Marc Hardin: Nobody has seen anything like the conclusion to Sunday's Bengals-Broncos game, in NFL history. Brandon Stokley's 87-yard deflected-pass touchdown reception from quarterback Kyle Orton, courtesy of Bengals cornerback Leon Hall's tip, is the longest game-winning score in the final minute of the fourth quarter in league annals. The mood in town following the 12-7 loss is one of resignation. People here are used to the fact the Bengals lose, and when a team loses a lot of games (17 losing seasons in the last 18 years for Cincinnati), its fans become eyewitnesses to a variety of ways to squander a football game. Sunday was new, for sure, but not altogether a surprise. Fans here expect one step forward (Cedric Benson's 1-inch plunge Sunday for the go-ahead TD completing a 91-yard Bengals drive with 38 seconds left). Then they expect two steps back (Denver's Immaculate Deflection, sealing the loss). For Bengals' players and coaches, it was back to business when they returned to practice this week. Players are letting it go and not really wanting to discuss the tough loss any further with the local media. When you have Chad Ochocinco on the roster, you can get on a tangent pretty quick. And I think Chad's promise of a Lambeau Leap on Sunday was not only Chad being Chad, but also Chad trying to help his team move on from the Denver debacle.
The Broncos went head over heels to stop Carson Palmer.
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Marc: How? When that very same offense drops passes as if the receivers were allergic to footballs. Bengals receiving targets dropped seven of Carson Palmer's first 21 passes, fully 33 percent of the big guy's throws. Free-agent acquisition Laveranues Coles dropped three passes in the game, further annoying Bengals fans who wanted the team to keep departed free-agent receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh, who left for Seattle. The Bengals did well between the 30s against Denver, but they shot themselves in the foot when they got within striking distance of the end zone. The most glaring failure was a botched field goal attempt by Shayne Graham, which resulted when usually reliable long-snapper Brad St. Louis sent the snap too high and too far to the left of rookie holder, punter Kevin Huber, who watched the ball sail through his hands. Also, not all of the running routes were there for tailback Cedric Benson as the offensive line continues its transition with just one starter (right guard Bobbie Williams) at the same starting position as last season.
Bill: I know he won't play on Sunday, but what's the outlook for first-round pick Andre Smith? Most fans will recall that he went AWOL at the Scouting Combine and showed up at his Pro Day workout of shape. Then he staged a lengthy holdout. What kind of shape was he in when he showed up, and did you get much of a gauge on whether or not he's going to be a difference-maker at offensive tackle?
Marc: I'm not a big fan of the Andre Smith pick because I don't think Smith has enough maturity to be properly motivated to be the best player he can be. The Bengals think they are psychologists and sociologists, so they believe they can get inside Smith's head and coach up Smith to be an outstanding lineman, especially as a run-blocker at right tackle, which is where Smith is slated to play — when he finally plays. Smith, whose weight was mocked when first-year Bengals had to do their skits during rookie initiations, showed up at training camp following his holdout on the heavy side. Two days after ending his holdout, he broke a bone in his foot. Smith probably won't be on the practice field for another two weeks. He may not be ready to play until Week 5 or 6. Whether or not Smith becomes a difference-maker in the league is completely up to him. My guess is he will always have weight issues, making him more susceptible to injuries. I hope I'm wrong.
Bengals TE Chase Coffman
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Marc: Rey Maualuga is making an immediate impact. He started Sunday and ranked second on the team with six tackles (two solo). He got the home crowd going when he was the first man down field on the kickoff after the Bengals' touchdown. He touched return man Donald Royal down at the 13. Maualuga also delivered a couple bone-crunching hits, which the home crowd absolutely loved. Michael Johnson, though talented and athletic, is a work in progress after getting a reputation in college for taking some downs off. Johnson had just one tackle vs. Denver. He is not starting, but is in a rotation including 8-10 linemen. If the Bengals could bottle Maualuga's passion and dedication to football and give it to Andre Smith and Michael Johnson, I'm sure they would. Jonathan Luigs is a project at center. He could not beat out fringe center Kyle Cook (one career start) for the starting job. Luigs is at least a year away from starting, maybe two. Chase Coffman wishes he could block like his father. When Chase can do that, he will see the field a lot more. Right now, the NCAA's career receptions leader for tight ends is listed third on the Bengals' depth chart, this after the team's projected top two tight ends were either lost for the season or waived, due to injures. One day, the younger Coffman may become a fine receiving tight end. But that day won't come unless he can become an effective blocker.
Bill: The Bears had a field day against Packers right tackle Allen Barbre. Who are the Bengals who might be salivating when looking at that tape?
Marc: Left end Robert Geathers, who's been a disappointment during his stay in Cincinnati, and Rey Maualuga and Rashad Jeanty in the rotation at left outside linebacker, are the one's licking their chops. However, Geathers has totaled just six sacks in two seasons since posting a career-high 10.5 in 2006. Maualuga, who is looking forward to reuniting with ex-USC teammate Clay Matthews on Sunday, is better against the run than the pass. Jeanty lost his starting job to Maualuga.
Be on the lookout for Part 3 of this Behind Enemy Lines series on Saturday. To go back and read Part 1, where Bill answered five questions from Marc, Click Here.