The Bengals evened their preseason record at 1-1 with a 23-10 victory against the Detroit Lions Saturday night in a game that accomplished the one goal every member of Cincinnati's team and coaching staff wanted: improved play in all three phases of the game, offense, defense and special teams.
"It wasn't perfect, but we did what we said we wanted, which was to improve from last week," said Lewis. "We're getting better."
It wasn't perfect except for the play of Palmer. Despite playing on a sore right foot that almost kept him out of the game, the top pick in this year's draft came completed all seven of his pass attempts for 97 yards and a pair of touchdowns in compiling a perfect passer rating of 158.3.
But don't expect any burgeoning quarterback controversy just yet.
"There's no question Jon (Kitna) is the No. 1 quarterback," said Lewis following the game. "We're still working towards Sept. 7. I can't foresee the future but I would imagine Jon Kitna will still be our quarterback on Sept. 7 barring injury."
The first team offense was better, though not as efficient as they want to or expect to be.
Kitna played all but one snap in the first half, leading the offense to scores on three of four possessions as the Bengals built a 9-3 halftime lead. He completed 10 of 15 passes for 90 yards and was sacked once. Last week against the New York Jets, Kitna played just 11 snaps in a 28-13 loss at the Meadowlands.
Kicker Neil Rackers made field goals from 44, 31 and 21 yards to stake the Bengals to a 9-0 lead with 4:59 left before halftime. Detroit kicker Jason Hanson drilled a 40-yard field goal with eight seconds left in the half to bring the Lions back to within six points, 9-3.
The struggles came in the red zone, where Cincinnati was just 1-for-5, including coming up empty on all three attempts with Kitna at the helm.
"We still had some bad mistakes, things you shouldn't be seeing from veteran guys who have been in this offense for three years," said Kitna. "We've got to get better in the red zone. But we didn't have an extensive red-zone package in for this game. We'll get better there."
The defense put in its second consecutive strong outing, holding Detroit to 288 total yards, including just 107 in the first half. The front four down linemen were able to put a consistent pass rush on Detroit's quarterbacking trio of Joey Harrington, Mike McMahon and Ty Detmer. The Lions had just 78 yards rushing and didn't have many short-yardage situations.
"The first game, we did alright so we just have to keep going in that direction," said defensive end Justin Smith. "The main thing was we came out and shut the run down. When we do that, the pass opportunities are going to come at second-and-long instead of second-and-three. They've got to drop back deeper and you're getting an opportunity to rush and an opportunity to put more pressure on the quarterback."
Happiest of all may have been special teams coach Darrin Simmons. His group took the biggest leap in improvement from Week 1 to Week 2.
"We gave up a couple of things that we didn't like, but all-in-all it was better," said Simmons. "It starts with the tempo. We were a little fresher than last week. We were coming off of several weeks of hard practice and this week we had a little more rest and we had a game under our belts."
Punters Nick Harris and Travis Dorsch each had one boot – Harris' going for 44 yards and Dorsch getting off a 58-yard boomer. T.J. Houshmandzadeh had a 39-yard punt return that set up the Rackers' first field goal.
After the game, the Bengal players broke out with a chant of "Who Dey" in the locker room reminiscent of the late 1980's when winning was an expected occurrence in Cincinnati. It's part of the history Lewis is trying to bring back to the organization. Preseason game or no preseason game, the Bengals are in need of any wins they can get.
"We're going to be doing that chant a lot more often," said wide receiver Chad Johnson.
WARRICK EXCUSED – Wide receiver Peter Warrick was excused from the game so he could return home to Florida after the death of his grandfather.
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