Bengals pull away to beat Clausen, Panthers 20-7

So much for Jimmy Clausen igniting Carolina’s stagnant offense.

The Panthers’ problems run much deeper.

Good thing for the Cincinnati Bengals, who did just enough

offensively to overcome their own miscues and finally win on the

road.

On a Sunday afternoon of rain, dropped passes, poor decisions

and few crisp offensive plays, Carson Palmer was slightly better

than Clausen in Cincinnati’s 20-7 win that spoiled the rookie’s

first NFL start.

Palmer shook off two interceptions and four more near picks to

throw a game-clinching touchdown pass to Cedric Benson midway

through the fourth quarter. Benson added 81 yards and another TD on

the ground as the Bengals (2-1) ended a five-game road losing

streak.

”We took advantage of the opportunities we had,” said Terrell

Owens, who was held to four catches for 42 yards. ”It wasn’t the

best conditions, but we made it work.”

Little offensive firepower was needed with Clausen, the former

Notre Dame star, unable to jump-start a punchless offense. The

Panthers committed four more turnovers, giving them 12 giveaways

and three touchdowns in a second straight 0-3 start as John Fox

coaches in the final year of his contract.

To top off Clausen’s rough debut as a starter, he took the brunt

of Steve Smith’s sideline rant in the closing seconds after he was

neutralized by another team sending constant double teams his

way.

”I’m trying to get Smitty the ball as many times as we can.

He’s our biggest playmaker on offense,” Clausen said. ”It’s tough

sometimes trying to get him the ball when there are two guys

doubling Steve.”

Clausen, who had one completion and a 0.0 passer rating at

halftime, got little help as he took over for the benched Matt

Moore. Carolina’s running game remained well off its pace of last

season. Numerous receivers dropped passes, and Jonathan Stewart’s

key turnover ended the Panthers’ comeback hopes.

Stewart’s lost fumble set up Palmer’s 7-yard TD pass to Benson –

the running back’s first career receiving TD – to put the Bengals

ahead 20-7 with 8:11 left.

Benson added a 1-yard TD run in the first quarter and Mike

Nugent kicked two field goals in Cincinnati’s second straight

victory. The Bengals beat Baltimore last week without scoring a

touchdown.

”This isn’t the BCS,” cornerback Leon Hall said. ”We just

need a win.”

Hall intercepted Clausen in the first half when he tried to jam

the ball into Smith. Clausen didn’t complete his second pass until

the first minute of the third quarter.

Clausen finished 16 of 33 for 188 yards, but he had numerous

passes dropped. Stewart and DeAngelo Williams managed just 77 yards

rushing.

”We have to do our jobs better,” Stewart said.

After finishing with 6 yards passing and two first downs in the

first half, Clausen led Carolina on an eight-play, 75-yard drive

capped by Stewart’s 1-yard TD run to cut the deficit to 10-7.

Trailing 13-7 early in the fourth quarter, Clausen finally found

Smith for his first catch of the day. But Stewart fumbled on the

next play, and Cincinnati’s Robert Geathers recovered to set up the

clinching score.

Smith was held to three catches for 22 yards, as the Bengals

became the latest team to double him on nearly every play with only

two other rookie receivers dressed.

”I’m a horrible quarterback, terrible defensive back,” Smith

said. ”I’m not going to tackle a linebacker, so my best job is

wide receiver. I’m going to run the routes they call. Hopefully,

they are sufficient.”

Palmer was sufficient, just barely. He completed 19 of 37

attempts for 195 yards. Charles Godfrey and Captain Munnerlyn

picked him off, and he had four other passes bounce off Carolina

defenders. Palmer also had a bizarre time management gaffe at the

end of the first half that cost the Bengals three points.

But Cincinnati’s defense, which has allowed 17 points the past

two weeks, made it stand up.

”You can’t worry about what’s going on on the offensive side of

the ball,” safety Roy Williams said. ”Last year and sometimes

this year the offense had to bail us out. We have each other’s

back.”