Palmer, Bengals start to gain chemistry
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Dressed in his street clothes and rushing out of the Bills locker room, center Geoff Hangartner was disappointed as he heard the final boom of the fireworks display that annually follows Buffalo’s last preseason home game.
All was not lost for Hangartner, who saw enough bright sparks on the field after rookie running back C.J. Spiller scored twice in leading the Bills to a 35-20 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals on Saturday night.
“You can see what he does,” Hangartner said. “All of a sudden, I see him break a run and I’ll be yelling, ‘Go to the house!’ He’s a dynamic player. He brings more of a home-run hitter element to our offense.”
The first-round draft pick keeps breathing life into what’s been a popgun attack that’s finished 25th or worse in the NFL in yards gained in each of the past seven years.
After scoring on a 1-yard run to tie the game at 14 midway through the second quarter, Spiller showed his dynamic speed on a 20-yard scamper up the left sideline to produce the go-ahead touchdown in the final minute of the half. Beating safety Marvin White to the corner, Spiller outran cornerback Adam Jones to the end zone.
It was his third touchdown in two preseason starts, helping the Bills (2-1) combine to score 59 points after a 34-21 win over Indianapolis last week. Spiller, who also took one snap out of a wildcat formation, finished with 52 yards rushing and had two catches for 33 yards.
“If we can stay healthy, we can be a very explosive team,” said Spiller, who’s starting in place of injured veterans Fred Jackson and Marshawn Lynch. “We can be one of the best in the NFL if not the best.”
That remains to be seen.
And it’s becoming evident that the Bengals (2-2) can start making a claim of being good, too, after quarterback Carson Palmer showed he’s starting to gain chemistry with his revamped receivers.
In only three series, Palmer went 9-for-11 for 95 yards and a pair of touchdowns, his first of the preseason. The starting offense finally finished after managing two touchdowns on 10 drives in its previous three games.
Just as important, Palmer distributed the ball to all three of his top receivers. He hit rookie tight end Jermaine Gresham for a 9-yard touchdown, Chad Ochocinco for a 6-yard score and Terrell Owens three times for 35 yards.
“We’re getting better and better each week,” said Palmer, who also unveiled a no-huddle attack. “I love what Jermaine is doing. I love what Terrell is doing, and Chad is playing like he believes he’s the best receiver in the league.”
Cincinnati invested heavily this offseason in improving its receivers around Ochocinco. Aside from drafting Gresham in the first round, the Bengals signed T.O. just before the start of training camp last month. The team also signed veteran free agent Antonio Bryant, who missed his fourth preseason game while nursing a sore knee.
Owens, making his return to Buffalo after spending last season with the Bills, was more than encouraged with how the offense is progressing.
“We have something special,” said Owens. “The sky’s the limit for this team.”
Cedric Benson had eight carries for 50 yards, but was stuffed by safety Donte Whitner in attempting to convert a fourth-and-1.
The Bills defense forced two turnovers and twice stopped the Bengals on fourth down. Cornerback Reggie Corner sealed the win by returning Jordan Palmer’s interception 20 yards for a touchdown with 10:33 left.
Aside from Spiller, quarterback Trent Edwards solidified his hold on the starting job. In six series, he finished 13 of 17 for 153 yards and a 12-yard touchdown pass to Roscoe Parrish.
Coach Chan Gailey credited Edwards for being patient, and for his ability to find his second and third options on pass plays.
“Trent made some very good decisions,” Gailey said. “I thought that was very encouraging.”
The Bengals avoided a scare when rookie cornerback Brandon Ghee was carted off the field midway through the third quarter after a violent helmet-to-helmet collision with running back Chad Simpson. Ghee lay motionless for several minutes before he was able to take a few groggy steps on his own to the cart.
The Bengals announced that Ghee, a third-round draft pick out of Wake Forest, sustained a head injury and had movement in both his arms and legs.
Coach Marvin Lewis would only say that Ghee got “dinged” on the head and will travel home with the team.
Jones did not return after leaving with a neck injury late in the third quarter.