Don't be fooled by the final score, a 23-15 victory for the Titans. It wasn't that close. The desire to keep improving as the regular season opener approaches in two weeks was there but the execution is still lacking. The Bengals fall to 1-2 with the loss and have a final preseason game left at Indianapolis next Friday night (8 p.m. EST) before giving their full attention to the Denver Broncos.
"My message today is that we went out there and played a good football team and we figured out what it takes to win the NFL," said head coach Marvin Lewis
. "When you play a good team, you have to be hitting on all cylinders. You can't leave plays on the field, you've got to make the plays and convert when you get the opportunity to score. That football team, when you don't do it that way, will find you. You can't hide from them."
In all the Bengals turned the ball over three times and fumbled two more times only to recover. Cincinnati converted just one of three red zone scoring chances and was stopped on the goal line for the second straight game against the Titans. Defensively, the Bengals did not create a turnover for the second consecutive game and allowed the Tennessee first-team offense to move at will on them.
"You can't beat 90 percent of the teams in this league when you turn the ball over three times and they don't turn it over at all," said quarterback Jon Kitna
. "Especially when the turnovers are caused by yourself and not the other team. That's what the preseason is for, though, and I fully expect that those things will get cleared up this week and we'll play better against Indianapolis. I think we're right on track."
There were some good points, though.
The Bengals spent this past week working extra on their running game and showed it off well on their first drive. They ran the ball on seven of their first eight plays, picking up 56 yards on the ground as they drove to Tennessee's 15-yard line. Unfortunately, they decided to throw on Play No. 9.
Kitna's throw to tight end Tony Stewart
bounced off the receiver's hands and into those of Titans cornerback Andre Dyson
inside the 5-yard line. He returned it 18 yards to the Tennessee 23 from where the Titans offense began its first field goal drive.
On the Bengals next possession, they drove to the Tennessee 30 but a 49-yard field goal attempt by Neil Rackers
went wide left. Tennessee's second field goal drive followed.
Through the first two possessions for both teams, the Bengals had run three more plays (21-18), gained 10 more yards (105-95) and held the balls for 31 more seconds but still trailed 6-0.
The next time the Bengals got the ball, Kitna finished off a 73-yard drive with a 15-yard touchdown toss to Peter Warrick
and a 7-6 lead. Warrick beat cornerback Samari Rolle
going across the middle.
"It was just a post pattern, cut inside the defender and be ready for the contact," said Warrick. "My whole thing was to make sure he had to go through my body to get the ball. I knew the hit was coming, but I knew if the ball was there I could make the score."
It was the first touchdown of the preseason by the first-team offense in 10 series with Kitna at the helm. They've also scored three field goals. Kitna finished the first half 12-of-17 for 114 yards, one touchdown and one interception. If Stewart had made the catch and scored, as it looked possible, Kitna's passer rating would have ballooned from a respectable 83.9 to an outstanding 136.6.
For the second straight week, however, the defense allowed an opponent to score right before halftime. Quarterback Steve McNair
threw for 80 yards on an 11-play drive, culminating with a 1-yard toss to Shad Meier
with 20 seconds left before halftime. Tennessee took a 13-7 lead into the locker room.
"The level of defense we played is not good enough to win ballgames," said Lewis. "It's all about making plays and getting off the field. We had a chance to get in here with the lead and we didn't do it. People have to fulfill their responsibilities and make plays."
A week after recording a perfect 158.3 passer rating against Detroit, rookie quarterback Carson Palmer
was brought back to earth by the Titans. On his first play from scrimmage after taking over in the third quarter, Dyson stepped in front of a slant pattern intended for T.J. Houshmandzadeh
for his second interception of the game.
The defense held and forced a Tennessee punt, but Houshmandzadeh muffed it and Rocky Boiman
recovered for the Titans at the Cincinnati 16. The defense stiffened again, and Tennessee was forced to settle for a third Joe Nedney field goal, this one from 32 yards away.
On Palmer's second play from scrimmage, Boiman sacked him for a loss of six yards. The Bengals recovered though, driving 80 yards to the Tennessee 1. Just as they were in last season's regular season loss, however, the Bengals were denied twice from the short distance. Rudi Johnson
was stopped on both third and fourth down rushing attempts.
In all, the Bengals ran up 36 plays for 185 yards and 19 minutes, 24 seconds of possession time only to come up empty on three different drives.
"It is one little mistake here and it ends the drive," said Palmer. "It is just consistency. We need to finish our drives. We are doing a great job of moving the ball."
finished up at quarterback in the fourth quarter. He led the Bengals on a nine-play, 73-yard drive that was capped with a 20-yard touchdown throw to rookie Lawrence Hamilton
. A successful two-point conversion throw to Matt Schobel
brought the Bengals to within the final eight-point margin with 5:04 left to play, but the Bengals never saw the ball again.
"We gave up some big plays in the passing game that we should not have given up," said defensive tackle John Thornton
. "It doesn't count, but it still matters. By the beginning of the week, no one is going to care about this, but we have to make sure we have it right for the regular season."