Bengals find failure against NFL's elite

The Bengals were hoping to establish themselves as one of the NFL's elite. Instead, they came away from a 30-10 beatdown by the Vikings wondering how they really stack up in the league's pecking order.

In their first of two tests against one of the elite teams in the NFL this season, the Bengals came up woefully short.

The only saving grace is that the second one comes this week at San Diego.

After a 30-10 loss to Minnesota on Sunday, the Bengals were lamenting penalties (11 for 85) and turnovers (one large one late in the second quarter). What is becoming increasingly terminal: a downfield passing game bordering on non-existent.

Carson Palmer was 15 of 25 for 94 yards and a touchdown. Only five of Palmer's attempts went downfield (in the air for 10 yards or more) and six were screens.

It's only the fourth time in 78 regular-season starts that Palmer has had less than 100 yards.

"If there was one reason, we'd fix it," Palmer said of the passing game. "All we can do is continue to get better. There's no quick fix or easy answer. We have to try to find things to tailor to our strengths and improve."

Since Chris Henry was lost for the year with a broken arm, any other downfield threats have been neutralized. Chad Ochocinco isn't getting anything deep while Laveranues Coles disappeared in the Metrodome by not having a pass thrown his way. Andre Caldwell is a dependable third receiver, but he is not getting open like he did earlier in the season when he had two touchdowns on game-winning drives.

The 20-point loss will also intensify doubts about whether the Bengals can compete against the top teams in the league after dropping to 3-4 in games outside the AFC North and 1-2 against teams that would make the playoffs if the season ended today.

With Baltimore's thrashing of Detroit, the Bengals (9-4) still need a win in one of their final three games to clinch the AFC North. After San Diego's win at Dallas, the Bengals go into next Sunday's game at Qualcomm Stadium against the Chargers needing a win to keep alive any hope of getting the second seed in the AFC.

After failing to measure up on the road, the Bengals will quickly get another chance to try and reprove themselves at San Diego.

"I'm not a psychic and can't predict the future, but you know what is true and I can predict? We will find out," running back Cedric Benson said. "We still have three more games plus a chance in the playoffs. We paint our own picture whether we come out next week and solidify ourselves on us as one of the best and we have to decide."

TRENDING: In something that has to have LaDainian Tomlinson licking his chops, the Vikings ran for 142 yards on the Bengals, who came into the game with the league's second-best run defense. It also ended a franchise-record eight-game run in which the Bengals had held teams under the century mark on the ground.

BY THE NUMBERS: 1-6 — The Bengals' record on the West Coast with Marvin Lewis as head coach. They have lost their last four, including a Week 11 contest earlier this season at Oakland.

NOTES

  • S Chris Crocker reinjured his ankle during the second quarter and did not return.

  • RB Cedric Benson had 96 yards on 16 carries and went over the 1,000-yard mark for the first time in his five-year career.

  • WR Quan Cosby was the main kick returner and struggled with a 17.8-yard average on six returns.

  • CB Leon Hall had his fifth interception of the season, which ties a career high that he had as a rookie in 2007.

  • QB J.T. O'Sullivan got in his second game of the season late in the fourth quarter with the Bengals down by 20. He completed his first pass as a Bengal and was 1 of 3 for 9 yards.


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