Anxiety builds in Cincinnati

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

CINCINNATI -- The blood gushing down Carson Palmer's nose and lips told the story Saturday night.

The Cincinnati Bengals' starters are getting pummeled this preseason -- leaving questions of whether the light will suddenly turn on during the regular season.

The boo birds were out early and often in Cincinnati's 13-0 loss to the New Orleans Saints. It started at the six-minute mark of the first quarter, continued at the 6:40 mark of the second quarter, and again with 1:42 left and at halftime as the Bengals ran into the tunnel.

You get the picture.

Granted it's only the preseason, but anxiety is already running high in Cincinnati for this upcoming season. The Bengals' starters haven't shown much promise to date and it continued Saturday night.

There were several troubling trends in what was supposed to be Cincinnati's "dress rehearsal" for the regular season.

The first-team offense with Palmer at quarterback went scoreless in five straight offensive possessions, driving its current streak up to nine possessions without scoring a point dating back to last week.

Starting receivers Chad Johnson (shoulder) and T.J. Houshmandzadeh (hamstring) didn't play. But the starting offensive line was healthy and struggled, giving up three sacks of Palmer and several more pressures on their franchise quarterback.

Overall, Palmer was 11 of 16 for 105 yards but left the game right before halftime with a busted nose and cuts on his lips. Based on the way the offensive line was blocking Saturday, he was spared in the second half from further punishment.

Shortly after the game, Palmer was taken out of the building to get his nose further evaluated and thus wasn't available for comment.

"It hurts," Bengals offensive tackle Stacy Andrews said. "Everybody as a whole has to do a better job of keeping (Palmer) clean. That's what it all boils down to. It hurts to see him coming off the field (bloodied)."

The Bengals' starting defense didn't do much better.

New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees picked Cincinnati's defense apart with long throws to Robert Meachem and short throws to Marques Colston and Lance Moore. Brees finished 14 for 22 for 199 yards and a touchdown.

The Saints also gained 458 yards of total offense, including 237 yards in the first half. New Orleans could've scored more points but went for it twice on fourth down in field-goal range to work on other things.

"We have to play sharper," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said. "They've been better players than that, all the way through."

Bengals fans saw enough by the second half. After voicing their displeasure early, the home crowd decided to exit in masses toward the end of the third quarter.

When the Bengals return to Paul Brown Stadium Sept. 14 for their second regular season game against the Tennessee Titans, Cincinnati supporters hope the team finally has its act together.

Some players, like Bengals offensive tackle Levi Jones, felt embarrassed by the team's performance.

"I'm highly upset right now,'' Jones said. "There's going to be hell to pay this week, without question."

Others, like Andrews, believe it's time for the team to come together now before it's too late.

"It starts today," Andrews said. "It starts tomorrow with getting your feet back under you. And it starts Monday with watching film and working the differences out."