scoring runs by Willie Parker set up by runs of 72 and 76 yards—in a 38-31 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
“This was a game we needed to win,” Saints defensive tackle Brian Young said. “There are a lot of people who still think this is last year’s team. We needed to make a statement.”
The Saints, displaced by Hurricane Katrina, went just 3-13 last season for their worst record since 1999.
Drew Brees passed for a career-high 398 yards in the loss and leads the league with 2,604 passing yards. He also has 15 touchdowns with just seven interceptions this season, but is not thinking about possible MVP honors.
“Everybody has a hand in that. It’s an honor to be considered for those kinds of things. I’ve got to credit everybody around me,” Brees said. “Obviously, just what we’re doing as an offense—I love the system. Coach (Sean) Payton and the rest of the coaches are doing a heck of a job.
“It’s about winning games. It doesn’t matter what the numbers look like.”
Despite the addition of Brees and Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush, New Orleans wasn’t given serious consideration to contend with Atlanta and Carolina in the tough NFC South. Instead, the Saints lead the division by one game over the Falcons and Panthers.
After this contest, the Saints meet the Falcons in Atlanta on Nov. 26 and will wrap up the regular season at home on New Year’s Eve against the Panthers.
Bush, selected second overall, scored his first offensive touchdown in the loss to the Steelers. But the league’s best rookie thus far also plays for New Orleans—and was selected 250 picks after Bush.
Wide receiver Marques Colston, a seventh-round selection from Hofstra, had 10 catches for 169 yards against the Steelers. He leads the league with 869 receiving yards and a 16.1 yard per reception average.
He’s also tied with Torry Holt of the St. Louis Rams, Darrell Jackson of the Seattle Seahawks and Terrell Owens of the Dallas Cowboys with a league-best seven receiving touchdowns. Colston will be facing a Bengals pass defense that is 28th in the league, giving up an average of 226.7 yards.
This is Cincinnati’s first visit to New Orleans since losing 20-13 on Jan. 2, 1994. The Saints have dropped both meetings since then, including a 20-13 defeat on Dec. 22, 2002 in Cincinnati, where the Bengals rallied with 13 fourth-quarter points.