CINCINNATI – Carson Palmer and Terrell Owens have a huge day together, and the Cincinnati Bengals lose to a previously winless team.
This wasn't the idea.
The defending AFC North champions assumed that a little more power in the passing game would take them a long way, improving their chances of going deeper into the playoffs this season. So far, it's not adding up.
A 23-20 loss in Cleveland snapped their streak of eight straight division wins and left them with the feel of a team in transition. Last season, they were a run-first offense that bulked up with extra blockers and ground their way to a title. They added Owens and rookie tight end Jermaine Gresham in the offseason to bulk up the passing game.
So far, the two phases aren't meshing so well. And with a tough stretch of games ahead, they're running out of time to find an identity.
"We don't have to run the football," offensive lineman Andrew Whitworth said Monday. "We can throw it, we can run it, we can do whatever we want with it. We just have to be efficient. When we get out of the mindset that we have to be one way, we're going to be better."
At the moment, they're worse. Cincinnati opened last season 4-1, winning games with their run-oriented approach. Cedric Benson topped 100 yards twice during the fast start.
"Last year, that was what we had to work with," Whitworth said. "That was really the only option we had. We had to run the ball. This year, we have options."
This season, Benson has yet to run for 100 yards in a game, the running game overall ranks 23rd in the league, and the Bengals are 2-2 and trailing Pittsburgh and Baltimore in the division.
The best option has been to get the ball to Owens, who showed in Cleveland that he's far from finished at age 36. He had 10 catches for 222 yards and a touchdown.
The third 200-yard game of Owens' career tied him for fifth in league history. He became the only player to have 200 yards in catches with three different teams — San Francisco, Dallas and Cincinnati.
Taking advantage of single coverage, Owens increased his career receiving total to 15,325 yards, passing Isaac Bruce for second place on the career list behind Jerry Rice.
Still not enough.
"Again, these are some of the things that we've tried to address as far as getting the ball down the field more," Owens said. "We did a little bit of that, but we just didn't do enough, obviously. I think we need to probably move the ball from a running standpoint and get Cedric involved a little bit more.
"As an offense, we have to get both phases of the game going."
The offense has been at its best when it's gone to a no-huddle approach. Cincinnati went no-huddle after falling behind New England in the opener, and Palmer finished with 345 yards and a pair of touchdowns in a 38-24 loss.
In Cleveland, the Bengals used the no-huddle approach more than usual and Palmer threw for 371 yards and two touchdowns for a passer rating of 121.4. Last season, he threw for 300 yards only once.
The offense likes the quick-paced approach.
"I think we feel very comfortable," Whitworth said. "When you look at the two games we've played it a lot, Carson Palmer has thrown for 350 yards. I'll take that any day of the week. I think the guys love it. We've always been real successful in it. In '05 and '06, they lived off it. So it seems to be something we've always been good at, and hopefully we'll do it more."
Coach Marvin Lewis said Monday that the no-huddle will continue to be only part of the offense because it limits what the coaches can do with the game plan.
"We eliminate a lot of other things, so you're kind of stuck in one drawer," Lewis said. "If that drawer isn't working and you're not getting what you want, then you're in trouble."