A few things unfolded in the Dallas-Cincinnati exhibition opener in Canton Sunday night.
ONE – Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco, the focus of attention from the "pundits," combined for 2 receptions for 18 yards (both by Owens) in very limited action.
TWO – The Cincy offense looked largely incapable of moving the football, scoring only a late touchdown. Jordan Palmer, Carson's little bro, tossed a 1-yard score to tight end Darius Hill in the fourth quarter.
THREE – The Bengals lost, 16-7.
We do NOT put any stock in exhibition football. There's just too much evidence through history that tells us that performances during the exhibition season have little correlation to success in the real season.
But with that said, we still have plenty of reasons to offer this bit of advice to Bengals fans: Get used to what you witnessed Sunday, men. Expect limited production from the "big-name" wideouts, a tough time scoring points, and another long season in Cincy.
The hype over the Owens signing late last month is one of those media curiosities that perplexes the sole bastion of truth left on the interwebs, the Cold, Hard Football Facts. It's also a sign of desperation out of an organization that's made bad management decisions an art form over the past couple decades.
Here are five reasons why the Owens signing will have little to no positive impact on the franchise's fortunes here in 2010, and will in fact probably hurt the organization.
They signed Antonio Bryant away from Tampa, a 29-year-old receiver who indicated in 2008 that he could be fairly productive (83 catches, 1,248 yards, 7 TD) when paired with a decent quarterback (Jeff Garcia). They signed free-agent Matt Jones, the rangy former Arkansas QB who finally produced a decent season with the Jaguars in 2008 (65 catches, 761 yards, 2 TD). They devoted their No. 1 pick to Oklahoma's Jermaine Gresham, the mostly highly touted tight end in the draft this year. And they devoted their third pick to Jordan Shipley, the uber-productive wideout who was Colt McCoy's batterymate during the most prolific passing seasons in Longhorns history.
Adding a volatile, aging, me-first receiver to the corps will do nothing but inhibit the development of these receivers, especially the rookies.
TWO – The 36-year-old Owens is well past his prime. TO was still super-productive with Dallas in 2007 (81 catches, 1,355 yards, tremendous 16.7 YPA and 15 TD). But older players hit the wall hard and fast in the NFL (helloooooo LT!) and Owens followed up his great 2007 campaign with a pair of mediocre years in Dallas and Buffalo (average 62 catches, 840 yards, 7.5 TDs).
T.O. turns 37 in December and it's unreasonable to expect him to be an impact player. In fact, the list of all the receivers in history who produced 1,000-yard seasons after age 36 is a very short one: Jerry Rice.
THREE – Owens is a dick. To use the old editor's joke, we avoid clichés like the plague. But there is one cliché that applies here: the definition of insanity is doing something over and over expecting a different outcome. Well, we've seen four teams now regret putting T.O. on their roster: San Francisco, Philadelphia, Dallas and Buffalo. He shot his way out of three of those towns, with high-profile blow-ups with his Pro Bowl quarterbacks (Garcia, Donovan McNabb, Tony Romo).
So history tells us that we can expect T.O. to quickly turn on his teammates, and his fragile QB in particular, when things don't go according to the irrational plan that he and the organization harbor in their minds. Given this history, Cincy's decision to sign T.O. reeks of desperation or cynicism: it's not a move to improve the product on the field; it's a move to drum up PR and sell a couple jerseys and tickets.
FOUR – Wide receiver is the last thing you need to build a winner. We've chronicled this fact through the years. Receivers are easily the least impactful players on the football field – at least as far as their correlation to victory goes. A receiver can only prove that impact player when all the other pieces are in place: great offensive line, great quarterback, solid, two-pronged offensive attack, and a legit defense. Then, and only then, do big-star receivers bring a turbo boost to your team that might lead to a title.
Otherwise, as we've seen throughout the ages, teams can win big and win consistently without so-called "star" receivers. The 1960s Packers won five championships without superstar receivers; the 1980s 49ers won two Super Bowls with a good but not great corps of receivers before Jerry Rice arrived on the scene; the 2000s Patriots won three Super Bowls with a corps of castoff receivers nobody heard about before or since; the 2000s Steelers won two Super Bowls with a top receiver known more for laying out defensive backs than for setting pass-catching records.
The Bengals, for their part, paired two explosive wideouts (Ochocinco and T.J. Houshmandzadeh) for pretty much the entire past decade. The Bengals, and their offense, have nothing to show for it.
FIVE – The Bengals really need a quarterback more than anything else. We know it's not PC to point out Carson Palmer's flaws as a quarterback. But we've done it anyway, most notably back in January, before Cincy's playoff game against the Jets.
Our analysis, as you know, is as sure and true as the flow of the Ohio River past Paul Brown Stadium. So what happened? That's right: Palmer simply did not perform at a winning level against New York's mighty pass defense: he completed just 18 of 36 passes for 146 yards, a dreadful 4.06 YPA, 1 TD, 1 INT and a 58.3 passer rating in a 24-14 loss.
Palmer's been given six years to prove himself as a Super Bowl-caliber quarterback. Clearly injuries have inhibited his career, especially the gruesome one he suffered in the early moments of the 2005 wildcard game against the Steelers. He also missed most of the 2008 campaign.
But the Cold, Hard Football Facts are the Cold, Hard Football Facts: and what they tell us is that Palmer doesn't have the stuff to lead the Bengals to a Super Bowl – no matter how many repugnant, self-centered aging wideouts they put around him.