As the bottom two teams from ESPN’s power rankings came together for a practice game, with literally tens of people around the country tuning in to catch the excitement, the big question lay over the two dueling rookie quarterbacks: Was the flashy, controversial Cam Newton a better overall number one pick than Andy Dalton—the opposite of those adjectives—was a second round pick up?
There was confusion on the first drive for many Bengals fans when the first three plays didn’t consist of a failed pass to TO, a three-yard run, and then a failed pass to Ochocinco. Things got even more discombobulating when our rookie QB induced a penalty on the opposition D-line and then ran 20 yards head-first and without flinching, or a “double-reverse Palmer” as I believe they are calling it in practice.
Fortunately sanity was restored with a fumble and everyone felt on much more comfortable ground. Clearly, however much my grasp of the game has grown, there are some things still to be learned; after one spell of defensive pressure the Cincinnati analyst exclaimed: “Ah. Geno’s feeling Newton’s oats.” I’ve asked around and it appears to be something medically problematic, but not a reason for a yellow flag. Despite thumping sack-robatics from Crocker, no one could escape the fact that when the person scoring against you is a kid called “Cam” who was recently told he couldn’t get his ears pierced or have a tattoo, it does sound awkwardly like you got beat up on by a 14-year-old suburban girl who has just discovered Green Day but still thinks Robert Pattinson is both a real vampire and “dreamy.”
Anyway, clearly this was not the start we were looking for, and the mood darkened significantly with a peculiar commercial about a bald man who kept stuffing his daughter with sweets and ice-cream in order to get points for Lions’ tickets. LIONS tickets.
The horror of a man abusing his kid this way for recreational purposes clearly spurred the team on (OK, maybe they weren’t watching) and for the rest of the half (i.e. the bit of the game that mattered) we were…well, pretty flawless honestly. I don’t know if the D freaks out after a turnover because they weren’t quite ready to play yet or if it was something deeper, but that first score aside they were lights out. Benson more than made up for his fumble, scything his way through the Panthers defense like Death through a wheat-field, our powerful and creative O-line allowing Bernard Scott to scamper and twist for huge numbers and a lovely TD.
Most importantly of all? Look, our rookie QB might not have been the “sexy” choice. I know Cam Newton was because Marvin Lewis had the slightly awkward habit of mentioned how good-looking Newton was in every press conference over the summer, even when the question wasn’t about him. Well you know what? Who cares! It’s easy to over-react to the pre-season, sure, but even without reading into anything further than this game, Dalton lead with accuracy and authority, worked all his receivers into the game, ran a sweet one-minute drill very effectively and even threw a forty-yarder for his and AJ Green’s first NFL touchdown.
The second half was fairly unwatchable, though Panther fans must surely be concerned that their star pick and first choice offense struggled so mightily against our previously porous back-ups. And our 24-7 lead at the half may have given us nothing more than a little confidence boost and some smiles tonight. But…it should, at the very least, have reversed those bottom two power rankings.
Final Score: Panthers 13 – 24 Bengals
Man Of The Match: Cedric Benson