Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer is pressured by Patriots linebacker Tully Banta-Cain. Palmer says adjusting to new players has contributed to the Bengals' offensive problems.
Winslow Townson / AP Enlarge
CLEVELAND - Terrell Owens once celebrated a touchdown by tearing a bed sheet off the wall that said, "T.O. has B.O." Chad Ochocinco, then known as Chad Johnson, survived a perilous post-TD leap into the wicked Dawg Pound with all his limbs intact. And, Carson Palmer threw six TD passes.
It all happened in Cleveland.
The Cincinnati Bengals have enjoyed prior visits to the shores of Lake Erie. They're hoping their next one is just as fun.
With their hyped, high-octane offense spinning its wheels so far this season, the Bengals (2-1) are taking their striped reality-gone-NFL show on the road this week against the winless Browns (0-3), who have blown fourth-quarter leads three straight Sundays.
Cincinnati appears to be overdue for a breakout game, one where Owens and Ochocinco finally get loose, light up the scoreboard and bust into a Dancing With the Stars routine together in the end zone.
Isn't it about time?
"I hope it's not a matter of too much time," said Palmer, who enters this week's game as the league's 22nd rated quarterback. "We're excited to play. We won last week, but we weren't satisfied with the win. We're excited about getting another opportunity to play and hopefully put up a lot of points and move the ball around the field."
The Bengals have hardly been the offensive juggernaut many predicted. Last week against Carolina, Palmer threw two interceptions in the first half, prompting boos from Cincinnati fans, who have seen more production out of the playoff-bound Reds lately. Part of Cincinnati's early offensive struggles can be attributed to growing pains.
Palmer is still adjusting to playing with Owens, who will be facing the Browns with his fifth different team. The Bengals are also phasing in rookie wide receiver Jordan Shipley and first-year tight end Jermaine Gresham. Palmer said the newness has contributed to the offensive malaise, but it's not an excuse.
"When you have some weapons that are new it takes some time to grow with those guys and improve as quickly as possible," Palmer said. "We've got a handful of new guys offensively that we'll continue to jell with and continue to work with within our system."
Maybe more surprising that the Bengals' struggles is that neither Owens or Ochocinco has complained publicly. At least not yet.
Batman and Robin, as they dubbed themselves during training camp, have been model citizens. However, they won't be able to bite their tongues if Cincinnati's offense doesn't kick into gear soon.
"I'm not comfortable with where we are offensively," said Owens, who has yet to score with Cincinnati. "We just have to keep continuing to practice hard, and if we can continue to do that, it'll pay off at some point. There's definitely not a sense of panic at this point, but it's frustrating not to be able to do the things that we need to do from a passing standpoint."
The Browns know all about frustration. They had a chance to beat Tampa Bay, Kansas City, and Baltimore but are still searching for their first win.
"Just as easy as we're 0-3, we could be 3-0," said wide receiver and Pro Bowl return specialist Joshua Cribbs, who has been contained so far on kickoff and punt returns. "We've been making costly mistakes and if we can clean them up and play the same football that we've been playing, then the wins will come."
They'd better come soon or the pressure could intensify on coach Eric Mangini. He was granted a pardon by team president Mike Holmgren, whose patience in rebuilding a franchise will be tested if the losses continue to mount.
Mangini said Holmgren has been supportive, but he knows that will only last so long. Winning is the bottom line.
"I think as a coach, he understands some of the things that have happened," Mangini said. "As a coach, like I am, he's frustrated with some of the things that have happened. That's one of the real positives that I see in having Mike. When I talk to him about the game, there's a level of understanding. We can have a conversation without a translator. He will give me his thoughts and there's really good give and take and some good ideas that come out of that.
"He understands it."
Penalties and turnovers have hurt the Browns, but the biggest problem last week was that cornerback Eric Wright couldn't handle Ravens wide receiver Anquan Boldin. Wright was toasted three times for touchdowns by Boldin in Baltimore's 24-17 win.
Like a major league baseball closer, cornerbacks need to forget their failures quickly. Wright insists he has already moved on.
"It's just the name of the game as a corner," he said. "You have to have short-term memories. Plays come and go, games come and go and you always have to look forward to the next opportunity. It's definitely a tough pill to swallow, because like I said before, I accept all the responsibility in the loss, really. I think everybody played good enough to win the game except for me."
Owens and Ochocinco present a new set of challenges for Wright and Cleveland's secondary, which included rookie cornerback Joe Haden, a first-round pick who could see more time this week. Haden has shown flashes of being a playmaker, and the Browns could use a big play or two or three to stop the Bengals' dynamic duo of wideouts.
Cleveland's mission is to keep Owens and Ochocinco, two of the league's biggest trash talkers, as quiet as possible - and out of the end zone.
They may be young, but Haden and Browns rookie safety T.J. Ward won't be passive listeners.
"We can talk a whole lot," he said. "T.J. is one of the biggest talkers I've ever met, so there's going to be a whole lot of talking going on."