Football

Offense was in tatters before this blowout

CINCINNATI — It was reported Sunday that dangerous winds had left 500,000 people without power in the tri-state area in and around the Queen City.

Make it 500,011.

Quiz question: Whatever happened to the Cincinnati Bengals offense?

Once feared, it has all but disappeared.

You could blame the gusting conditions for the pop-gun that was the Bengals non-attack in Sunday's 24-7 loss to the Tennessee Titans at Paul Brown Stadium, if it didn't fit into a disturbing trend that previously had nothing to do with Mother Nature.

Turn the clock back to the Bengals' 35-6 thumping of the Titans last Nov. 25. In the seven games since, Cincinnati has scored 116 points, an average of 16.6. A total of 38 of those points came in last year's season finale, a 38-25 win at Miami. Draw a line through that game, and the average drops to 14.4.

So what's happened to the sizzle that produced 48 touchdowns in 2005?

It's not the same players.

Gone is hard-charging running back Rudi Johnson, waived during training camp. Out is starting fullback Jeremi Johnson, who reported to training camp so out of shape he had to be placed on the Physically Unable to Perform list.

Long gone is three-fifths of a once formidable offensive line. Guard Eric Steinbach signed with Cleveland in 2006. Center Rich Braham retired in 2007. Tackle Willie Anderson was issued his walking papers last month.

Yes, quarterback Carson Palmer and Pro Bowl receivers Chad Whatshisname and T.J. Houshmandzadeh still wear the striped helmets. But Whatshisname underwent ankle surgery two days before training camp opened. Houshmandzadeh pulled a hamstring early in camp.

The trio that doesn't work together, struggles together.

If Palmer was at his career worst in last Sunday's loss at Baltimore, his pass rating at an abysmal 32.3, he wasn't much better on this day.

Stats: 16 completions in 27 attempts for 134 yards with two interceptions. Passer rating: 41.3.

Now at 0-2, "we've got an uphill battle in front of us," admitted Palmer.

Marvin Lewis gave the post-game coachspeak about "consistency," and "going back to work," and "We've got to grind harder and play smarter." But so much of the NFL is personnel, and the fact of the matter is that Cincinnati's offensive replacements have not filled the shoes of their predecessors.

Finally healthy, Chris Perry gained 64 yards on 21 carries, but the ex-Michigan star lacks Rudi's straight-ahead punch. Without Jeremi Johnson, former tight end Daniel Coates is a make-shift fullback. Stacy Andrews supposedly made Willie Anderson expendable, but you wonder if center Eric Ghiaciuc and guard Andrew Whitworth are of Braham-Steinbach caliber.

It didn't help either when Ben Utecht, the tight end the Bengals had game-planned around all week, departed after the first play Sunday with a chest injury.

Still, Palmer looks far less comfortable in the pocket. His throws are erratic and off-target. Whatshisname caught four balls for just 37 yards. Houshmandzadeh caught but three balls for 26 yards. Longest grab: nine yards.

If this Bengals offense is to regain any of its past heat, those three have to re-ignite. Not next month, but next Sunday, in New York, against the Giants.

"It's early enough that one win can get us back on track," said Palmer.

But not until the Bengals get their offense back.

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