CANTON, Ohio — An embarrassing 16-7 Hall of Fame Game loss to the Dallas Cowboys may turn out to be a good thing for the Cincinnati Bengals.
After all, pre-season games are supposed to be learning experiences, as well as a chance to take a look at the less-experienced players who are battling for roster spots.
The Bengals learned plenty Sunday night.
The most important lesson? The validity of Coach Marvin Lewis' season slogan: Work To Do.
"It was not what I wanted," Lewis said after the game in Fawcett Stadium. "I set out a few things that I just wanted to get done tonight and I don't think we got those things really accomplished — other than getting some of the young players a lot of snaps, which was good."
The Bengals didn't score until Darius Hill caught Jordan Palmer's 1-yard pass with 51 seconds left.
Cincinnati totaled 10 first downs, three in the first half. There was a 2-for-13 (lack of) success rate on third downs; 43 rushing yards and a mere 136 passing; and four turnovers, including Brandon Sharpe's 6-yard interception return of a Jordan Palmer pass for a touchdown.
The ballyhooed debut of the Terrell Owens, Chad Ochocinco, Carson Palmer and Cedric Benson offensive juggernaut was a dud.
Granted, the AFC North Division champions' offensive "skill position" players were lifted after the first quarter, appearing in two series.
Carson Palmer went 2-for-5 passing for 18 yards. Both completions went to Owens, the target on four of Palmer's passes.
That left Ochocinco with nada. He also got called for illegal motion, negating an Owens catch.
Benson ran twice for 7 yards.
"Offensively, we played as a group that had a couple new people in there and our execution wasn't very good," Lewis said. "We hurt ourselves with a penalty."
Owens said his being Carson Palmer's most-used target was merely a case of taking what the defense was giving.
"Carson was going through his progressions and what have you, and we had some one-on-one matchups, just trying to play pitch-and-catch and try to get some chemistry," Owens said. "The first 12, 15 plays, we game-planned and a lot of them were runs, and we had some opportunities, depending on the coverage, whether we were going to throw the ball or not.
"I appreciate the timing and the chemistry that we're trying to work on when we're out there because it's obviously different from practices, and I'm definitely trying to do whatever I can to learn this offense in a timely manner and try to get in sync with Carson."
Brandon Scott led Cincinnati in rushing with 19 yards on seven carries. Matt Jones topped the receivers with three catches for 42 yards.
Dallas quarterback Tony Romo played only the first series, going 5-for-10 for 59 yards. Third-stringer Stephen McGee was 12-for-22 for 116 yards. Tashard Choice led Dallas rushers with 41 yards on seven tries. Leading receivers, both tight ends, were Scott Sicko with five catches for 44 yards and John Phillips with four grabs for 60 yards.
Among Bengals starters, Michael Johnson and Keith Rivers each made three tackles, including a pair of sacks for Johnson. Rookie nose tackle Gino Atkins had six tackles, including a sack and three tackles-for-loss.
"Defensively, we didn't do a good enough job, maybe, of having an opportunity on third downs to control the field position in the first half of the football game — when it kind of mattered with some of the guys that we know are going to play significant snaps for us," Lewis said. "They were able to keep the touchdowns off the board, but we needed to play crisper and execute some things a little better. Be a little tighter in some things, I thought, when we had those opportunities.
"Also, I didn't think Kevin Huber had his best start to the football game in punting the football, which made a difference in field position. ... Got work to do."
Carson Palmer was stirred, not shaken.
"I'm not worried about anything," he said. "Obviously you want to go out and score every time you touch the ball, and it's tough when you only get two opportunities. ... We'll continue to work and grind. That's what we do and that's what Marvin preaches and we've got guys that are hungry and excited at the next opportunity to play at home (Sunday vs. Denver) for our fans."
The results caused angst for some fans, but not for Ochocinco.
"It's cool. It feels good to be out there going against somebody beside yourself," he said. "It was fun. It was the first pre-season game, you know. It's good to get the jitters out, man, just hitting against somebody else."